TAD Review: Festival climaxes with Deathgasm

When I was a teenager, I had a best friend named Manny. He was the first metalhead I ever knew. A bit of an outsider, like so many of us feel like we are when we’re young, no matter what our taste in music, Manny was a sweet, gentle, crazy kid with long dyed-black hair, lots of leather and denim, black boots and a wrist full of silver spikes and bracelets like a Slinky. He played bass in a band and was the funniest person I knew.

Manny was my gateway to horror and heavy metal, introducing me to so many of the things that I would come to love—that I still love—and that I took joy and comfort in when the world felt too big and no one seemed to understand. Metallica, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Fangoria and Deep Red Magazine, Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, Megadeth, Slayer, Hellraiser. Hanging out with Manny was like swinging beneath a train trestle with one of the Lost Boys.

Manny still lives in the town where we grew up, but we keep in touch on Facebook. A few weeks ago he shared a photo of himself and his daughter in full gore makeup at the local zombie walk, and just last week there he was with Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars, all of them giving the finger to the camera. Yeah, Manny is still metal.

And I can’t wait to tell him about Deathgasm. I saw the Kiwi export last night, the perfect splatterific finale to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

The story is simple: shy high school headbanger Brodie (Milo Crawford) is sent to live with his fundamentalist Christian aunt and uncle after his meth-head mom is caught sucking off a department store Santa. Life in the sticks is dull—unless you count drawing dick-monsters and getting beat up by your douchenozzle cousin. Then he stumbles into a used record shop where he bonds over a love for the Devil’s music with the town’s pentagram-painting troublemaker Zakk (James Blake). Pretty soon Brodie, Zakk and a couple of Dungeons & Dragons-loving dorks from school start a band, called DEATHGASM (“lowercase is for pussies”). They raise a little (literal) hell when they accidentally play the “Dark Hymn,” causing the entire town to spew geysers of blood before being possessed by demons. From there the story shreds like Dave Mustaine, without a single wasted note. Gallons of fake blood are spilled as demons are dispatched with axes and chainsaws and car engines and—in one gleefully goofy scene—dildos and anal beads.

The madman behind all this mirthful mayhem is first-time writer-director Jason Lei Howden, who cut his teeth as a visual effects artist in Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop, which is apparent in Deathgasm’s practical splatstick effects. It’s also obvious that Howden went to school on films like Braindead, Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead, to which Deathgasm is a head-banging successor.

Deathgasm came about because Howden won New Zealand’s Make My Movie contest, which gave him a tiny budget to play with. He wrote the script in just nine days, and shot it in just a couple of dozen more. At the post-screening Q&A, he explained that the shots of arms and legs being chopped off were determined by whatever fake limbs he could get his, er, hands on; the many prosthetic penises used were left over from the TV series Spartacus; and one actor was hired because he already had his own fake severed head.

The rushed nature of this makeshift horror hodgepodge is part of its gloriously gory charm. Deathgasm’s heart—as well as its intestines—belongs firmly to the 1980s, for which the filmmaker has an obvious fondness.

And it’s a relief that the movie isn’t a satire or parody of heavy metal or its fans, which can be rather easy targets for ridicule and humiliation. Yes, there are lots of jokes—including a couple of funny fantasy sequences that play out like a Frazetta-style metal album cover come to life—but Howden’s not making fun of Brodie or Zakk or their love of heavy metal music. (Appropriately, the soundtrack is stacked with cuts from the likes of Axeslasher, Pathology, Skull Fist, Nunslaughter and Lair of the Minotaur.)

Gore-filled, gross, immature, funny. It’s hard not to raise your fists into devil horns and bang your head. Deathgasm is so fucking metal. Just like Manny. \../