What do you get when you mix together heavy metal, humour, and horror? You get Deathgasm.
Screening at 70 festivals worldwide, and taking out awards and nominations along the way, Deathgasm has become an unexpected international hit.
“New Zealand’s rocking it with heavy metal horror, who would have thought?” says director and screenwriter Jason Lei Howden.
The film pulls together Howden’s friends and a shoestring budget to create a throwback to life as a teenage metalhead in small town New Zealand - with a twist.
Telling the story of a zombie apocalypse, Deathgasm is an unapologetic gorefest, following in the footsteps of budget horror classics.
“A lot of the inspiration for Deathgasm came from the kind of films I’d watch when I was 16 or 17, with my mates. Films like Day of the Dead, Evil Dead, Brain Dead. If it had ‘dead’ in the title I’d rent it,” says Howden.
And just like his movie inspirations, Deathgasm relies on creative filmmaking processes, trips to the butchery, “number 8 wire”, and buckets and buckets of fake blood.
“We wanted to do all practical on set effects, and it was just really exciting because of the time limits. It took about 20 minutes to re-pressurise the blood tanks, so we pretty much had a one take wonder. The whole crew was gathered around in anticipation, [I was] so nervous. [The actor sliced his throat] with the razor and it looked like the whole windpipe was coming out, blood was just gushing out. It was great. I thought, this could work,” says Howden.
“It sounds kinda weird, a whole bunch of people sitting round watching that, but I guess that’s horror filmmaking for you.”
Setting the story around two outcast teengaers trapped in a small town, the film has a nostalgic air, referencing Howden and his friends’ teenage years.
“That was sort of the vibe I was going for, what me and my friends were into. We were into heavy metal, we were into horror film. It was trying to get a feeling for that whole era.
“A lot of the inspiration came from my teenage heavy metal years. Being a metalhead in a small town in Greymouth on the West Coast. There’s definitely a lot of inspiration pulled from that.
“A lot of it’s based on my childhood - except there were no demons or chainsaws.”
Howden also wanted the film to be more reflective of authentic metalhead culture, not just a caricature.
“Metalheads can be misrepresented a lot, sometimes as bullies, or just generic stoners, so we wanted to have something a bit more there that metalheads could relate to, and [that] the general public maybe get a bit of an insight into metal culture.”
Howden, who summarises Deathgasm as a “balls to the wall, slapstick horror comedy”, explains that the film has wider appeal because of its comedy and romantic subplot.
Metalheads can be misrepresented a lot, sometimes as bullies, or just generic stoners, so we wanted to have something a bit more there that metalheads could relate to.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback from people who aren’t into heavy metal or horror that have really enjoyed the film because it's a comedy and they think it's really fun”.
“Because there’s a love story, people have described the film as ‘gory horror film, but also kinda sweet’.”
Although there might be a comedy and love story woven through the film, the soundtrack is 100 per cent heavy metal, containing 31 tracks by different artists.
“We’ve got some really hardcore heavy metal on there, all genres of metal.”
Over a quarter of them are songs from local bands, such as Bulletbelt, Beastwars, Razorwire and 8 Foot Sativa, he says.
"When I started out I thought ‘I want to show the world our film, but I also want to show the world some Kiwi bands. I think that was really important.”
To showcase the music, Howden and co will be putting together the Deathgasm soundtrack for release later this year.
With the film hitting international screens and festivals, Howden is eager to see how audiences locally will react to Deathgasm.
“It’ll be interesting, because famously we have that cultural cringe factor. You watch something on New Zealand TV and you hear a New Zealand accent and you go ‘oh that’s a bit weird.”
“On the international stage people are raving about New Zealand films, when I went over to Austin they were like ‘We love Deathgasm, we love What We Do in Shadows.' It’s a really great buzz at the moment.”
In the meantime Howden is continuing to write scripts and form new movie ideas, happy with the fact Deathgasm has found an enthusiastic audience.
“It’s not a film for everybody but it seems we’ve really reached our target audience, and people understand what we were trying to do with the film, which is all you can ask for really.”