SXSW 2015: Director Jason Howden Previews the Heavy Metal Horror and Friendship of Deathgasm



Horror and Heavy Metal have a long, strong history, both in parallel interests (the occult, general rowdiness, protest, Satan) and combined forces (The Gate, Black Roses, Day of the Beast). They’re bedfellows again in upcoming SXSW Midnighter, the eagerly anticipated Deathgasm, whose wailing teaser got real rad real quick. The film follows two metal maniacs who unwittingly summon an ancient entity. Shredding of all kind ensues. 

Ahead of the festival, Shock Till You Drop spoke with New Zealand-based writer-director Jason Lei Howden about his first feature, a movie about friendship.

Shock Till You Drop: The occult appeal and marriage of heavy metal and horror is strong and long. How did you approach Deathgasm to be loving to such, but also different?

Jason Lei Howden: Our characters unwittingly invoke an ancient evil, mostly from being dumb-asses. They get called Satanists and devil-worshipers by bullies, but they are just good kids who happen to love extreme music. I wanted to show them as real people, rather than straight out Bill and Ted stereotypes.

We feature demons, but you can’t take them out with prayers and crosses and a flick of water. I’ve seen so many possession movies lately, but when it comes to the exorcism scene, you can never top The Exorcist. Sorry, but you just can’t. These are more the Evil Dead-style possessed. You have to stab, bludgeon and hack at them with whatever is lying around.

Shock: We know Deathgasm is about metal and monsters. What’s it really about, at heart?

Howden: It’s about friendship most of all. Two buddies bonded by metal, doing battle together. I believe that the friendships you make during your teen years are some of the strongest. I really tapped into my own experiences of growing up as a Metalhead misfit, the friends I had at the time, and the crazy shit we used to get up to. It’s also about a scared kid overcoming his fears and anxieties and saving the world.

I know metalheads who are cops, firefighters, teachers and VFX artists, Men, Women, Satanists, Christians, Muslims. But we are united by our love of metal. It’s a powerful bond that I wanted to get across to people. Metalheads unite!

Shock: What was your first horror film? Your first metal record?

Howden: When I was really, really young I remember sneaking up at night and seeing a werewolf movie on TV, I’ve since researched and I think it was Wolfen. It was presented by a man in wolf mask, like a horror host. It had a crazy decapitation scene, where a guy has his head ripped off by a Wolf. I remember being really intrigued and excited!

Parents try to protect kids from gore and death, but kids don’t give a shit. They are basically miniature psychopaths; their brains haven’t learnt empathy yet. We had a crew member’s kids in our studio running around with fake arms and intestines. They thought it was awesome.

Me and my friends used to trade dubbed metal cassettes, the degeneration from multiple dubs would always make it sound even heavier and cooler. I think the first album I actually bought was Spheres by death metal band Pestilence. I started on death and black metal, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Emperor and worked my way backwards to Sabbath and Iron Maiden!


Shock: How grand can we expect the gore to get?

Howden: It’s hard to gauge, I’m pretty desensitized to gore. It’s horror comedy splatstick, so it’s fun, stylized gore rather than trying to be ultra-realistic. I put as much gore in as I possibly could with our resources, that’s for sure. There are definitely a few over the top kills which will surprise people, though.

Peter Jackson’s Braindead (Dead Alive) is still one of the goriest splatter movies ever made, and I would love to get enough money to top it one day. Just throw down the gauntlet, and take the gore crown. Maybe that would provoke him to make another horror! Seriously though, Peter will always be the gore king and it’s always made me a bit proud of being a New Zealander.

Shock: Additionally, you’ve a long history in VFX. Deathgasm looks largely practical in its violent execution. Do you have a history in that, as well?

Howden: I dabbled in make-up and practical FX when I was younger. I used to love making alginate face castings. You have to have straws sticking out your nose to breathe, and there was always one friend who thought it would be funny to fart into the tubes while you are incapacitated, with your face covered in the mold. But then I taught myself VFX as a 2D Compositor. I learnt a lot about visual storytelling and composition. And when something goes wrong on set, I know I can fix it in post myself!

We tried to keep Deathgasm as practical as possible, because as a horror fan that’s what I want to see. CG has its places, but there is nothing like being on a movie set when a gore gag is about to go off, the anticipation is intense. The crew is so excited. What will it look like? Where will the fluids end up? I guess it must be similar to shooting a porno in that respect.

For full Deathgasm screening info, head right here. For more on SXSW, see our exclusive director previews with The Invitation’s Karyn Kusama and Pod’s Mickey Keating. See our rundown of the entire Midnighters slate with programmer Jarod Neece here.