For this edition of Heavy Movies, I want to talk about the magical experience that is Jason Lei Howden’s DEATHGASM (all caps because lower case is for pussies). You see, DEATHGASM isn’t just a fantastic Heavy Movie, folks; it’s also one of the greatest horror comedies ever made. Taking cues from the metal-infused Satanic hysteria horror of the ‘80s, coupled with practical FX-laden splatter fare, it has all the ingredients you need for some blood sprayin’ bad ass cinema with tunes to match. Couple that with demons and an impending apocalypse, and you have a heroic underdog story we can all get behind. Then, throw in endlessly witty dialogue and a romantic sub-plot that oscillates between genuinely sweet and hilariously mean-spirited, and what you have is a coming-of-age tale which hilariously, yet sincerely, captures the awkward perils of teenage life.
Following the death of his father and the subsequent institutionalization of his teenage metal head friend, Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is sent to live with his Christian aunt and uncle. Being a black-clad metal dude doesn’t do much for his social life either; his fellow high school students pick on him and his only friends, two nerds who spend their days playing RPGs. But when Brodie meets fellow metaller, Zakk (James Blake), he finds the Wayne to his Garth and the Cheech to his Chong. Not long after meeting, they decide to form a band and call it DEATHGASM (because lower case is for pussies).
However, despite being a social outcast, Brodie attracts the ultra popular Medina (Kimberley Crossman) and they have ice cream together and discuss metal – which she doesn’t understand at first, but he manages to get her into it. But when they arrange a date and Brodie has to miss it for a perfectly valid reason, Zakk swoops in, lies about his friend’s situation to make him look like a dick and takes advantage of Medina. That betrayal leads to some conflict later between the best bros… and sort of causes the proverbial shit to hit the fan that could spell humanity’s death knell. Meanwhile, the town is also home to the legendary rock star, who lives in possession of a hymn sheet with the power to summon the forces of Hell. However, a secret occult agency is seeking the sheet for themselves because they have apocalyptic ambitions in mind, but Brodie does their work for them when he obtains the sheet and plays the forbidden chords out of anger at and, thus, an ancient demon arrives and all hell breaks loose. It is then up to our lovable losers to save the day by any means necessary, which includes staving off possessed forces with sex toys.
DEATHGASM is a throwback to the splatter comedies of yesteryear like Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992) and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1980). The plot, like the Satanic panic epidemic metal movies, features metal as the source of all bad things happening, though unlike some of those films which merely sought to cash in on hysteria, DEATHGASM cheekily satirizes the belief that metal inspires atrocities. The beauty of DEATHGASM is that Howden’s music and cinematic influences shine in every frame – and with a soundtrack that includes everything from blackened death and thrash, to metal power ballads, it unabashedly embraces all sub-genres and shatters the idea that just because you listen to death metal, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate a ballad either. DEATHGASM is a celebration of heavy music in all its forms, as well as horror cinema – and it’s just perfect.
Of course, movies like this need more than mindless gore and banging anthems to be special, and DEATHGASM accomplishes that through a cast of misfit characters you can’t help but fall in love with. Like Shaun of the Dead (2004), it contains themes we can all relate to, like romance and friendship, while also retaining that unique quality of hangout movie which makes these fictional characters feel like your friends. You put this movie on time after time and it feels like catching up with your pals for old time’s sake.
DEATHGASM is everything a Heavy Movie should be. It honors our culture while, at the same time, isn’t afraid to poke fun at it. And through all the makeup and metal are a group of awkward goofballs experiencing the same heartache, fear, and confusion that most of us have felt at one point or another. Yet, despite their problems, they rise to the occasion and save the world. DEATHGASM has a lot of blood and splattered body parts, but the organ that remains splashed over the screen more than any is the heart. This is mushy, metal mayhem at its finest, and I can’t recommend it enough.