Saturday, October 31, 2015

Shocktober Review: Deathgasm

 Deathgasm is far and away the best discovery of Shocktober movie coverage. It's a scrappy, low budget film from New Zealand that wears the influence of early Peter Jackson on its blood-soaked sleeves. It's the second film I've seen this year about a metal band that uses cursed music to bring demons to Earth - the first was MegaMuerte - but of the two I think I'm giving Deathgasm the edge. MegaMuerte gets a lot of points for creativity, and for bringing back puppet monsters, but Deathgasm has such an infectious sense of fun, of not caring about who might be offended, that I can't wait to share it with friends.

 Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is a young metalhead who finds himself dumped in Greypoint, New Zealand with his fundamentalist Uncle Albert (Colin Moy) and Aunt Mary (Jodie Rimmer) after his mother has an unfortunate incident involving methamphetamines and a mall Santa. Transplanted to a small town that sees him as a total outsider, Brodie is tormented by his cousin David (Nick Hoskins-Smith) at school, but strikes up an unlikely friendship with Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell), two Dungeons and Dragons fans who share a similar "outcast" status. Things brighten up for him when he meets Zakk (James Blake) while browsing the metal section at the local music store / fortune teller. Zakk and Brodie share a love of raising hell, listening to brutal metal, and when they break into the legendary Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure)'s place to try to steal one of the 666 existing copies of HaxanSword's first album, the boys end up with crudely handwritten sheet music instead. Since they're forming a band that Zakk has determined will be called Deathgasm*, it only makes sense to play the music, right?

Well, maybe they should have boned up on their Latin first, because with a title like "Vocavitique Rex Daemonia Virtutem Fortuna Hymnus Nigrum"**, they probably should have considered translating it first. Brodie eventually does, and it says "Summoning the King of Demons, A Black Hymn for Gaining Power and Fortune" (or, The Black Hymn for short), but they decide to play it anyway. That's after the first attempt, when Uncle Albert begins vomiting blood and the boys nearly pass out. The second time, everyone in Greypoint begins vomiting blood, and the boys do pass out. When they wake up, half of the town have become minions of the King of Demons, also known as The Blind One or Aelos (I think - you don't hear the name clearly). Summoning The Blind One is exactly what a nearby cult was looking for, which is why its leader, Aeon (Andrew Laing) sent Vadin (Tim Foley) to kill Rikki Daggers and steal the music. He failed, so he loses his head and bleeds all over Aeon's custom rug, much to his displeasure. His second-in-command, Shanna (Delaney Tabron), doesn't seem to notice, for reasons that are better for you to find out yourself.

 Brodie has problems beyond raising The Blind One, as David's less conventionally metal-oriented girlfriend, Medina (Kimberly Crossman) takes a shining to him. That doesn't sit well with David, but it gets even more complicated when Zakk inserts himself into their relationship, promising to act as an intermediary when Brodie ends up on the wrong side of a beating. Dion later refers to Zakk as "chaotic neutral", which is probably appropriate, since he intentionally misleads Brodie about Medina and then meets up with her, explaining that Brodie's not interested. It's not the last time that Zakk conveniently removes critical information, but he also comes back to help at a crucial point. The son of a mechanic, Zakk really doesn't seem to care about anybody but himself, so he alternates between good and evil throughout the film. It may be a nerdy descriptor, but Dion's mostly right.

 Deathgasm is, not surprisingly, a very violent movie, one where swords, daggers, chainsaws, axes, Incredible Hulk gloves, twenty sided dice, and musical instruments are used to provide maximum gore as our unlikely heroes try to stop the mess they started. Its sense of humor is, to put it mildly, juvenile, but frankly I don't find that to be very surprising. Writer / Director Jason Lei Howden had been working on visual effects for The Hobbit films, and Deathgasm is very much in the spirit of early Peter Jackson. May I remind you that "I kick ass for the Lord" is still one of the most quoted lines from Dead Alive. With that in mind, it should hardly come as a surprise that Brodie and Zakk battle the possessed Albert and Mary in what amounts to a dildo fight. They are, after all, teenage metalheads, and on the off chance you've never met one, this is fairly representative of their sense of humor and level of maturity. Your mileage may vary as to whether you want to watch an entire movie loaded with dick jokes, rampant profanity, and crude humor, but I find it in keeping with the scrappy, low-brow comedy of Bad Taste or Meet the Feebles. In that respect, it's also similar to MegaMuerte, which has roughly the same plot up to a point, but that film pushes into more twisted directions, including necrophilia. Deathgasm has what is perhaps the only time I've heard someone say the name of the band Anal Cunt out loud in a movie. So, pick your poison?

 I'm not quite convinced that the subplot with the cult is necessary - it actually tends to distract from the main story. Aeon is in what amounts to two scenes before (SPOILER) he's murdered by Shanna, who hopes to become the vessel of The Blind One, and she (BIGGER SPOILER) is subsequently murdered by Zakk who, in true "chaotic neutral" fashion (EVEN BIGGER SPOILER) becomes the embodiment of Aelos. I mean, who didn't see that coming, though? The point is that you could excise the cult subplot, just have Brodie / Deathgasm play The Black Hymn, and have roughly the same story without cutting away from them for characters who barely figure into the film. I guess it does give you an extra beheading plus gratuitous nudity, which in retrospect there's less of than you think there would be in a movie called Deathgasm.

 Other than that, I had a great time watching Deathgasm, perhaps even more so than MegaMuerte. Its tongue-in-cheek, don't-give-a-shit attitude and inventive use of gore (seriously, why did it take this long to use car buffer to tear someone's face off?) make for an infectious sense of fun. As long as you don't mind low-brow humor, and to be honest, I don't when used as earnestly as it is in Deathgasm. Sure, it can be dumb, and clearly I've seen a movie with almost the exact same premise earlier this year, but Deathgasm is highly entertaining. It's one of several New Zealand horror comedies I've seen lately (Housebound, What We Do in the Shadows) that find just the right tonal balance. Also, it's quite gory, and a lot of it looked to be practical, which is sadly lacking in horror these days. If Peter Jackson isn't going to be New Zealand's goremeister anymore, I'm glad that a new generation are picking up the mantle and running wild with it.

* In one of many instances of characters breaking the fourth wall, Zakk literally grabs the camera to keep it from panning back and forth between him and Brodie and insists that his band name is what they're going with.
** Forgive any misspellings, I'm transcribing as closely as I can to the handwritten words on the sheet.

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