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Deathgasm Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)

Metal-thrashing Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is an outcast in a sea of jocks and cheerleaders in a suburban wasteland until he meets a kindred spirit in fellow metalhead Zakk (James Blake). After starting their own band, Brodie and Zakk come upon a mysterious piece of sheet music said to grant ultimate power to whoever plays it. But the music also summons an ancient evil entity known as Aeloth The Blind One, which threatens to tear apart existence itself. The boys' classmates and family become inhabited by demonic forces, tearing out their own eyes, and turning into psychotic murderers ... and that's only the beginning! It's up to Brodie, Zakk, and their group of friends to stop a force of pure evil from devouring all of mankind. (From Dark Sky Film’s official synopsis)



The New Zealand horror comedy, a charming tradition that extends back to the early days of Peter Jackson’s filmmaking career, is enjoying a minor renaissance lately. 2014 alone brought us Guy Pigden’s I Survived a Zombie Holocaust, Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound, and Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows. Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm is the region’s modern-day answer to the short-lived rock ‘n roll horror phenomenon of the later ‘80s – a weird, still flourishing subgenre that includes Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat (1985), and John Fasano’s Rock n Roll Nightmare (1987) and Black Roses (1988). Generally, these films gleefully exploited conservative Christian America’s insistence that heavy metal music was a direct line to Hell. At its core, Deathgasm, like its rock ‘n roll horror predecessors and most ‘80s sex comedies (Porky’s, 1982; Hot Dog: The Movie, 1984; Screwballs, 1983; et cetera), is the manifestation of a teenage boy’s wildest fantasies. It is perhaps even the modern metal kid horror equivalent to John Hughes’ nerdy kid sci-fi favourite, Weird Science (1985).


Herein lies the film’s biggest problem: those of us that aren’t teenage boys might find the geeky, juvenile, playfully sexist, and casually homophobic subject matter utterly unappealing. It’s certainly a simplistic, exclusionary, and, even as an adult that once related to this stuff (Deathgasm would be 16 year-old me’s favorite movie), I found it somewhat obnoxious, but it’s not stupid. Howden, who also wrote the film, understands his audience enough to placate them without insulting them. The best New Zealand horror comedy tends to account for conventions, giving the fans what they want from the genre (loads of violence and gross-out comedy), while also resisting conventions for a joke (in this case, stuff like cult leaders making minions re-decapitate someone ‘the right way,’ because they ruined the carpet with blood the first time). Howden’s super-speedy, info-dump style will do little to endear the film to detractors, but I do think that this short attention span approach jibes well with the content. This is definitely how a teenage metalhead would recount his life’s story – with grainy flashbacks, zippy editing, animated inserts, and a different song playing in the background every 30 seconds. On the other hand, it seems like a significant amount of narrative/character development has been deleted to keep the heavily, heavily Evil Dead-inspired gore machine churning during the final act and the lovable supporting cast suffers in its absence.



Video

I can’t find any camera specs on Deathgasm, but it appears that the bulk of the film was shot using digital HD cameras of some type. There are also a number of 16mm inserts, often used for quick-cut flashbacks, and a faux-music video sequence made to look like subpar analogue video. This 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer is generally quite clean, while still mixing it up in terms of textures, colors, and contrast range. Daylight scenes are eclectic and soft, night and darker sequences tend to be tinted in blue or rusty orange. Details are mostly tight and complex, no matter how dark or bright the lighting schemes are, and the red flash of blood & gore is always punchy. There are some pronounced banding effects seen on the brightest glowing elements, primarily during otherwise dark sequences, but these are the exception in an otherwise smoothly-graded transfer. The slight digital noise does not appear to be due to compression.


Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is incredibly dynamic, as dictated by the mile-a-minute, mix-and-match editing style. Everything, from basic environmental noise to the more abstract effects of supernatural happenings and even the sound of the edits themselves, is punched up for directional impact. Of course, music plays a huge role and all of it is infused with driving guitars and blast beat double bass. Chris van de Geer & Joost Langeveld (aka: Dead Pirate) are credited as composers alongside a bevy of metal acts.



Extras

  • Commentary with writer/director Jason Lei Howden – This track starts off awkwardly, with Howden hesitently describing the on-screen action. While he never quite finds his footing (he pauses and drops lines of thought quite a bit), but there are also stretches of good behind-the-scenes info and anecdotes, including the fact that Milo Cawthorne, Kimberley Crossman, and Delaney Tabron all appeared on different iterations of Power Rangers.

  • Brotherhood of Steel: The Cast of Deathgasm (5:00, HD) – A casting featurette in which the cast & crew discuss the characters and the trials of stage blood.

  • Demon Seed: An Interview with Jason Lei Howden (5:30, HD) – The writer/director discusses his autobiographical side of the film, getting the film financed, the Peter Jackson influence, and shooting the film.

  • Goregasm: The FX of Deathgasm (5:10, HD) – Behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the special effects crew.

  • ”Deathgasm” music video by Bulletbelt (4:20, HD)

  • Trailer and teaser spot



The images on this page are NOT representative of the Blu-ray image quality.

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