Learning the harp - how to take the first steps
On the literal other side of the world, further south from Australia lies an island with more sheep than people. New Zealand, a small part of Oceania, which was discovered in the mid-18th century by Captain James Cook and originally was supposed to create a better Britain and ensure prosperity for all emigrants. Nowadays, New Zealand is synonymous with untouched nature and limitless adventures, much of it due to the massive popularity created by the Lord of the Rings feature film trilogy. But not only the mystical and magical stands for the colourful film world of New Zealand, which is increasingly used by international productions, but also pitch – black, absurd splatter orgies akin to "Braindead", which none less than Peter Jackson personally crafted, have their cultural place in Aotearoa. Deathgasm by Jason Lei Howden can clearly be seen as a tribute to the classics of the past, only this time with a big infusion of heavy metal.
Deathgasm marks Howden´s directorial debut, before that he was active in the VFX field, i.e., visual effects, at Wingnut Films, the production company founded by Peter Jackson in 2003, with Jason Lei Howden participating in the "Hobbit" trilogy in the VFX section.
The film has fulfilled a lifelong desire for Jason Lei Howden, because he has long indulged in the heavy metal lifestyle apart from his career in the film industry of New Zealand, and splatter comedies with a metal narrative were abundant in the 80s. Howden weaves some autobiographical details into the story, which is a single homage to the spirit of 80s heavy metal.
The rough story of Deathgasm can be roughly broken down as follows: After a family tragedy, the young Brodie moves to a small town where his uncle and his aunt and hostile cousin David live. This part of the family is highly Christian and holds nothing but contempt for Brodie's love of heavy metal, which makes it difficult for him to feel wanted. Brodie also has no access beyond his relatives, because with his typical headbanger appearance he is bullied at high school for his difference, especially by his cousin and his goons, who make school life hell on earth for all outsiders.
Brodie meets Dion and Giles through mutual bullying, with whom he shares his love of metal and promptly decides to form a band together. In the local record shop, which does exist in New Lynn, a western suburb of Auckland, and is indeed called Alien Records, as is shown in the movie, Brodie meets Zakk, the brooding, hulking Metalhead adorned in an individual leather jacket, studded with rivets, to whom he looks up to.
By the way: The record shop actually exists in New Lynn, a western part of Auckland and, like in the film, is called Alien Records.
Unlike Brodie, Zakk is an asocial, lying, and deceiving sociopath who immediately joins the band as lead guitarist. After a short time together the band name Deathgasm is decided solely by Zakk, and after him and Brodie take an ancient musical score from the house of former rock star Rikki Daggers and start practicing it with the band, they unwittingly conjure up a demonic apocalypse about the idyllic small town. From now on, they are in a blood-soaked race against time to halt the destruction of the human race.
Deathgasm succeeds the extraordinary feat of combining an ironic splatter comedy with a sensitive story about growing up and finding yourself. Here it is probably helpful that director Howden was able to incorporate some personal experiences and process them in the finished film. In one of the initial bullying scenes, Dion is stuck in the nose with a Dungeons & Dragons dice; According to Jason Lei Howden, this was done to himself when, as a teenager and metalhead in his new home, he did not find the connection he hoped for.
AThe character of Zakk is also inspired by his best friend at the time, who was far more extreme than himself in all respects, and this type of person is a real archetype to be found within all genres of music. On the other hand, Zakk represents Heath Mortlock, who composed the so-called Black Hymn, which is used in the film to summon the demons, and which is considered to be one of the most eccentric figures in the New Zealand scene, which is easily understood by seeing footage of his active band "Skuldom".
Deathgasm's emotional core is underpinned by the unexpected romance between Brodie and Medina, the most popular girl at the local high school, who is still going out with his cousin David at the beginning of the film and is later converted to metal with Brodie´s help. Through a series of coincidences, the two get to know each other and form a visually hilarious contrast when they lick ice cream cones on a park bench, him wearing his Black Metal - typical costume along with her generic cheerleader – type attire. Both characters are played by former "Power Rangers" actors, Milo Cawthorne and Kimberly Crossman, as more than half of all seasons have been produced in New Zealand.
IBrodie reveals to Melinda that whenever he is getting dark thoughts, he turns to metal, which on the one hand distracts him from the grim reality, and on the other hand, through the music´s aggressiveness, he becomes aware that other people feel his pain as well and express it artistically. At this point in Deathgasm,. Naturally, this description does not exclude other genres of music; it is universally applicable.
Through some misunderstandings, the romance comes to a halt and Brodie provides the necessary motivation to play the Black Hymn completely, because a message within the score offers power and wealth beyond imagination; an offer that should sound tempting for any young outsider. From this point onward, Deathgasm transforms into a diabolic gore party, which trumps up mightily in terms of practical effects and offers a blood show that is no less than the old works of Jackson. The gut-churning humour is never ignored, which is extremely dry and self-ironic. Amidst the blood geysers, the protagonist Brodie must finally find himself to counter the demonic supremacy.
During the imminent apocalypse, Deathgasm is powered by a meaty soundtrack that serves virtually every subgenre of extreme metal, especially with some references to New Zealand bands. In the credits, you can see all the band logos that can be heard in the soundtrack of Deathgasm, no usual approach and a testament to the passion that Jason Lei Howden has for the genre and its artists.
There are many negative things said about the heavy metal genre, but one fact is not obvious: The boundless solidarity of the global movement. Howden made use of it during Deathgasm`s production and procured merchandise such as band shirts and posters via global donations, with the renowned label Metal Blade Records also providing some posters for the film band's rehearsal room.
Howden´s work is also a tribute to Peter Jackson´s first films, which were realized with a minimal budget and a great deal of creativity. Giles wears a t – shirt with a „Bad Taste“ print throughout the film, a visual nod to Jackson´s first feature film.In principle, Deathgasm impresses with its unabashedly dry New Zealand identity and the comedy that comes with it; factors from which the young Jackson did benefit in his early works.
The torch is passed on symbolically, and Jason Lei Howden celebrates the heavy metal adolescence to the fullest, with some clear references to the "Evil Dead" movies, which changed the horror genre in the 80s, and some camera angles were directly taken for Deathgasm. Nevertheless, the film has a clear identity of its own and some pretty creative ideas for offing demons and entertain for less than 90 minutes, featuring a killer soundtrack. Allegedly, the film is to synchronize itself perfectly with "Live After Death" by "Iron Maiden" using clever editing while being watched muted, but the filmmakers did not make any comments on this subject.
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Originally published on February 3, 2023, updated on February 3, 2023
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