Heavy metal and horror seemingly go together like blast beats and tremolo picking, but outside of Cannibal Corpse album covers we don’t really have a ton of great works that combine the two. The TV show Todd and the Book of Pure Evil was cut short and we’re all patiently awaiting the animated conclusion, and there was the recent comic book series, Black Metal, but that’s about it. Fortunately, Deathgasm fits this niche like a glove.
We’ve heard overly protective parents tell their kids time and time again that “heavy metal is the devil” and if Deathgasm is any indication…sometimes that’s true in a more literal sense. Upon receiving some old beaten up sheet music that looks like torn pages from the Necronomicon, small town metalheads Brodie and Zakk play the song written on the pages at their band practice and accidentally summon Hell on Earth. From there on out, the film turns into a story of survival as their neighbors go crazy and begin to have a serious hunger for human meat.
The cast here is great. Milo Cawthorne stars as Brodie, the new kid in town. He’s just arrived to stay with his aunt and uncle (who are diehard Christians) due to some “familial issues” with his actual parents. Soon he meets up with fellow metalhead Zakk (James Blake), who is “cooler” and more “in the know” when it comes to underground bands, even if he is a bit morally ambiguous. Kimberly Crossman rounds out our main characters as Medina, the girlfriend of Brodie’s douchebag cousin and the girl that he’s crushing on hard. The only downside here might be the character of Zakk. Actor James Blake does a fine job, but I left the movie unsure of exactly how we were supposed to feel about him. He’s kind of a dick, and goes back and forth between being portrayed as a good guy and a total asshole. It’s all just a bit confusing.
Being a horror comedy, some of the best moments come from times when the characters just talk. Brodie and Zakk’s first meeting is great. They stand next to each other in total silence at a record shop, digging through crates and pausing on certain albums just to see how the other will react. Not only is this hilarious, but it cleverly sets up their dynamic right off the bat. Likewise, Brodie attempting to explain his love of metal to Medina makes for some awkward moments. Then again, seeing him eat ice cream in a bright and sunny park while fully decked out in black clothes and corpse paint adds to that.
The comedic writing in general here is really well-done. This movie is hilarious. The humor is smartly implemented and writer/director Jason Lei Howden doesn’t even stick to one particular type of comedy. The film constantly mixes it up, which keeps things fresh. There’s all of the funny dialogue and clever one-liners that you’d expect in this kind of film, and the cast pulls all of them off beautifully. On top of that there’s plenty of situational humor like the scenes I’ve already mentioned and there’s bits and pieces of absolute absurdity sprinkled throughout. Without giving anything away, the “do it again” scene in particular is completely ridiculous. It had me laughing pretty hard, but I’m glad they kept moments like that to a minimum. An overuse of that kind of stuff can begin to ruin the surprise, which is a big part of the fun.
That all being said, the biggest comedic element of Deathgasm comes from the “splatstick” use of gore. While the first half of the film presents itself more as a straightforward comedy, the second half takes a hard turn into territory resembling something like Evil Dead 2 meets Dance of the Dead. Hell, even a lot of the camerawork is Raimi-esque and inventive, including a shot from inside of a mouth. This is an incredibly bloody movie and almost all of the effects are practical. The few moments of CGI that do exist aren’t particularly great, but since they’re so few and far between, they’re easy to look past. All of the blood, makeup, and prosthetics are handled wonderfully, though. This is a movie that would fit right along with the likes of Bad Taste or even the recent Turbo Kid in terms of both the way that gore is used as well as the amount.
The plot itself is rather straight forward and it’s the kind of setup we’ve seen a million times before. However, since the cast and characters as well as the pacing, humor, and action are all great, I don’t really care how original the setup is. My only nitpicks with the writing come from a few subplots that feel kind of unnecessary. There’s a love triangle slapped right in the middle that hinges on a misunderstanding and it doesn’t really add much of anything to movie. On that same the note, all of the stuff about the cult doesn’t feel all that important and they probably could have gotten away with not including them at all.
The one thing that I probably appreciated more than anything is that Deathgasm has a real sense of authenticity about it every time that heavy metal is discussed. When you’re a metalhead you can tell when the screenwriter doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and often it’s the little things. When a film gets small details wrong like calling Cannibal Corpse a black metal band most people won’t even know the difference, but we know. We know the proper terminology. We know the difference between corpse paint and Kiss makeup. We know why Autopsy is a cooler record store find than Trivium. Actually, the aforementioned record store scene is a perfect example of this kind of thing, because I think most of us who are old enough to remember buying physical media have had similar experiences. I’ve been to those places. I’ve judged people based on their purchases. I’ve lived that life.
There’s also a ton of references to bands that metalheads will recognize, in particular fans of black and death metal. An afterlife that includes “Mayhem’s original lineup” is mentioned at one point. There’s a music video shoot that’s looks like it could have been made by Immortal around the same time they put out “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark).” Then there’s the passing mentions, shirts, posters, and brief glimpses that fill every frame of this movie. Hell, I’m even pretty sure that Zakk’s name is spelled that way as a nod to Zakk Wylde, guitarist for Black Label Society.
Overall, Deathgasm is just a hell of a lot of fun. The characters are great, the humor is well-played, and the gore gags are amazing. If you’re a fan of gory horror comedies like Dead Alive (Braindead if you’re not in the states) or Evil Dead 2, then this will be right up your alley. You can tell that Jason Lei Howden is a real genre fan and really knows his stuff when it comes to the music as well. If you’ve patiently been waiting for the conclusion of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, then this is something to immediately check out. If you’re not into metal then your mileage may vary. Deathgasm isn’t a movie for everyone, but it’s sure as hell a movie for me. Deathgasm will see a release across VOD platforms October 2, 2015.
Wicked Rating: 7/10
Director(s): Jason Lei Howden
Writer(s): Jason Lei Howden
Stars: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberly Crossman
Release: October 2,2015
Studio/ Production Co: Metalheads, MPI Media Group, New Zealand Film Commission, Timpson Films
Length: 90 minutes
Sub-Genre: Horror Comedy