Cool as Hell (2013)

Description (from the DVD sleeve):
Rich wasn’t always a samurai sword wielding zombie slayer! He was your average comic book store employee, until he met a demon named Az. When Az came from Hell, he left the portal open and a soul hungry beast escaped. Rich and his roommate Benny used to have girl troubles, but that’s the least of their worries now. They have to stop the creature and the living dead that have crawled out of Hell. Who would have thought Rich would have to save the world just to get laid? “Cool As Hell” is a Horror/Comedy that features Tom Savini, Andrew W.K., Tommy Dreamer, Raven, and lead singer of Suffocation, Frank Mullen. A geeky romance blossoms in between the demon and zombie chaos. Don’t miss this bong hitting, side splitting comedy that is “Cool As Hell”.

Major Cast:
James Balsamo as Rich, Dan E. Danger as Benny, Billy Walsh as Az, Lauren Adamkiewicz as Ashley, Frank Mullen as Sal

Special Features:
Bloopers, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Music Video

Written and Directed by James Balsamo

I had been in infrequent contact with James on Facebook for a while, to see if he wanted any flicks reviewed as they seemed to be something that might be right up my alley. This February I went out to Florida to meet up with one of my oldest buddies, and since we were going to be hanging out any, we planned it for the weekend of PensaCon. Walking around the floor inhabited with cosplayers, too-small-aisles, and Christine, I happened to turn a corner and there was James. I introduced myself, and after a couple minutes of talking, I walked away with a copy of COOL AS HELL in my hands for a review. Then, as many of my readers are probably aware, I dropped off the face of the reviewing planet. This was actually one of the very last movies I received to review before I stopped accepting new submissions, and I had promised that since he was nice enough to give me one in person, I would move it up the list and make it “soon.” Well, soon is now 8 months later (a big part of why I’m not taking new movies or music to review) and I finally sat down today to watch CaH.  Going in, the only things I really knew about CaH and Acid Bath Productions were that James was really good at self-promotion, there are generally a ton of cameos in his films, and apparently he knows people in the metal scene. I also got the impression that he probably learned a lot from Troma as well. That was about it.

COOL AS HELL: a movie about a guy, his best friend, their demon, and shots.  Lots of shots.
COOL AS HELL: a movie about a guy, his best friend, their demon, and shots. Lots of shots.

Right from the onset, I could see that this is most certainly a very low-budget affair, and it immediately kicked my English-degree sensibilities in the nuts with multiple misspellings right in the opening credits! I don’t know for sure, but I really doubt that the $60,000 listed on IMDb is correct (unless all the cameos were getting paid, then maybe). The audio is pretty rough, and the video quality is really a lot lower than what I was expecting. Though, on the positive side, I was excited to see the opening shot actually being a crane shot of some sort that looked really cool and added some instant production value to the flick: the movie starts off and makes me think it’s going to be a zombie movie (as it starts at almost the end), then we back up and get the story and find that no, it’s not (really) a zombie movie. It’s a movie about a couple of roommates that enthrall a demon… by burning him with a cigarette, a goofy enough premise for a horror / comedy, to be sure. But right from this first plot point begins something I see a lot of in CaH: not understanding what is going on or why until much later when it is spelled out, if at all.

I wonder as I am watching CaH just how much of the dialogue is scripted, and how much is adlibbed. The movie suffers from a bad case of the fuck-fuck-fuckity-fucks and this is something that I often see when people without much improv experience are thrown into an improve situation. I could be wrong – it could be writing in the script hundreds of times – but many, many scenes really feel like it is coming off the cuff. What makes this worse is the fact that the scenes then are allowed to ramble, and are not edited down to a palatable length (as is the entire movie as a whole, which clocks in at 1:40 and could easily have been 1:15). A great example is when Frank is collecting from the bar owner. This scene goes back and forth (“Have a fucking seat.” “I ain’t got a lot of time here, you owe me money, I’m tired of fucking playing around with you Charlie. You owe me some fucking money.” “Sal. Let’s do a shot Sal.” “You love just pulling out fucking shots, don’t you.”) ad nauseam, and not one time is it mentioned how much is owed. Actually, unless I completely missed it, not one time is it ever explained what Frank is collecting for; is he a loan shark (they don’t usually collect their own debts), is he a shady business man (if so, what business), what? Like many other aspects of CaH, I just don’t know. And this is a problem that often arises when a script is adlibbed; important info that you as the viewer want to know is never brought up because the actors are just thinking about one scene at a time, and no one has build a script as a whole organism. The acting in CaH varies from pretty good (Balsamo, Adamkiewicz), to passable at best (Danger), to downright horrible (not going to call them out but you as the viewer will know who I am talking about). This is most certainly a film on the your-friends-and-neighbors level of acting ability, and generally your-friends-and-neighbors level actors don’t have improv skill.

Some of the fun, campy gore effects from CaH.
Some of the fun, campy gore effects from CaH.

The production quality on CaH, as I mentioned just slightly in the beginning, follows the trend established by the dialogue/acting. The video quality and lighting is pretty bad throughout, with many out of focus shots and scenes that are either really dark, or washed out with glaring brightness. It seems that this was shot on a decent camera, but for much of the film it was left on auto-focus instead of anyone taking the time to manually focus the lens. While this sounds like not a big deal, that lack of manual focus takes what could be a deep image with levels of focus throughout into a very flat image that loses that depth of field. The sound on the vast majority of the movie was obviously shot with the on-camera mic, or a very low-quality boom, as many, many shots are rendered nearly impossible to hear because of wind or noise. This is the thing that I learned the hard way, and I’ve said many times on this site: pay the money to get good sound. You can’t fix it later. Even the voice-over sounded as if it was recorded on a very low-quality mic. The production effects in the film were a bit better than the audio/visual, and ranged from decent to actually pretty cool. The gore effects were as I would expect from a low-budget horror/comedy, Az was pretty much just painted green with horns you get at Halloween but with very nicely done teeth, but for me the stand-out effect was the puppet of BooGar. He was hilariously well done.

BooGar!  Oh my God I want a puppet of this!
BooGar! Oh my God I want a puppet of this!

Now I realize at this point that it sounds like I hated CaH. I didn’t. It was not the worse movie I’ve ever seen, or even the worst movie I’ve seen this year. It most certainly has its charm, and I know that there is an audience out there for it. This movie has defiantly been cut from the Troma mold, and as America’s oldest independent studio they obviously have followers. There are some really good things about CaH: the geeky romantic subplot, that super-cool crane shot (and a smattering of other nice shots throughout), the kinky sex with canned green beans, lots of boobs (and they’re not all horrible to look at), and most importantly BooGar, the talking demonic snot. I mean, come on: TALKING DEMONIC SNOT. That is too cool. I was just expecting a lot more quantity and quality out of the movie because of the reputation that Acid Bath has built, the long list of cameos, and the amount of bands that attach themselves to this and all the other movies James makes. I’ve come to realize now that I put Acid Bath into the same category as Insane Clown Posse. I don’t like ICP’s music (I love hip-hop but they are a couple of no-talent assclowns when it comes to lyrics, and if you don’t agree that’s fine but listen to “Miracles” and explain please), but I give them a ton of credit for the fact that they have built the following and the reputation they have by hand, from the ground up. I think I feel the same way about Acid Bath (well, at least from this flick): I’m not much of a fan of what CaH did, but I am impressed by the following Balsamo has built, the people he enlists to appear in his films, and how much traction he can get out of them on the convention scene (seems like every other convention out there has him as a guest!)

Well lady, if you worked in a strip club that could actually afford a stage instead of putting a pole in the middle of the floor, guys wouldn't bump into you.
Well lady, if you worked in a strip club that could actually afford a stage instead of putting a pole in the middle of the floor, guys wouldn’t bump into you.

Overall, CaH is just not a movie for me. While it has the occasional flashes of brilliance (and I mean brilliance; there is some generally hilarious stuff in CaH that makes me believe that Balsamo is genuinely talented) there is just too much mediocrity surrounding those flashes for me. With some more time on the script, some better trained actors in key roles, more time pre-planning to make sure that all the scenes could be shot in a way that kept them from being so confusing, and a bit heavier editing hand, CaH could be a really fun film. I would like to check out some Acid Bath films in the future to see how Balsamo develops as an auteur, because I can see that talent there below the surface, I just don’t think it came out in CaH.

Overall 4 / 10

CaH on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2355462/

CaH for sale: http://www.acidbathproductions.com/store.html#

CaH site: http://www.acidbathproductions.com

Cool as Hell (2013)
Cool as Hell (2013)
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