At the height of heavy metal’s popularity in the 1980s there was a ridiculous mini-trend of horror movie releases that capitalized on parents’ fears & teens’ transgressive love of the genre. Films like Trick or Treat (the one with Ozzy, not the 2007 anthology) & Shock ‘Em Dead answered paranoid questions like, “What if rock & roll groups are hiding Satanic messages in their records in order to subliminally corrupt our children & turn them into murderers?” with a resounding “Hell yes! That would be bitchin’.” The only problem with these films is that they had the distinct POV of an outsider looking in. They’re fun films, but they’re lacking a self-awareness about the world of metal, playing more off assumptions about the subculture than its actual, true-life nature.
2015’s New Zealand horror comedy Deathgasm, on the other hand, openly displays the insider knowledge of a true metal nerd’s overactive imagination. Not only does it continue the Kiwi traditions of films like Peter Jackson’s classic splatter fest Dead Alive, but it uses that gore-soaked past to deepen & improve 80s heavy metal themed horror schlock like Shock ‘Em Dead. This is the kind of film where D&D jokes fit snugly among casual discussions about metal’s endless list of subgenres– sludge, grind, death, black, etc. Deathgasm holds an obvious reverence for metal as both an artform & a lifestyle, but it’s also more than willing to poke fun at the subculture’s peculiarities, like the incongruity of ultra macho types wearing corpse paint (make-up) & metal nerds’ tendency to pine after potential love interests from afar rather than, you know, actually talking to them. It also has a metal head’s sense of gore-soaked humor, going way over the top in its cartoonish violence & brutality.
At the beginning of the film, metal mostly serves as a form of escapism for miserable teens with social anxiety. At school & in public the central crew of nerd protagonists are constantly bullied into feeling like shit, but metal transports them to a mythical world (imagine the abstract mountaintop album art from the genre’s typical record covers) where they’re powerful & adored. Metal’s transcendent source of power becomes more literal as the nerds pull together to form a band called DEATHGASM (“all capital letters because lower case is for pussies”), playing a formed of blackened thrash with song titles like “Intestinal Bungee Jump.” Through their idolization of a defunct band wickedly named Haxan Sword they discover an ancient scroll of sheet music for a doom metal song that magically summons The King of Demons (a supernatural force bent on world domination) when played on a guitar. Instead of accepting the resulting gore-drenched apocalypse that ensues, DEATHGASM fights back, destroying The King of Demon’s loyal army of . . . demons with everything at their disposal: axes, chainsaws, drills, car engines and, of course, sex toys.
On the surface, Deathgasm has a lot more in common with the chaotic 1980s horror franchise Demons than it does with zombie fare like Dead Alive. It’s just that the films’ eye-gouging, throat-slitting, head-removing, blood-puking mayhem is played almost entirely for grossout humor instead of the discomforting terror inherent to films like Demons. This is especially apparent in the gore’s juxtaposition with rickroll gags & the goofy image of kids in corpse paint enjoying an ice cream cone. The horror comedy of Deathgasm is far from unique, though. What truly makes the film stand out is its intimate understanding of metal as a subculture. It’s easily the most knowledgeable movie in that respect that I’ve seen since the under-appreciated Tenacious D road trip comedy Pick of Destiny. I mean that as the highest of compliments. The difference there is that Pick of Destiny (besides being relatively violence free) got a lot of the attitude right, but didn’t have bands with names like Skull Fist, Axeslasher, and Beastwars on the soundtrack. Deathgasm not only looks & acts the part; it also sounds it, which is a rare treat. \m/