It feels like we’ve been waiting forever to see Deathgasm, winner of the 2013 Make My Horror Movie contest. After earning promising reviews from a number of festivals around the globe, writer-director Jason Lei Howden has finally returned with his creation - an enjoyable if not especially remarkable entry into NZ’s storied splatter-comedy canon.
Deathgasm follows a familiar plot for this type of film, as misfit teen Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) arrives at the home of his uptight religious aunt and uncle in a backwoods NZ town following the institutionalisation of his mother.
Always an outsider, Brodie struggles to fit in with his new family and schoolmates, but finds a handful of kindred spirits in local D&D dorks Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell), the town’s sole metalhead Zakk (James Blake), and the lovely Medina (Kimberley Crossman), girlfriend of Brodie’s bullying cousin David (Nick Hoskins-Smith).
Using heavy metal, his only true passion, to bring his new group of friends together seems to be working fine for Brodie…. until the newly-formed titular band unwittingly play the long-forgotten Black Hymn and unleash the undead onto their idyllic little town.
What follows is an often hilarious but occasionally puerile and by-the-numbers splatter comedy in the vein of The Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead, or our own Braindead. It’s nice to see such creativity lent to practical gore effects nowadays, and Howden and his colleagues aren’t shy when it comes to Deathgasm’s blood and guts. There are moments of wickedly clever humour in the script which complement the more inventive set pieces nicely, and the lead character of Brodie benefits from a superb performance from Cawthorne.
It’s unfortunate then that for almost every genuinely great moment in Deathgasm there’s a corresponding moment that doesn’t work so well. The joy of watching Brodie’s arc unfold is muted by the unpleasantness of the character of Zakk, and the sharp gags are often followed up by something which leans into very juvenile territory. The extreme gross-out moments certainly achieve the effect that the film is going for, but perhaps a smarter script wouldn’t need to stick a chainsaw up someones rear end.
There are also hints throughout of the film that Deathgasm could have been - that which uses its premise to examine something in a bit more depth. It’s no accident that the bullies that torment Brodie are prominently wearing rugby boots in one scene for example, but the potential to examine small-town life in NZ for a person who falls outside our pervasive sports-mad culture goes unfulfilled.
Deathgasm does what it sets out to do pretty well, but it’s a shame that it doesn’t try to do something more. That said, it’s commendable that Howden pushes the limited budget he has to the absolute limits, and for the most part focuses on the strengths of his script - a charming lead and buckets o’ gore. It might not enter the pantheon of the best low-budget splatter films ever made, but Deathgasm will undoubtedly find a head-banging audience to champion it.