Originally published on October 1, 2015. Deathgasm is now available on Amazon Prime’s instant streaming service.
Overview: Best friends Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake) bond over their mutual appreciation of Death Metal in suburban New Zealand, form a band, and perform an ancient black magic hymn that releases a force of evil. Dark Sky Films; 2015; Not Rated; 86 minutes.
Splatter-Fun: A self-proclaimed fan of such low-budget, splatter-fest classics as Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead and Peter Jackson’s cult-favorite horror comedy Bad Taste, writer and director Jason Lei Howden’s debut feature length film honors both sources of inspiration impeccably, albeit with all of the flair of an independent talent just beginning to come into his own. Howden’s Deathgasm is hyperbolic in all of the right ways, exhausting its clichéd and hyperactive premise and gory aesthetics to the utmost excess of bad taste. Produced by New Zealand genre-guru Ant Timpson, of Housebound and The ABCs of Death fame, Howden’s film is one that brilliantly celebrates heavy metal’s roots in an appreciation of the satanic and the demonic, and one that features buckets of blood to boot. But no matter how gory Howden’s film becomes, the relationship held between actors Cawthorne and Blake at the film’s center assures viewers that the film they are watching has a beating, sentimental heart at its center that never shies away from self-deprecation and knowing nods to the audience in its utilization of horror genre tropes played as B-movie aesthetics in the service of genuine laughs.
Outcast Status: Much of Howden’s film’s appeal lies within the outcast status placed upon its central protagonist, Brodie. As played by Cawthorne, Brodie is immediately relatable to anyone who spent their teenage years as a social recluse of one sort or another, even if we weren’t all listening to hardcore rock music featuring demonic lyrics, shredding guitars, pounding drum beats, and guttural, screaming vocals. Pulling from a lot of real life experience, the film follows Brodie as he befriends a local, Kiwi metal enthusiast Zakk while the two embark on forming their own band, before unwittingly unleashing a force of chaos and apocalyptic destruction through the power of garage band noodling. In a lesser made, low-budget independent comedy of the same type, such a fraternal relationship would appear pat and low-brow, but in Howden’s hands Cawthorne and Blake exude a casual intimacy that is entirely familiar to all men who share an entirely platonic, albeit familiar, bond with another member of the same sex, a feat that’s easier said than done when it comes to screenwriting and filmed performance. At times, Cawthorne and Blake don’t appear to be within a film at all, the comedy beats and bloody violence erupting with a near spontaneity that lends much of the humor and immediate drama to the proceedings of what is a highly unorthodox buddy comedy and horror movie send-up.
Hardcore Sentimentality: Brewing beneath the surface of what is one of the most outlandishly violent and fantastically hardcore genre features in recent memory, Howden’s film offers a surprising take on the bonds of friendship, young love, and budding personal maturity. Filling out the cast in the supporting roles of significant other Medina (Kimber
ley Crossman) and gawky best friends Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell), Cawthorne and Blake share significant screen-time in order to form a more perfect and well rounded band of misfits better fit to quell the demonic onslaught of Aeloth the Blind One. While the rain of blood, terror, and thrash guitar power chords that surround the central bonds held within the titular heavy metal band members and groupie, it is between the film’s cast that much of the gore and splatter can be seen most clearly, each sequence of outright violence and immoral depravity set against the contrast of genuine friendship and attraction. The film might be an ode to some of the loudest, most demonic pieces of popular music from the past fifty plus years, but at its heart it is no less sentimentally honest and emotionally compelling than any other low-budget comedy to come out of New Zealand since the introduction of Flight of the Conchords state-side, and follows the precedent set earlier this year by the vampire-satire What We Do in the Shadows.
Overall: Deathgasm is a brilliantly conceived, comedic imaging of a demonic summoning and attendant apocalypse summoned by the powers of hardcore, heavy metal music that is appropriately awash in gore, shock, and awe, though it all ties together towards a genuine sentimental core sustained by its star players.