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“DEATHGASM” (Fantasia Movie Review)

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The metalhead helped make the horror genre strong. That Manpower LP cover with devil ladies and lightning, a parental nightmare during the Satanic Panic hysteria, and the power harnessed by rolling the die as a Chaotic Neutral Dwarf that would annihilate your enemies: This spirit existed in horror cinema’s heyday, meaning the ’80s. The real stuff. Denim warriors. Studs.

But the soundtracks and characters soon faded into nu-metal riffs and eyeliner as we entered the late ’90s. Where had the traditional metalheads gone? Well, now they’re back. Jason Lei Howden’s DEATHGASM (which had its Canadian premiere at the current Fantasia festival, and will be released Stateside by Dark Sky Films) has ridden the thunder down to bring us a boon from Odin: Gory, funny and downright delightful, this New Zealand production is no cover band; it’s as fresh as this morning’s corpse paint, and it has come to rock your world.

Before we even get into the narrative, we are blasted with choice riffs and an awesome opening sequence, designed to blow our minds. Metal song titles, cast names and rad monster drawings animate to life on lined paper—the very same kind that was in your black-and-white notebook that you drew upside crosses in during chemistry class. Sitting in the back, quietly worshiping the devil. I don’t judge; it was my lifestyle too.

The movie keeps its premise simple so that it may get down to business, with buckets of blood and buckets of Satan. A group of friends, led by Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake), start a band called Deathgasm. They seek a song held close by old rocker legend Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure), and when played…well, it brings all hell to town. And who can save the day but our metal heroes, along with Brodie’s crush Medina (Kimberley Crossman)? They learn to kill evil together, and there is a sweetness in that.

DEATHGASMREV

DEATHGASM is its own beast, and can stand tall beside ROCK ’N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE on your DVD shelf. Though the film contains some subtle references for the diehards, it remains unique and plays its own riffs. Its influences range from its own country of origin by way of Peter Jackson’s gonzo DEAD ALIVE gore to Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD II antics, with some blue rotoscope TRICK OR TREAT lightning for good measure (this bit I did not get at first until informed by those in the know). That said, DEATHGASM holds its own, not a parody or “in the style of…” It’s pure, a pure continuation of the subgenre. And keeping true to its legacy, the creatures and death sprays are all practical. The cast get to interact with the physicality of the gags and not some ephemeral CGI malcontents.

Even folks who have never attended a Slayer concert will enjoy DEATHGASM. It moves at a relentless pace, and the leads are entirely too endearing, authentic and committed to be metal as hell to not be engaging for Everyman audiences. Those viewers will get a glimpse into the lifestyle and maybe find a bit of metal within them they never thought they had; those who throw up Dio horns (or, in more current circles, “the claw”)— might recall their first time listening to Celtic Frost. Feeling like they could take on the world and all those f**king bullies in high school with a battle-axe and war cry.

This is DEATHGASM.

Authentic, you ask? The style is on point, an important consideration if you’re going to get a counterculture right: Your audience will know it’s off, and you’ll lose them. Howden’s writing and direction lead us to Valhalla. This is his lifestyle and his love (albeit most likely without the demons) he is documenting. Sure, some scenes spotlight the use of sex toys as weapons against evil, but what’s a little dildo-wielding between bandmates? Happens on the road all the time. It just adds to the momentum of action and sense of play, which in itself is very metal.

The film also allows us to play outdoors for a bit, during exterior night scenes that take us out of the one-location indie-horror formula one comes across too often. Taking the story to the streets sometimes reveals the edges of the budget—which only makes me feel I need to give them all my money for the sequel. A stronger central villain would have been cool too; Shanna (Delaney Tabron), truly a backstabbing witch, is underwritten as the chosen devil worshiper who’s going to bring the Big Guy back, which shifts the audience’s focus to an undifferentiated horde of undead demons as the real threat. It’s their bloodshed we pay attention to, and not that of the woman in the cloak.

Yet in the face of not always having wall-to-wall demons and a weaker-than-average core baddie, you go back to the protagonists. Be in love with its every character; they’re trying their best. They are giving it their all, for metal, and for friendship for life. It was and is all about the music, creating a united front against the enemy and never, ever leaving each other behind, even in a hellscape. Put on your makeup and sweet gear and try to save the world. That’s what metalheads do. Their songs are sometimes about Vikings, so of course we trust them with a demon problem. They got this.

Indeed, at the core of all the carnage and bloodshed, DEATHGASM is about sticking by your mates and by your music. And how maybe the love of metal can really save the day, get you the girl and help you better understand yourself in a world plagued by demons. It has heart, and that heart is also bursting with gore. It’s an authentic representation of a piece of the genre’s past that should have never been forgotten. Take whatever chance you have to see DEATHGASM, turn it up way loud (always to 11) and shred.

3.5_skull

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About the author
Heather Buckley
Heather has a dual career as a Producer (Red Shirt Pictures) and a film journalist. Raised on genre since the age of 13, she’s always been fascinated by extreme art cinema, monster movies and apocalyptic culture. Her first love was a Gorezone no. 9 bought at Frank's Stationary in Keyport, NJ. She has not looked back since. Follow her on Twitter @_heatherbuckley
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