Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Jason Lei Howden
Writer: Jason Lei Howden
Producer: Sarah Wensley, Todd Wieneke, Morgan Leigh Stewart, Andrew Beattie
Stars: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell, Stephen Ure, Colin Moy, Nick Hoskins-Smith, Aaron McGregor, Andrew Laing, Delaney Tabron, Cameron Rhodes
Teenage misfits form a garage metal band and inadvertently summon a destructive demon with cursed music.
Milo Cawthorne, the Kiwi Lukas Haas, is music-obsessed misfit Brodie. Sent to live with his conservative Christian uncle after mom is institutionalized, Brodie has a hard time acclimating to the stifling small town of Greypoint. His only friends are two D&D-playing bully targets while the object of his affection, Medina (Kimberley Crossman), is locked on the arm of insufferable cousin David.
Things take an upswing when Brodie meets Zakk (James Blake), the only other metalhead teen within 50 kilometers and the seemingly cool rocker Brodie wishes he could be. Brodie’s two nerdy buddies soon drop their 20-sided dice and pick up guitars as the newly-formed foursome becomes DEATHGASM (“all spelt in capitals, lowercase is for p*ssies”). Their band name cemented, musical priority #2 is outfitting everyone in King Diamond-inspired face paint, except for poor portly drummer Giles, who sadly sports a Peter Criss Cat-Man makeup instead.
Zakk brings Brodie to a break-in at reclusive rock legend Rikki Daggers’ house and the boys come away with yellowed sheet music hidden in an album sleeve behind a Rick Astley record. Hell literally breaks loose when DEATHGASM plays the pages. While Satanic sounds pour from the garage, possessed townspeople take over the streets. As if managing a budding romance with Medina, ongoing assaults from David, and a secretive cult’s attempts to recover the pages were not enough, Brodie and Zakk’s newfound friendship is now put to the test to prevent an ancient demon’s impending arrival.
It’s a desperate fight against overwhelming evil, too. As the only items within reach, Brodie and Zakk at one point resort to wielding dildos and anal beads as devil-slaying weapons. And yet, even though horror-comedy “Deathgasm” often employs this slightly “South Park” style of juvenile appeal, there is maturity in the filmmaking preventing such humor from coming off as exceedingly lowbrow.
First-time feature filmmaker Jason Lei Howden and company execute visual gags to maximum effect. The camera maintains a “right place, right time” positioning throughout the film, whether it is allowing a joke to pop properly into frame (Zakk and his ski mask) or knowing the precise instant to cut to a wide shot (Zakk siphoning fuel). It isn’t an action such as smacking a demon in its face with a jiggling phallus that is funny. What turns half-hearted ha-has into full-bellied laughs is the clever way “Deathgasm” presents itself so that hilarity comes from the whole movie and not just from the moment. Actor expressions, well-timed editing, and camera effects like slowed-down speeds and animated text combine to ensure each scene is layered with heart as well as humor.
That passion to put so much onscreen occasionally gets in the script’s way. Even at only 86 minutes, “Deathgasm” has more material than it needs. Installing the cult as a villainous presence reads almost as an afterthought, with its central antagonist switching out twice at the cost of any one of them gelling into a formidable foe. The school bully doesn’t need a sidekick either, and if the band wasn’t a quartet, at least one of the friends could be excised from the story. “Deathgasm” is a great showcase for Howden as a solo writer and director, though a screwdriver to his screenplay would really tighten the tedium.
Those hiccups are not too high a hurdle. “Deathgasm” is reverential with its satirical winks and so slyly smart about sophomoric silliness that it cannot help but be charming. In addition to making the most of its music motif, “Deathgasm” aims to please as many gorehounds as it does metalheads, featuring enough blood to make giddy the ghost of twentysomething Peter Jackson.
Whatever x-factor element is swimming in the drinking water of New Zealand horror-comedy filmmakers ought to be identified, bottled, and exported for international consumption. Because no other country has a better current track record for uniting splatter and snark with such consistently enjoyable results.
Beyond being frightfully funny, New Zealand ho-cos like “What We Do in the Shadows” (review here) and “Housebound” (review here) are original concepts to boot, not just genre parodies or farcical throwbacks. And with his feature film debut, Jason Lei Howden can proudly notch heavy metal howler “Deathgasm” on that same bedpost of first-rate fearful fun.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 80