It's fitting that throughout much of Deathgasm one of the characters wears a Bad Taste t-shirt. Director Jason Lei Howden has spent much of his career toiling as a VFX artist for WETA Digital, and his admiration for its co-founder and owner's early films is evident in every frame of his first movie. Underneath all the gross-out gore and dildo jokes Deathgasm shares the same sense of quaint sweetness that has made Bad Taste and Braindead so enduringly charming. It's that very specific brand of whimsical Kiwi charm that set Jackson's early movies apart from his main influence - Raimi's Evil Dead and Evil Dead II - and which continues to define the spirit of NZ horror comedies to this day.
Deathgasm also shares another essential quality that has characterised New Zealand's homegrown splatstick genre: it's actually funny. There's been an international avalanche of Jackson-influenced horror comedy in the last couple of decades, and way too much of it has been excruciatingly unfunny and exasperatingly stupid (and yes Tommy Wirkola I'm looking right at you). Deathgasm is cleverly written and frequently laugh out loud funny, a hilarious mixed bag of physical gags and silly jokes. Howden, who also wrote the script, seems to have a pretty decent grasp of heavy metal lore, and works in a number of in-jokes for metalheads, knowingly referencing everything from Poison to Manowar and Anal Cunt.
Unfortunately, the one thing that lets this movie down is the third defining feature of Jackson's seminal classics: the splatter fx. Although Howden's heart (and spleen, intestines etc) is obviously in the right place, and I appreciate his steadfast use of practical fx, most of the mayhem on display here is pretty uninspiring. I think it's essential with a movie like this to be as inventive with the gags as possible, and (with the exception of a pretty funny death by dildo scene) I'm afraid the grue in Deathgasm is more chore than gore. To be fair though, Howden's VFX skills make up for it with a number of cool little flourishes peppered throughout the movie, especially the animated title sequence which makes for a really fist pumping opener. It's also worth noting that the demons here are more Lamberto Bava than Raimi, which was refreshing.
As far as Kiwi horror comedies go, the recent Housebound and What We Do in the Shadows have set the bar almost impossibly high. Deathgasm may not have reached those same dizzy heights for me, but it's still well worth a watch. Horns up!
Next for me at the fest: Teutonic transgression in GERMAN ANGST!