This is a review for the New Zealand made, Horror/Comedy film “Deathgasm” Written and Directed by Jason Lei Howden. Deathgasm is about a group of teenage boys led by Brodie and Zakk (played by Milo Cawthorne and James Blake), who inadvertently raise an ancient evil known as “The Blind One”, after rehearsing black magic disguised as a piece of music for their band. With the help of Brodie’s high school crush Medina (the gorgeous Kimberley Crossman), and friends Dion and Giles (Sam Berkley and Daniel Cresswell) they must reverse the curse and save their two-bit town. The film also stars Stephen Ure, Delaney Tabron, Nick- Hoskins Smith and Colin Moy. Deathgasm was one of my most highly anticipated films for the year. When I found out that this was shot in New Zealand it raised my expectations even higher because for many years they’ve been the benchmark for great B-movie, splatter films. Deathgasm had the potential to deliver an entertaining plot with both practical effects and plenty of dark comedy, Did it follow through though? Read on and find out.
Deathgasm will be remembered as one of the most off the wall and wacky, yet completely entertaining films of the year and not just within its “Horror/Comedy” genre/label. It’s a clear throwback. A love letter to the early works of Peter Jackson (before he got all that Lord of the Ring money). For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor and pick up “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” and prepare yourselves for the wildest of rides. I really respect that with Deathgasm, Howden put his own two cents in where story and its revelations are concerned. There’s even some light weight social commentary on the public’s perception of Heavy Metal music and its “Metalhead” fan base. I’m assuming he is a fan of the music himself based on the setting of the screenplay but it’s nice to see some of that self-aware dialogue included, discussing how ridiculous the style really is haha (and I’m a fan of the music myself too). Let’s face it Jason could have just cashed in on all the same gimmicks and approach that made both Jackson’s early films such a success (at least among the Horror community), but he didn’t.
The film opens with a really interesting credit sequence, containing hand drawn illustrations and a very heavy opening music track. Our young leading metal-head, Brodie narrates the beginning to inform us of his current lot in life and how everything eventuated. Introducing us to his small, dead-end town and estranged extended family which consists of cousin David (Smith), who bullies him at every opportunity. Brodie has a love for guitar and Heavy Metal music but his friends are the only thing keeping him grounded, and only because they have an even lower standing on the socioeconomic ladder than he does. Dion is a lover of role-playing, adventure games and in turn gets bullied because of it. Giles is the chubby one of the group who doesn’t project as much personality and just seems to go with the flow. Things start to look up for Brodie after Medina, a popular girl at school shows an interest in him. He also meets a fellow Guitar god and Metalhead in Zakk. The four guys start to practice under their new band name Deathgasm and Brodie appears on the verge of getting everything he wanted, that’s where the trouble starts.
Howden’s film is really well shot and relies on snappy editing to introduce characters and reinforce the comedic tone grounding it. The dialogue audio is nice and loud and with some of the talented Metal bands on display, it’s quite clear how important that music was to projecting the desired effect. A considerable amount of the comedy really works too. The film is funniest during its most awkward interactions between Brodie and Medina. She represents the bright-side and acts as an equalizer for Brodie, who has a certain amount of pent-up aggression boiling to the surface. There’s a memorable sequence that sees the two sharing ice-cream on a park bench, a scenario that couldn’t be more “sunshine and rainbows”, clearly contrasting with the public perception of Brodie’s apparently dark mindset. On the other side of the coin we get a very random, albeit hilarious action sequence involving some of the undead being beaten with a double ended dildo (yes you heard me right). I thought most of the acting was solid and with the exception of Zakk I enjoyed watching all the characters. I understand there’s usually one character in a film like this that your supposed to hate, I just don’t think it should have been Zakk.
Milo’s narration is well delivered and you’re constantly rooting for Brodie throughout the film, much the same as you do for Medina. Kimberley has to be one of the most beautiful girls we’ve seen come out of New Zealand and she’s got some serious talent to boot. Medina is so lovable, not just because she’s gorgeous but because she’s not judgmental therefore proving that the stereotype of the cheerleader or popular girl always being vain and stuck up is clearly a misnomer. She gets put through the ringer in Deathgasm and is more than up to the task. So I’m guessing by now you want to get to the good stuff, the blood the gore. It’s always a good sign of success in a Horror/Comedy when the red stuff starts flowing early in the proceedings. I’m pleased to say that the opening act has some absolutely brutal practical blood and gore effects. The early kills hit with quite a force and with a combination of watered down blood and thick gunky dark fluid, it’s all a nice visual showcase. I don’t want to spoil the details in the action but know we’re party to some glorious axe kills, decapitation and a complete disembowelment using a chainsaw. Ninety percent of what you see in the film is practically done and it’s as good as anything I’ve seen.
I already touched on the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Zakk. Whenever the comedy missed the mark or the film lost a bit of momentum, it was usually due to his character. He didn’t have much of an arc so relating to him was difficult. He’s got such a sour attitude and for no real apparent reason, at least none that I could see so there needed to be more back story on why he was so fed up with people/the town etc, otherwise his just a walking cliché. A few of the emotionally charged scenes involving him didn’t really go over either. Whether he was arguing with Brodie or trying to take charge of the situation, it felt a little stiff. Some of his dialogue was pretty crass but I suppose it’s in the context of the story and his character, I just didn’t care for it. On a similar note, there’s a substantial amount of profanity some of which was warranted in specific situations but other times quite unnecessary. Language doesn’t really bother me that much but there’s definitely people I recommend films too that wouldn’t enjoy the multiple C-bombs in this one.
Being a guitarist myself I can’t help but think the musical composition that brings about the apocalypse was way too easy to play. I know, it’s a nit picky point but if the piece of music was secretly black magic surely it would be pretty difficult to play, not just four chords so as to avoid just anyone activating it. Secondly, there’s a substantial emphasis on metal and music throughout the film with all the various references to bands. Hence it would have been great to hear a face melting solo, Metalocalypse like during the battle climax. On the technical front, The lighting was rather dark in the old house where Brodie and Zakk steal the piece of music. There’s a cool encounter during said scene and it was unfortunate that it wasn’t a bit clearer to show the effects more carefully. Thankfully there’s only some brief CG visuals throughout Deathgasm because what we do get to see is fairly second-rate in comparison to the rest of the films effects. Lastly, and I say it with every film in the genre so it’s nothing personal, How much is too much when it comes to blood and gore? Obviously it’s all personal opinion but I can never seem to find enough to satisfy my appetite. Now that’s not to say Deathgasm isn’t a gory treat because it is (maybe I’ve just got issues), I’m just always left wanting more. All I say to these amazing effects artists is give us even more! Show us everything you’ve got, be inventive, elaborate on your gags to a greater extent we want to see it!
I had very high expectations going into Deathgasm and honestly I was very impressed with the result. I dug that it was equal parts an homage to Peter Jackson’s early work, while at the same time bringing a fresh approach and particular structure to the storytelling. All the technical stuff is well executed and the soundtrack gives you exactly what you’d expect to hear. The performances are all of a high standard but Milo and Kimberley remain the most appealing, each for different reasons but I’d watch this movie just for Kimberley what a stunning girl. The story is thoroughly entertaining and most of the comedy hits its mark, however the real reason to watch this is because it’s a bloodbath of action. The huge group of people responsible for both makeup and special effects should be lauded, fantastic job. These are inventive deaths that involve a multitude of different weapons and it translates to screen brilliantly. Deathgasm has its shortcomings but they’re few and far between when you consider this is Howden’s first full length feature, and what a feature it is. There hasn’t been a film this good to come out of New Zealand since the aforementioned “Braindead”, arguably the goriest movie of all time. Is Deathgasm as good? Not quite, but it’s a close second and I sure hope Jason continues making Horror films.
My rating for “Deathgasm” is 8/10