J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Deathgasm: Heavy Metal Horror

As long as there are angst-ridden teens, there will be a market for really loud music. Punk has the advantage of its cool anarchist ideology, but there are more bikini-clad women in heavy metal videos. Of course, reality is nothing like that for bullied metalheads like Brodie. However, the satanic apocalypse could reshuffle the social order of Brodie’s white bread New Zealand high school, if he survives it. Heavy metal and demons really do go together like a horse and carriage in Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters and also releases on VOD.

After his mother is institutionalized, Brodie is forced to move in with his Ned Flanderish Uncle Albert, whose jerky jock son goes out of his way to torment him at school. Initially, the only people who will hang out with him are the D&D playing band geeks (C’mon, doesn’t Howden know Pathfinder has taken all of their marketshare?), until he meets Zakk, an older, more sociopathic metalhead. Naturally, they all form a band: Deathgasm. Through an unlikely chain of events, Brodie comes into possession of a heavy metal black mass that literally unleashes H-E-double hockey sticks when they play it.

Anyone within earshot who was not jamming on the tune turns into a bloodthirsty demon. It is all very inconvenient, but at least it gives Brodie an opportunity to kill his family in good conscience. In fact, it turns out Medina, Brodie’s out-of-his-league crush is one of the best demon killers around—and she is developing an ear for heavy metal.

So in Deathgasm you have heavy metal, demons, shadowy satanic cultists, gore with chainsaws, and gore with sex toys—basically everything that made Harry Potter popular with third and fourth graders. Yet, underneath all the blood, guts, and contempt for easy listening, Deathgasm actually has a good heart. Brodie’s halting courtship of Medina is nearly as sweet as it is unlikely. On the other hand, his frienemy antagonism with the jackastical Zakk is certainly believable enough. Still, what really sells the film is Howden’s feel for the disaffected metalhead lifestyle and the outsider appeal of the music. The short-lived character of Rikki Daggers, a legendarily reclusive former metal star is particularly spot-on.

Howden does not exactly reinvent blackly humorous carnage, but he goes about it with admirable enthusiasm. There are a number of spectacularly gruesome gags, which Howden is never afraid to double-down on. As Brodie, Milo Cawthorne sometimes gets annoyingly sad-eyed and mopey, in an Adrien Brody kind of way, but James Blake and Kimberley Crossman bring plenty of energy as Medina and Zakk, respectively.

It should be noted Deathgasm has a stinger that is arguably worth sticking out the credits for. It is a proud meathead movie that delivers the right vibe and the right attitude. Recommended for genre fans who like their films loud and rude, Deathgasm screens after midnight this Friday (10/2) and Saturday (10/3) at the Nitehawk in Brooklyn.

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