For everyone already inclined to see a heavy-metal-themed New Zealand horror-comedy called Deathgasm, here’s some good news: The movie is exactly what it promises to be. First-time writer-director Jason Lei Howden (who has a day job working for Peter Jackson’s special effects house Weta Digital) has delivered something amiably silly, liberally splattered with human viscera, and scored to the punishing grind of electric guitars. Non-gore-hounds—and those turned off by gross-out jokes—will want to steer clear. But those who line up early for any film festival’s midnight-movie program? They need to know that this picture contains a scene where two teen headbangers pummel demon-possessed adults into a gooey pulp, using rubber dildos and Ben Wa balls. That’s the deal with Deathgasm.
Milo Cawthorne stars as the metal-obsessed Brodie, who gets sent to live in the sticks with his fundamentalist Christian aunt and uncle after his drug-addicted mother is put away. After enduring the abuse of his new high school’s popular kids and jocks—led by his own asshole cousin—Brodie falls in with a group of misfits and fellow rockers. They form a band, Deathgasm, and decide to rehearse with the sheet music they find at the house of a reclusive rock god named Rikki Daggers. They soon discover that these songs have the power to call down demons, some of whom enter the bodies of nearby peers and grown-ups. This draws the attention of a Satanic cult leader named Vadin and his evil (and occasionally sexy) goons.
That’s a lot of set-up for an 90-minute movie, though Howden keeps it all entertaining, using animated interludes and typical high-school-movie hijinks to enliven Deathgasm before the oozing demonic hordes show up. If anything, the film’s main flaw (besides being generally disgusting) is that once the band inadvertently kicks the mayhem into motion, the tangled plotting gives way to something flatter and straighter. The horror parts in Deathgasm could use a little more sense of surprise.
The comedy parts, though, are often very funny. Like a lot of New Zealand-based filmmakers, Howden has a love for the broad—exemplified by the moment where a possessed teacher makes his class laugh by farting uncontrollably, then terrifies them by projectile shitting and vomiting blood—but his sense of humor also skews wry. Deathgasm has a scene where Brodie and his best buddy Zakk (James Blake) debate whether an ancient prophecy takes into account daylight saving time, and another where Vadin (Tim Foley) gets mad at his minions for not putting down a tarp before a beheading. The gags aren’t all sick. It’s clear that Howden has watched Shaun Of The Dead, The Evil Dead, and Braindead a few times.
But what works best in Deathgasm are all the moments that take the transporting power of heavy rock ’n’ roll seriously. It’s not just that the band’s music brings wickedness into the world—which is every metalhead’s teenage fantasy—but that when Brodie’s crush-object Medina (Kimberley Crossman) listens to a CD he loans her, she immediately imagines herself in another dimension, atop a rocky cliff, being awesome. Yes, Deathgasm is goofy. But when the characters insult each other by shouting, “Death to false metal,” they mean it—and so does Howden.