Jason Lei Howden’s debut feature Deathgasm is an outrageous, balls-to-the-wall, metal-drenched throwback to the low-budget splatter films of the ’80s in which dick jokes, gore, bad-taste and mayhem abound. The film, which was shot on a shoestring budget after it’s premise won 2013’s Make My Horror Movie contest, is an exciting debut from Howden and another fantastic addition to the great New Zealand Horror canon1 – given the country’s excellent track record with genre features it would be an understatement to say that Australian funding boards have a lot to learn.
Deathgasm follows two misfit metalheads, Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake – no, not that one), in a small New Zealand town as they befriend Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell), two Dungeons and Dragons nerds, form a band, summon the devil, and fight zombies with a wonderful, axe-wielding love interest in the form of recent metal convert and too-smart-for-this-towner Medina (Kimberley Crossman). It’s brutally violent, excessively gory, and a whole lot of fun over. My only real gripe with the film – and it’s a big one2 – is that a fair portion of the plotting is cliched and unnecessary, with a few scenes that suffer under poorly conceived, plot-pushing dialogue that Cawthorne and Blake fail to carry successfully. That’s not to say that the script itself bad; in fact, barring these few moments, it’s actually excellent, rich with humour that virtually always hits the mark and ridiculously obscure and niche references that go way deeper than what we usually expect from these sorts of fan-servicing, feature film presentations.3
What it lacks in consistently solid plotting, it makes up for tenfold in hilarious gags and gory setpieces. Zombies are attacked with chainsaws, axes, swords, drills, Ben Wa balls, and gigantic black dildos. Gallons of blood are spilled, numerous zombies are decapitated, and countless bodies are mangled well beyond repair. On top of the visual gags, most of which were created expertly using some fantastic prosthetics and practical effects, we are treated to some absolutely inspired one-liners from a man who clearly knows his extreme metal – although I question the notion that characters who are into the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Baroness, and Emperor would be into something as accessible and mainstream as Trivium. There’s a gleeful sense of creativity on display in the use of Howden’s low budget – he’s managed to make a film that will appeal to even the most hardened of metalheads and will have a longevity within the scene that more mainstream counter-points that incorporate metalhead characters cannot boast. There’s a wonderful knowledge of horror history too, with hidden references to the Evil Dead series and Peter Jackson’s earlier work like Brain Dead, nice little nods that will help propel it into the good-books of the wider horror community. In this sense, there’s not much this film does wrong that couldn’t be fixed with some extra production time or a larger budget, which suggests an exciting future ahead for Howden and his collaborators – their hearts and heads are in the right place and they are truly capable of great things.
It’s worth mentioning that for a film which could easily stroll into misogynist territory (metalheads are not renowned for their progressive sexual politics) or crassness for crassness’s sake, Howden does extremely well, making a film that should not be oppressively inaccessible for those who aren’t used to dealing with the more negative portions of the metal community while not sugar-coating his leads. His characters are likable when they need to be, unlikeable when they don’t and Howden’s script never missteps into problematic territory despite a plethora of juvenile, puerile dick jokes – every time it looked as though it may stray into pointlessly misogynist or homophobic terrain his script took a left turn, straying down a different, more intelligent path, with only as much sexism as the genres of horror and metal demand. On a whole, it’s way less misogynist than most purist metalheads I know and for that Howden should be applauded.
While it isn’t the best film ever made and has its fair share of plot-based problems, what the film lacks in narrative polish it makes up for in fun – and its aesthetics aren’t too shabby either. It wouldnt be going out on a limb to say I love this film, and while this isn’t going to be for everyone, its crossover audience will be fairly large considering its potentially exclusionary content. I’d go out and see this with a big audience while you can: the sold out opening session was a heap of fun and this is going to play much better with a big audience who ‘gets it’ than it will on home video. In saying this, I think it will stick in the minds of horror heads for decades to come; Horror films this consistently fun are few and far between and, at least in my mind, in this respect Deathgasm seems destined for future cult status.