SXSW Review: Deathgasm is Silly as Hell

ON

DeathgasmFeat

Films heavily inspired by and in the style of Evil Dead aren’t often very good. Aside from the fact that Evil Dead already exists, and then has been riffed on and assumed a most glorious form in Evil Dead II, the movie is singular. Yes, it’s resourceful on a low budget, but it’s also Sam Raimi, who frankly, most filmmakers working in horror aren’t. Which isn’t to say Deathgasm, the New Zealand heavy metal horror-comedy from director Jason Lei Howden attains those heights, but it does have what many of indie horror’s more deadite-aping movies don’t: a ludicrous sensibility and a lot of leather-clad personality. 

Deathgasm isn’t focused on suburban dorks. Well, it is. But not bland suburban dorks. This isn’t a tale of nerd rage or geek heroics, it’s centered on corpse-painted, thrasher outcasts of a small New Zealand town who literally raise hell, and are as goofy as it in the process. Deathgasm and writer-director Jason Lei Howden know that metal is a multifaceted thing, alternately badass and posing, silly and so fucking evil. Of course the film—with over-the-top practical face rips, and spine rips, and chainsaw rips, and head rips—embraces the sillier side of it all (“Intestinal Bungy Cord” being the great name of an in-movie song), but takes each moment to a most ridiculous place. It’s juvenile and gory, but Howden isn’t interested in stopping where the joke is most obvious. He isn’t satisfied with an elite Satanist complaining about the carpet stains of a decapitation. No, the joke is that the Satanist forces his robed, goat-headed cronies to then put down a tarp and re-perform the dismemberment, going through the motions with a lifeless body. Similarly, an immature and adolescent male preoccupation with dicks isn’t limited to a running gag, but climaxes in a demon fight with dildos.

The dildo-wielding duo at the center of Deathgasm are Brodie (Milto Crawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake). Brodie’s new in town and quickly finds companionship with the only other metalhead, as well as catches the eye of blonde beauty Medina (a knowing and smartly assured performance from Kimberley Crossman). The three leads are a real heart to Deathgasm, their chemistry and comedy rolling naturally, while Crawthorne’s angular face nails the pained outcast who does find solace in heavy music, and Blake easily nailing the posturing of a hopeful badass. Crossman meanwhile brings an empowered, curious personality to Medina. A moment in which she teases and titillates the shy Brodie becomes empowered and entirely hers, rather than extension of teenage dude fantasy.

Their story itself is fairly familiar, if comforting: a sludgy, heavy banger brings about one of Satan’s guard. It’s a tune called the Black Hymn, held on to by their reclusive death metal demigod, which unleashes demons when played. The rest of the film is then spent fending off townspeople who previously judged them and are now their outright attackers. Some lip service is paid to the grief of brutally offing family members (Blake in particular gets a tender moment about his dad), but Deathgasm is rather rip roaring. Remember the dildos? They go straight into the faces of Brodie’s conservative aunt & uncle, after all.

Also fairly familiar are the trajectories of Brodie and Medina, and Brodie and Zakk. There’s flirtation and misunderstanding and reconciliation, as well as brother-like connection and ultimate conflict. Wisely, Howden doesn’t let these last all too long. There’s too many heads to split and axes to shred. Deathgasm is propulsive in its momentum, which leads to a sort of abrupt structure, but also helps to gloss over flaws inherent to low-budget splatter productions.

Deathgasm is a midnight movie through and through. It’s in, it’s out, with frequent bursts of immaturity, ultra-splatter, blood vomit and well-timed one-liners (“you were axing for it”) akin to furious blast beats. It’s neither false metal, nor false horror-comedy.