Depictions of heavy metal culture in film have been historically spotty: riddled with sophomoric stereotypes, and mostly out of touch with the metal scene as it currently stands. Earlier in the year, I reviewed the brilliant but starkly serious Icelandic film, Metalhead, and it signaled that the tide was turning to reflect a truer depiction of the emotional connectivity to heavy music and why we are attracted to it. Although vastly different films, Deathgasm aims to project that same truth.
New Zealand’s Deathgasm is a prototypical horror-comedy with a grindhouse vibe, recalling a tone not dissimilar from the Evil Dead series. The comedy works consistently well throughout the film, hitting all of the desired beats and punchlines. The horror was adequately horrific, and if you came for gore, you were not disappointed. Beheadings? Check. Disembowelments? Check. Oceans of blood spillage? Check. There’s even a handful of token bare boobage for exploitive measure. All of these elements are conjoined for good fun in the end. That’s where Deathgasm really succeeds. Much like the heavy metal the film idolizes, it’s an over-the-top, escapist celebration of metal and horror. Above all, Deathgasm may just be the most metal film of all time.
Much credit should go to writer/director Jason Lei Howden. With an impressive background mostly in visual and digital effects, Deathgasm is his first full-length film in the director’s chair. He gave the production the quick, precise editing style of a much higher profile movie. The quality will certainly lift the film above most of the other contemporary B-level, low budget horror movies. Metal fans will also appreciate the small details and authenticity the director includes that reflect how much of a metal nerd he really is.
The plot is something you would expect to find in an ’80s B horror movie. Our protagonist, Brody (played by Milo Cawthorne) is a teenaged metalhead outcast forced to live with his uncle’s Jesus-loving family in the sedated suburbs. For some reason, his bully cousin David terrorizes Brody and his brand new, über nerdy friends Dion and Giles. Everything changes when Brody meets the anarchistic, alpha-male metalhead Zakk, played by James Blake—who has a haunting resemblance to a 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) era Heath Ledger. The foursome then start a an extreme metal garage band called Deathgasm.
Like all high school coming-of-age movies, there is a love interest for Brody— Medina, played by the very cute Kimberly Grossman. Not to belabor you with the entire story, but the boys end up turning half of their neighborhood into zombified demons by playing a black magic spell-song given to them by a legendary satanic musician. Hilarity and bloody violence ensues. Whether it’s Planet Terror (2007), Feast (2005), or Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight (1995), the common horror plot device of the whole town being overrun by blood thirsty manifestations is still effectively entertaining.
While watching Deathgasm, I still couldn’t help but think about Metalhead. Despite having tones that are light years apart, there are similarities that are worth pointing out. The fact that Iceland and New Zealand are both isolated, island-nations play a part in how these filmmakers are representing heavy metal. Metal is still viewed as definitively outsider culture that rails against the conformed and buttoned-up regular folk and establishment. In the US and Europe, metal is just…there. The fear of satanism, suicide, or deleterious behavior being spawned by heavy music is kind of a relic from the ’80s. The last heavy metal figure to scare soccer moms is probably Marilyn Manson in the mid-’90s, and notably the uproar after the Columbine school shooting massacre. Both films’ throwback perspective gives us a bird’s eye look at heavy metal culture with fresh, virgin eyes. This has the potential to fetishize metal or present the culture purely as novelty to dip a toe in like a tourist. I can’t one hundred precent predict how non-metal fans will react because I am a metalhead, and have difficulty looking at these works as a “normal” person.
It should be said that I found the music of Deathgasm to a be a little disappointing. It seemed like a golden opportunity to put together a fantastic heavy metal soundtrack. It wasn’t bad, just obscure. I don’t know if was beyond the film’s budget to secure sync licenses for more well-known bands, but I didn’t recognize any songs or bands while watching the film. It would have been nice to hear some of the Trivium and Cannibal Corpse the movie was flaunting. Investigating the music, it turns out there is an Emperor and Ishahn song on the yet to be released soundtrack, but most of the music is represented by lesser known (at least to me) Kiwi bands like 8 Foot Sativa, Beastwars, Razorwyre, Bulletbelt, and several international underground bands like Axeslasher, Midnight, Skull Fist, Lair of the Minotaur, Elm Street, and The Wretched End. I give Howden credit for using Deathgasm as a way to expose New Zealand metal and other underground bands, even if I would have enjoyd a more star-studded soundtrack.
Overall, I count Deathgasm as a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a diehard metalhead or ’80s-style gory horror movie fan. I was lucky enough to see the film in an old-school theater filled with rowdy metal and horror fans, and everyone had a great time. Grab a few beers, a few friends, kick back, and enjoy. “Brotherhood of steel!”