It is strange to see a metalhead on the bad end of bullying. In fact, it is strange to see a movie from 2015 treating high school social tiers as if it was still 1988. It might be a New Zealand thing, but I know that a lot of things I enjoyed doing when I was in high school would not make me one of the popular people. At least these days I would just be ignored, which in many cases would have been a blessing through most of my years working my way through the U.S. public school system.
The reason I find it surprising that the guy liking real heavy metal, and most of its offshoots, is the target of bullies is because, at least in elementary school in the early '80s, the metalheads were the bullies. It still didn't keep me from being curious and ultimately loving most of the music, but my early experiences and the fact I loved more music than just metal meant I'd never fit in, just as I didn't fit in with the goths or punks either. Unfortunately a lot of that is because I behaved more like the Giles (Daniel Cresswell) character in this rather than Brodie (Milo Cawthorne), but I'll own that, even though at heart I was the latter - just without the leather jacket and bullet belt.
The advantage of liking the music, going all the way back to its early beginnings, despite my first impressions of those who listened to it is that when this movie gets into satirizing the gatekeeping and the strange, nearly unfathomable number of genres, it's something I get. I have seen it referred to as pandering to the metal community, though director Jason Howden himself went through much of what Brodie does here while he was in high school. That love of the music is certainly there throughout this movie, even when it's poking fun, and it definitely adds an extra level of enjoyment to a familiar splatter comedy that wears its influences proudly.
When Brodie's mom is sent to do jail time he is sent to live with his ultra-religious aunt (Jodie Rimmer) and uncle (Colin Moy) in rural Greypoint, New Zealand. He also has to contend with his cousin David (Nick Hoskins-Smith), who happens to be the school bully. Problem is, Brodie really likes heavy metal music, and his extended family all think he worships Satan. Relegated to spending time with Giles and Dion (Sam Berkley), his high school's other outcasts, he soon finds a sympathetic soul in another metal fan named Zakk (James Joshua Blake). Along with Giles and Dion they form the band DETHGASM and start practicing in Brodie's uncle's garage.
Spurred by rumors that Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure), the lead singer of the band Haxansword, is hiding out in Greypoint, Zakk and Brodie seek him out. The rumors turn out to be true, but Daggers is also the target of a Satanic cult that is searching for "The Black Hymn", an ancient tune that is said to call forth Aeloth, a demon that will grant the summoner power beyond imagination. Before being killed Daggers passes a record to Zakk and Brodie which contains the sheet music for the song and, when DETHGASM plays it, a good portion of Greypoint turns into demonic zombies and begins to attack those who remain unpossessed. With the help of his crush Miranda (Kimberly Crossman) and his bandmates Brodie hopes to reverse the spell and prevent Aeloth's arrival.
In some ways Deathgasm is a tribute to the 1980s movie Trick or Treat, which also featured a nerd that must face demons brought on by heavy metal music. There is probably also a minor reference to The Gate, in which a black metal album full of spells opens a doorway to hell in a suburban back yard. For the most part, though, it seems like Howden was influenced by The Evil Dead as well as fellow countryman Peter Jackson's cult favorite, Dead Alive, at least on the level of bloody effects he can muster. Heads explode, zombies attack, and our heroes use about everything at their disposal, which include some of the aunt and uncle's favorite "toys."
There is a parody of Immortal's "Call of the Wintermoon" video, a silent exchange in a record store that seemed way too familiar to me and a lot of awkward jokes that just seemed to work well. Unfortunately, it's the middle part of the movie that drags, even though it shows us what terrible friend Zakk is. It just seems like Howden had the usual problem that screenwriters do when coming up with a good idea, which is having an excellent beginning and end and then realizing there's another 40 minutes of movie to make. It would have been an opportunity to further develop the cult a bit, but unfortunately after a great introduction they are absent until everything hits the fan in Greypoint. I also was disappointed with the demons, not because of the effects, but because if they were saying anything funny I couldn't understand it due to the garbled sound mixing on their voices.
One thing I admire is that Brodie is kept relatable throughout. He does some dumb stuff just because he's happy to meet a friend with similar interests, but he never suddenly goes out of character or becomes strangely able to beat up people twice his size toward the end. At one point a rather frightening aspect of his personality pops up, but I honestly can't say I fault him for this. Howden is also not above removing any plot armor from his characters. While I wish Kimberly Crossman got more time to develop her character she does become an integral part in fighting against the demons rather than being an object that has to be rescued.
Deathgasm, despite a few problems, is quite an enjoyable movie if one likes bloody horror comedies, but even more so for those who have an appreciation for heavy metal music. Although it has slow parts the movie is still short enough to overcome them. Just wish Howden had been able to get more of the major metal acts he was hoping for, but the soundtrack is still great.
Time: 86 minutes
Starring: Milo Cawthorne, James Joshua Blake, Kimberly Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell, Nick Hoskins-Smith
Director: James Howden