“I’m a big horror and metal fan obviously,” says the director, “I remember seeing [1986 film] “Trick or Treat” when I was a teenage metalhead, I loved it, Ozzy does this awesome cameo – it still kind of holds up – its one of those genres, heavy metal horror, that just seems to have gone away recently.”
In DEATHGASM, the band breaks into the home of one of their idols, a recluse old headbanger named Rikki Daggers. Daggers gives them a piece of sheet music, the same one a strange cult is after as well, and the band tests it out during practice. They inadvertently rouse a demon and he ransacks the town, turning everyone into zombies. The team, which included producers Andrew Beattie and Sarah Howden (Jason’s wife) set out to make a film that was true to the spirit, energy, fun, and darkness that is present in real extreme metal. “For me it feels like the most metal heavy metal film in terms of the amount of music on screen,” says the director, “and the black metal and all these obscure bands — you are never going to see Nunslaughter in any other movie.” Despite this, all the music in the film, and the references, really support the story. “There was so much in-jokey stuff that got left out,” Howden admits, “because its just me being a metal fanboy.” But other moments, like a character referencing Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ at the death of his father make the film a delight for true fans. “If it ever was a studio movie it’d be fucking Nickelback or something,” Howden says, “it would be a hard rock movie, we’d need them more good looking, we can’t have hair as long.”
Kimberly Crossman, who plays Brodie’s love interest Medina and a new initiate into the world of metal found her own experiences mirroring her character: “I’m not not a fan of any music genre,” she says, “but it was definitely a new experience for me. I love learning so I think for me coming on and learning from these guys and getting the whole experience was definitely cool. And I’m more interested now and I understand it a lot more. I had an idea of what sorts of people follow metal and this movie breaks that stereotype.” Brodie captures Medina’s interest with the time told method of the mixtape – and is completely surprised when she succumbs to the power of the metal. At the end of the film, she is chopping up demonically-possessed zombies with an axe and ready to join that mosh pit. “I thought that was a really cool arc and that’s something I don’t necessarily get in television,” Crossman says, “television it’s a through-story but you don’t know where its going. So yeah creating my own arc as a clean cut, put-together girl and at the end I’ve got piercings and I’m smoking and we’re having an argument about metal, that to me is a real cool progression as an actress.”
It’s so rare to come across real metal fans (i.e. fans of real metal) I must admit that was basically all I wanted to talk about with Howden, who based much of the film off his own personal experiences and made it for the ‘initiated.’ “I don’t think I ever had New Zealand in mind as an audience when I was writing actually,” he confesses, “it was metalheads everywhere.” He added that despite his own experiences, and his wife Sarah’s, who admits to sneaking out of her parents’ house to see Jason’s band, extreme metal is not really a popular thing in New Zealand. “I mean its there, I think most places have that undercurrent,” he says, “it used to be bigger in the 90s,” and he partially blames grunge for its disappearance and the lack of metal horror films. “The whole culture is the darkest and most hard core you can get,” Sarah Howden says, “young people that want to rebel, its not like footballers.” This is who they made the movie for. The fact that it is set in New Zealand is just a bit of a bonus. “In a way I think it’s a little bit endearing watching these kiwi kids with native bush in their corpsepaint, something a little bit weird about it,” the director says.
And how does Howden himself feel about the state of the New Zealand film industry? “At the moment its crazy because there was like a huge lull in the 2000s for kiwi movies,” he muses. Timpson, producer and creator of the popular “ABC’s of Death” film series and one of the most recognizable voices of New Zealand cinema, admits he’s a little surprised it has taken so long. “I did this national competition for years,” he says, “and from that, after 14 years, I thought there’s going to be like a huge influx of people getting enthused and going off and making indie pictures like the US and the UK are doing.” And maybe they did, but it took much longer for the scene to mature. “You guys never hear about them,” Timpson says, “but we see all those features and they don’t even get out of their bedrooms. What is just now happening is the scripts are matching the enthusiasm and so the films are thinking in terms of global audiences.”
Part of their success, in part, comes from the training many of these filmmakers received working on larger Hollywood films who are decamping to New Zealand more and more often, especially people like Peter Jackson and his Weta Workshop. Jason Lei Howden himself worked on the Hobbit movies as a Senior Paint and Rotoscope Artist, as well as films like “The Great Gatsby,” ” Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and “Prometheus.” The DEATHGASM team is very quick to credit another New Zealand filmmaker as well, television producer Robert Tapert, responsible for series like “Young Hercules,” “Spartacus,” and of course, “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Says DEATHGASM producer Andrew Beattie, “Peter only makes a film every three years, there’s something happening every week in Rob’s world.” Still, Peter Jackson, and his influence on Kiwi filmmaking cannot be overlooked. “We appreciate Peter Jackson doing those early horror movies,” says Sarah Howden, “and we hope that making this film will challenge him to do another. It’s on.”
Peter Jackson’s next project seems to be another two “TinTin” films. In the meantime, DEATHGASM plants the Kiwi flag on Canadian soil on Saturday July 18th at 9:30pm.