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SXSW Review: Heavy Metal and Demonic Possession Collide in DEATHGASM!

It seems a little crazy to think about it now — or maybe it doesn’t — but there was a time when hard rock/heavy metal music was considered legitimately “evil” by a handful of annoying, obnoxious parents’ groups and the simple-minded people who followed those groups and their holier-than-thou crusades. Throughout a good portion of the 1980s, these vapid windbags would dominate the TV news and blame musicians like Ozzy Osbourne of enticing America’s children into Satan’s embrace. Or some such nonsense.

That brief history lesson was presented because it provides some context as to why this goofy new Kiwi import called Deathgasm is so much fun. It takes the “demonic incantations hidden within hard rock lyrics” premise that you’ll no doubt remember from classics like Trick or Treat (1986), infuses it with a raucous sense of humor that your mother would probably not approve of, and tosses in a lot of amusing little touches that evoke everything from The Gate (1987) to The Monster Squad (also 1987) to, of course, splatter classics like The Evil Dead (1981) and Dead Alive (1992, aka Braindead).

Not surprisingly, there’s a good deal of affection for Peter Jackson to be found as Deathgasm goes from potty-mouthed buddy comedy to irreverent horror satire to full-bore non-stop over-the-top carnage-fest. The plot is about two hard-rockin’ wannabes who stumble across an evil spell that turns people into ravenous demons whenever it’s spoken (or, more specifically, sung) out loud. Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is an affable but aimless teenager who finds a new pal/role model in Zakk (James Blake), and together the silly duo, with the help of two dorky back-up players, set out to build a heavy metal band.

Suffice to say that things don’t go as planned, and it doesn’t take long before Brodie, Zakk, those two (surprisingly amusing) back-up idiots, and a beautiful young lady who’s a lot tougher than she looks are under siege from a legion of flesh-eating demons. “Teens vs. Demons” is pretty basic stuff, premise-wise, but kudos to writer/director Jason Lei Howden for bringing a welcome sense of energy, profanity, vulgarity, and frequently unpredictable lunacy to the proceedings.

One of the best measures of a comedic horror movie is how well the “non-horror” stuff works, and thanks to a very strong cast, Deathgasm actually makes for a pretty decent comedy before it turns into a wildly over-the-top gore geyser. Cawthorne and Blake strike an amiable chemistry, the supporting cast is consistently entertaining, and despite the virtually non-stop barrage of raunchy language, unapologetic potty humor, and cartoonishly violent carnage, Deathgasm also displays several moments of legitimate cleverness and (believe it or not) even a little bro-centric sweetness.

But mostly it’s about heavy metal, demonic possession, and hardcore bloody mayhem. (And bodily functions of every conceivable scale, scope, and impact.)

4 out of 5 hard-rockin’ but unquestionably evil burritos

4 burritos

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