Deathgasm Dir. Jason Lei Howden

[Dark Sky Films; 2015]

Styles: horror comedy
Others: Evil Dead II, Dead Alive, Shaun Of The Dead, The Gate, Trick Or Treat

For years we’ve been warned of the satanic effects of heavy metal music. Whether it’s some holy roller preacher, the PMRC, or films like The Gate or Trick Or Treat, the message has always been clear: heavy metal is the preferred musical accompaniment for the damned and the demonic. But what so many of those who spit on metal ignore are the uplifting and socially unifying elements of the music and its culture; its ability to empower those who might otherwise be outcasts and misfits. It’s an ideal venting mechanism, allowing its listeners to vocalize the rage they must otherwise swallow in the face of straight society. Of course, metal also leans purposefully into this perception, with groups utilizing arcane and satanic imagery to sell their wares and identify themselves as brutal or hardcore. It’s a double-edged sword that metal wields, using that imagery for its own “dark” purposes while being castigated by outsiders for using it.

Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm uses both sides of this metal coin, making metal the conjurer of blood-vomiting demons as well as the redemptive power that creates friendship and provides solace to the downtrodden. It’s a clever film that’s fun, brutal, and metal as all get out, managing to tell an interesting story with gallons of blood and tons of viscera. While it lands more on the comedy spectrum of its horror-comedy roots, as most films of this kind do, it’s nevertheless an entertaining movie that moves at a brisk pace and has a positive message about metal, without compromising any of its dark humor.

Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) has just moved to the boring suburbs to live with his uncle’s uptight Christian family. He doesn’t fit in at school, gets bullied by his cousin, and pines for the seemingly unattainable Medina (Kimberley Crossman), only finding companionship with fellow social rejects Giles and Dion (Daniel Cresswell and Sam Berkley). Things perk up when Brodie meets Zakk (James Blake) at a record store and the foursome soon start a band (the titular “Deathgasm”). When Brodie gets his hands on an ancient sheet of music, it turns out to be the Black Hymn which, when played, summons forth the King of Demons. Soon it’s Hell on Earth as Brodie and his compatriots try to figure out how to undo the spell and combat the hordes of demonic creatures that are now roaming the streets.

Obviously, Deathgasm is not a subtle film — but who seeks subtlety from a heavy metal horror film? It uses mostly practical effects to showcase various stabbings, beheadings, and other dismemberments, along with some fun Lamberto Bava-styled demons attacking the protagonists. Juxtaposed with the absurdity of the monster action, Howden’s film is also very much grounded in the real world by creating relatable characters. It does a good job of showing why metal is such a soothing balm to the film’s group of misfits, while also underlining just how rough life can be for outcasts in high school.

Despite being a horror comedy, there’s nothing ever really scary in Deathgasm, although there is plenty of viscera to appease the average gorehound. This giddy sensibility harkens back to Peter Jackson’s earlier works or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, and there’s a real sense that Howden is a filmmaker who truly enjoys playing in this particular (macabre) sandbox, as is evident in the many inventive uses of cameras, shots, animation, and even the weaponry with which our heroes dispose of their demonic antagonists. It’s not quite an assault on the senses, but it is a joyful bit of chaos that keeps audiences constantly guessing what will happen next.

The association between heavy metal and the dark arts is an old one, rooted in counterculturalism and appropriation for the sake of rebellion. Deathgasm carries on this tradition, reveling in its gore without disparaging, or pandering to, metal. It also expertly replicates the high school experience of the metalhead, the attraction that the scene holds for folks who are otherwise unthrilled with life. Howden goes to absurd lengths with his comedy and his splatter, and even the most hardcore of fans will find it darkly pleasing. Death to false metal, indeed.

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