DIRECTED BY: Jason Lei Howden
FEATURING: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell
PLOT: Brodie, a dopey New Zealand metalhead, finds magical sheet music that summons a dark demon and turns the populace of a small town into homicidal abominations.
COMMENTS: “No way!” protests Brodie when the girl he’s sweet on asks if heavy metal music isn’t just a bunch of guys screaming. And then he considers the question. “Well… apart from grindcore,” he admits, “and death metal is kind of like that.” Thinking further: “And deathcore, screamo, pornogrind, black metal, metalcore, thrash, and murdercore. But apart from those…”
Brodie has no apology to give, and neither does Deathgasm, which has two very simple and straightforward messages to deliver: gore is fun, and metal rocks. Those two credos are delivered very efficiently, with both glorious teenage doofiness and spectacularly gross carnage.
The lines couldn’t be drawn more starkly: Brodie, the metalhead with a mentally-ill mom, finds himself dropped into a decidedly non-metal-appreciating small town, populated by his holy-roller aunt and uncle, his bullying cousin, and an indifferent community. Under these conditions, he finds solidarity in the few places he can, including a pair of role-playing nerds, a sympathetic record store owner, and the only other hard rocker in town, Zakk. Zakk’s many skills include thievery, wounding classmates, making napalm to carve the words “HAIL SATIN” (sic) into a field, and of course bass-playing, so the four outcasts form the eponymous band. (We get to see them film their video for “Intestinal Bungy Jump,” a release on Crowbar Abortion Records. Their bonafides must not be questioned.) It’s in pursuit of even harder stuff that they raid the ramshackle house of a forgotten metal legend, and that’s when the blood starts to flow.
Director Howden has a skillful visual sense of humor, deploying edits to great effect (such as when Zakk is revealed to be stealing fuel from an ambulance). He also has a adolescent’s love of fluids, as there seems to be no end to the blood, vomit, bile, feces, and other bodily effluvia that spews forth. To his credit, he is constantly coming up with more extreme ways to build upon the bloody mayhem, with a particular appreciation for the inappropriate. Sex toys, it turns out, make for excellent weapons, and genitals are just good a target to take out the undead as a bullet to the brain. The humor Deathgasm is going for seems to be a blend of the winking dryness of Shaun of the Dead, the outlandish grotesquerie of the Evil Dead series, and the go-for-broke gleefulness of fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson’s low-budget productions; on that level, it delivers the goods.
When it comes to that list of forebears, though, Deathgasm’s approach feels awfully mathematical, as though it was carefully measuring out portions of each of those inspirations. There’s plenty of shock, but not a whole lot of surprise. There are a couple interesting twists: the slick villain who appears to be our heroes’ greatest foe is amusingly usurped by a seemingly incidental character, and the fate of Brodie’s awful cousin is genuinely hilarious. But even the most successful elements are satisfying without necessarily being inspired. It’s great to see Medina, Brodie’s eventual love interest, start to give herself over to the open-hearted release of metal, culminating in the breakthrough moment where she first listens to the disc Brodie loans her and is immediately transported to a distant mountaintop with hot babes writhing at her feet. But while her additional transformation into a badass zombie fighter is delightful, it’s not really motivated by anything but our desire to see it. Deathgasm entertains, but it often feels like it’s checking boxes on a list of horror must-haves.
And it must be said that as much as Deathgasm carries the flag for metal music, metal does seem to be at the root of all the problems that ensue. The dedicated pursuit of “devil music” as a means to be transgressive leads our heroes to find literal devil music. And the more experienced and dedicated metalhead, Zakk, is quite the jerk. As much as this movie proudly thrusts devil horns into the air, you wouldn’t be wrong to think that it’s not entirely on the genre’s side.
Deathgasm has a blessedly simple and pure goal: it wants to rock. Let the record show that it does, playing all the hits, sometimes with a catchy sound. But it’s not too strange, not too far off a path traveled before. Think of it as comfort-horror, or maybe liquid metal.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Deathgasm combines the visual flair of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with the manic, gory energy of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2… Howden also fills Deathgasm with shockingly weird moments that catch you off guard… So many bizarre forms of murder and mutilation are up on the screen that it would be impossible to count them all.”–Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat
(This movie was nominated for review by Lovecraft In Brooklyn, who described it as “Kinda Evil Dead ish.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)