I attended Chiller Theatre in October of 2016 and, as I do every time I attend, met a wide variety of talents, from actors and actresses to musicians and models. One of those talents was an independent filmmaker named James Balsamo. He had a quick wit, sending out jokes and puns at a rapid pace. I knew that he would make for a good interview subject, but we didn’t speak to each other again until October 3rd. I hope you enjoy getting to know this talent whose combination of comedy and horror has made for some very entertaining film-making.
Say hello to James Balsamo!
Johnny: Hi, James.
James: Hey, how’s it going?
Johnny: It’s good. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, especially as you’re on a trip.
James: Oh, yeah. No problem.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go, starting with these two. What were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?
James: It’s funny. I’ve been into horror movies since I was a little kid. Since I was 8, I wanted to be a slasher-type character. I remember watching Friday The 13th, Part 3 with my dad, and when Jason put the biker chick on the meat hook, I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do”. I listened to GWAR as a kid also. I was a cool kid (laughing). I’m working with Casey Orr, the former Beefcake The Mighty, for my new movie, The Litch. It has Tom Sizemore in it, Elizabeth Daily, the voice of Tommy Pickles, the drummer from Morbid Angel, Mike Browning…Some really cool cameos. These are all people I grew up watching, and it’s amazing to work with all these people. As they say, livin’ the dream.
Johnny: Yep. I’ll ask about the Litch in due time, but first, I come to my next question. What were your high school days like?
James: You know what? High school was fun for me. I mean, I had transferred high schools. I started out at a professional performing arts high school, which I had to audition to get into in Manhattan, and then my family moved down to Long Island from Queens. It was a big step for me, from being this acting city kid to come out to the burbs, essentially (laughing). I used to come to high school in fur jackets and all these weird thrift-store city kid clothes. That kind of made me popular, and then I got into a punk band, and that was it. I was friends with everybody in high school, and I’d do the David Lee Roth air splits when I played in bands. I like to party. I’m a fun-loving guy, and I’ve been like that my whole life. Being like that in high school was, you know what I mean? I was the party man, and I still am.
James: If you want to party, I’m here. I was partying in Texas this weekend. I did the Cult Classic Convention, and now I’m in New York. I’m going to be doing Rock-And-Shock in two weeks. It’s a horror convention in Boston, so if anybody wants to, come out and party.
Johnny: Alright. You started your acting career with some uncredited work in the Toxic Avenger costume in several Troma films, including A Macabre Pair Of Shorts in 1996 and Rock And Roll Space Patrol Action Is Go in 2005. What did working for Troma teach you that you would utilize in your own projects as a director and writer?
James: Working for Troma taught me a lot of things. Working with Lloyd (Kaufman) has paved the way for my career. Lloyd is still a good friend of mine. He’s even in my newest film, The Litch. I loved working with Troma. That’s how I got to meet Debbie Rochon, and I’ve made so many good friends. It’s so funny, because Troma is such an in for so many people. As I said, I did the Cult Classic Convention in Dallas last weekend, and Tiffany Shepis was signing autographs across from me. Tiffany also got her start in Tromeo And Juliet, and other great Troma films. Troma’s an amazing company, and I love them. I’m so thankful for everything since they taught me how to make schlock (laughing).
Johnny: Alright. Although you’re well-known for work of the cult film persuasion, your IMDB page says that you’ve had uncredited appearances in the movies We Own The Night and The Nanny Diaries. What’s the difference between a project like We Own The Night and one of your own projects, and is that difference a positive or a negative?
James: The big difference is money. Both those films were multi-million dollar budget films, where they just burned money, you know what I mean? I make every dollar count on the screen, and I put love into it. Those films are great, great films, but, you know, they’re corporate machinery (laughing). There’s a difference between a hand-made thing and a factory print that gives you the same cookie-cutter effect. I mean, look at cult horror films that have lasted the test of time. I think schlock lasts forever, and a movie like The Nanny Diaries is something like, “Oh, right”. I mean, Scarlett Johansson in that movie? On set, I sat next to Alicia Keys in that movie. I mean, that was a really big film and a big star. She was huge at the time. Money, I would say, is the major difference, but you don’t get the love of cult films.
Johnny: Alright. Your first film as a director, according to IMDB, was 2011’s Hack Job. What was the inspiration behind that movie?
James: I really wanted to make an anthology like Creepshow. Hack Job actually took me 7 years to finish. It was a film I had started making when I was about 19, and I didn’t finish it until my 20s. That also had a member of GWAR in it, the late Dave Brockie, a.k.a Oderus Urungus. Lloyd Kaufman was also in that, and so was Debbie Rochon and Lynn Lowry. I just had so many different ideas for horror movies. I wanted to make all of them, so I made three different short films with a wrap-around, which is your basic anthology, and that’s how Hack Job came to be.
Johnny: Alright. Your 2014 film Catch Of The Day had an interesting plot line. What is it about water, whether a lake or an ocean, that makes it such a frequent basis for horror movies?
James: Well, what I would say is crazy is that we know more about space than we do our own oceans. It’s that great unknown, like what’s coming out of the sea? Could it be a giant shrimp monster? I don’t know. It’s like, “From There” and “Beyond The Prawn Monster”. Who knows? Catch Of The Day has fish people, and it’s a bloody cop comedy. It’s like Bad Boys Meets Jaws.
Johnny: Cool. Another one of your interesting projects came with Bite School. Knowing how serious school violence can be, did you feel any hesitation about making a school comedy with violence, or do you think the element of vampires lessened the potential issues?
James: Oh, yeah. It’s funny you ask that question. I look at film violence as escapism, especially now with such a tragedy as what happened in Las Vegas. Violence is a scary thing. In reality, it’s scary and terrifying, but monsters kind of lessen the terror, as well as joking and comedy. I mean, it’s a movie that bites. I’m kidding…It sucks. (Laughing)
Johnny: Alright. 2016 saw you make the beach-themed movie Killer Waves. Surf culture and horror culture often overlap, from 60s B-movies like The Beach Girls And The Monster to the song Surfin’ Dead from the soundtrack to Return Of The Living Dead. What do you think the two have in common?
James: The sand, I would say (laughing). Life’s a beach and then you die. Killer Waves is just a fun slasher. It’s more of a serious slasher comedy, but the diver tells a lot of the movie. You know, speared today, gone tomorrow. (Laughing)
Johnny: Okay. To return to The Litch, the movie features two of my previous interview subjects, the aforementioned EG Daily, and Debra Lamb, both of whom I really enjoyed interviewing. What can you reveal to us about the project?
James: I can reveal lots of stuff. Elizabeth Daily plays a psychic in the film, and she talks about who The Litch is, and why he’s coming after this crystal. The Litch is about an undead zombie wizard known only as The Litch, trying to get his crystal back from these three witches, one of whom is the lovely Debra Lamb…Stunning, amazing actress. Debra is so cool. It was an honor to work with her. We’ve been friends for a long time, so it was great that we could finally get together on this project. Debra plays this amazing witch, and let me tell you, she knows how to work a broomstick.
Johnny: Alright. To my next question: You’ve gone to England for acting roles in the Terror Telly movies. As England is where a lot of horror legends come from, what’s it like to go over there for filming?
James: It’s cool, man. I gotta say it’s a jolly good time (laughing).
Johnny: Okay. Several of your first projects as director were among the last projects of the aforementioned Dave Brockie. What’s your favorite memory of working with him, and if he had survived his fatal overdose, what more recent films of yours’ would you have cast him in?
James: I was lucky enough to work with Dave a few times, and he was in my other film, I Spill Your Guys, briefly. I really would’ve liked to get Dave into everything I could’ve. He was supposed to be in Cool As Hell, but he had a scheduling conflict. We actually filmed a promo for Cool As Hell at a Crack-Athon event, where he interviewed me, Alex Skolnick, the guitar player from Testament, and the singer from Lamb Of God all on the same stage. I’m still close with the guys in GWAR, and it’s such a shame that the man isn’t around, but one of my favorite memories of working with Dave is he played a cook in the movie Hack Job. He played the role as Oderus and then as himself. Him as himself was hilarious. Dave was such a funny guy. There was the song, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, so he did a spoof of it while he was taking out the trash. (Singing) “I was made for fuckin’ you, baby”.
Johnny: (Laughing) Cool. When it comes to GWAR, have you ever been invited to direct any of their videos, and if not, would you do so?
James: I have not, but I would love to. Like I said, I’m still good friends with them. I was signing at the GWAR-B-Que last year because Brent Purgason, Pustulus Maximus, was in Killer Waves, actually. I’ve actually been friends with Brent since he was in Cannabis Corpse, who were in Cool As Hell. Those guys crossed over in waves. That Virginia crew is an incestual music scene (laughing). I’m friend with all those guys, so it’s great. I love to work with them, and I’d love to direct a music video for GWAR.
Johnny: Okay. I first met you at the Chiller Theatre convention in October of 2016. Since you attend many shows of that nature, what’s the most rewarding part of attending conventions?
James: I would say the fans. It’s all about you guys, really. I mean, it’s amazing that people love my work. I travel the country and they say, “Wow, you make fun movies. I love to watch them”. That’s the most rewarding part. I started out making movies for me. It’s amazing that they’re in demand and people are so excited for them. “When’s the next one? When’s the next one?”. It takes so long to make a movie, but it only takes 90 minutes to watch it. I wish I could cram in every idea, because I have so many wacky ideas, but it’s amazing. The love…I feel it.
Johnny: Very much so. You’ve been privileged to work with quite a few amazing talents, so which talents would you most like to work with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
James: I’d love to work with Dick Miller. I’m a big Dick Miller fan. I’ve met him a few times at a few shows, so hopefully that will happen soon. I was hanging out with Sybil Danning a few months ago in L.A at a fundraiser, so it would be great to work with Sybil. We’ve done shows together. There’s so many people I’d love to work with.
Johnny: What genre of film that you haven’t done yet would you most like to attempt?
James: Oh, I’d love to do a Western. I’m a big Western fan, and I don’t want to give away any spoiler alerts, but I’ve working on a monster movie Western for a while. It’s just a matter of putting it together, but one day (laughing). You know, the problem is Westerns are so cool, and they’re so technical that it’s a period piece, essentially. You need props, and I feel like there’s just not a love for it. It’s a very cult, underground kind of thing. Westerns never do as well as you hope, you know? It’s funny, because I was having breakfast with a friend over the weekend in Texas, and he was telling me that one of his favorite movies was something that was kind of unsuccessful because there was a problem that surrounded the release. As an artist, your most popular work isn’t always your favorite, which I always think is interesting. One day, I’ll make a Western for me (laughing).
Johnny: Alright. Now I come to my final question: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
James: I don’t know. I’m not a psychic. I try not to look into the future. I just kind of live day to day and ride the wave.
Johnny: Alright. Well, that about does it for my questions. I again thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. I hope you have a good day.
James: I appreciate it, man.
Johnny: Talk to you soon.
James: Okay, buddy.
Johnny: Okay, bye.
I would again like to thank James Balsamo for taking the time to speak to me. For more on James Balsamo’s films, you can visit his Facebook fan page and the website for his production company Acid Bath Productions.
Who will I flashback with next? Stay tuned.