2015 was a fantastic year for horror movies, and one of the more entertaining ones was writer/director Jason Lei Howden’s metal/horror/comedy Deathgasm. It’s his debut feature, but you wouldn’t know it by how well it manages the balance between gory horror and big laughs.
The movie recently hit home video from Dark Sky Films, and while it’s fairly light on special features it does include a commentary track from Howden. He’s understandably enthusiastic about his film, his cast & crew, and ‐ of course ‐ heavy metal music, and he delivers an entertaining track while worth a listen from fans.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Deathgasm commentary.
Commentators: Jason Lei Howden (writer/director)
1. The opening black & white sequence was meant to emulate black metal album covers.
2. Producer Ant Timpson’s “rectal prolapse” graphic is apparently on his business cards now. Hopefully I’ll remember to ask for one next time I spy Timpson carousing at a film festival.
3. No one in New Zealand apparently used those classic composition notebooks, but Howden went with his gut and featured them anyway.
4. He kept the guitar that Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) plays early on in the film.
5. The D&D die-in-the-nose gag is “based on a true story.”
6. Both Hawthorne and Kimberly Crossman (who plays Medina) are ex-Power Rangers. She was the Red in Power Rangers Samurai, and he was the Green in Power Rangers R.P.M.
7. He recalls how teens used to write band names on their backpacks (Brodie has “Metallica” written on his backpack’s strap), and then he mentions having written “Nirvana” on his own as a teenager. He had spelled it wrong though. “So yeah, stay in school kids, is the moral there.”
8. The math compass attack story is also based on a true story. Howden knew a kid in school with two sets of front teeth ‐ “he was fucked up” ‐ and some bullies stood on his King Diamond tape leading him to attack them with a math compass.
9. When Zakk (James Blake) enter the garage for the first time he was scripted to say “Ladies,” but Howden told him to simply spit instead and gave no warning to the other actors. “So that’s a genuine look of disgust on Sam [Berkley] and Dan’s [Cresswell] faces.”
10. The bit where the characters visually suggest band names sees Zakk offer up “Dethgasm” without the letter “A.” Howden takes full responsibility there, but anyone who read #7 above won’t be surprised by that. “I actually did that graphic at like five in the morning, like a few weeks away from the SXSW deadline.” Timpson pointed it out to him later, but by then it was too late.
Dark Sky Films
11. Several of the main characters are wearing wigs, and Howden praises the makeup department’s Vanessa Hurley for how good they look. Howden’s day job before directing his first feature is in the visual effects field, and he’s “spent a lot of time actually painting out wig lines because they’re so visible.”
12. Crossman enjoyed the script and character so much she paid for her own flights from Los Angeles to New Zealand to work on the film.
13. Stephen Ure, who plays Rikki Daggers, has portrayed multiple characters in Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien films including Grishnakh, Gorbag, Fimbul, and Grinnah. These names may or may not mean anything to you.
14. Tim Foley (plays Vadin) was initially cast because he already had his own severed head from a previous project. Happily, he also turned out to be a solid actor too.
Dark Sky Films
15. The brief fight between Daggers and Vadin is done via first-person POV because the first time they tried shooting it more traditionally some of Ure’s “skin came away when he was doing the stunts, and actually just like peeled off.” I feel like this needs more explanation.
16. He was told (by some unnamed fool) to cut out the Dora the Explorer joke, but happily he ignored that request.
17. The small statues on Aeon’s (Andrew Laing) desk were borrowed from the director of photography’s friend, “and they are actually genuine, like thousands of years old, like no shit.” He recalls them being worth more than the film’s budget.
18. He points out the backs of two tee-shirts that aren’t quite visible onscreen. One says “Christian Scum Die Bleeding,” and the other says “Roll The Bitch In Flour.” He wanted the Cradle of Filth shirt, “the famous one, Jesus Is A Cunt, with a nun masturbating on the front,” but the band’s representative didn’t authorize it until they were too far into production.
19. Howden has enjoyed seeing the different reactions to the film in different countries. Australian audiences laugh through the entirety of it, while Koreans apparently let most of the jokes slide by without a response and instead laugh at the sweet or sad moments. He points out the bit in the park where Zakk is making moves on Medina and says Korean audiences chuckled quite a bit at the scene. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s seen more than a few Korean films as they really do play fast and loose with tonal shifts. Ratings differed internationally too as it got an X-rating in Korea and a 16 in his home country of New Zealand.
20. Timpson showed up on set wearing a Housebound tee-shirt, “which I gave him shit for.” In case you haven’t seen it, the film is another horror/comedy gem from New Zealand.
21. The 2nd unit was tasked with filming some overhead footage of a house but had the wrong address. “They knocked on the door and asked ‘can we fly a quadracopter, like a drone over your house? and the guy should have said ‘who the fuck are you guys?’ but instead just nodded and smiled so they shot the wrong roof.”
22. The girl playing the female student who the teacher vomits blood all over was super into it. According to Howden, I should add.
Dark Sky Films
23. “Filming cigarettes is the worst,” he says. The issue isn’t cancer though, it’s continuity.
24. Howden kept that box of sex-toy paraphernalia, “still in the original condition” ‐ meaning they’re still coated in fake bodily fluids. It’s unclear if he’s serious, but he says he’s open to offers from people interested in owning screen-used props. “I do not want them in my house anymore, basically.”
Dark Sky Films
25. He doesn’t advise anyone use a chainsaw as a weapon. “If you’re gonna murder someone find a knife, get a hammer, just don’t use a chainsaw, trust me.” The teeth on the chain catch every loose bit of fabric and spit up debris.
26. “The dick demon was actually this fan, one of our first fans, that just kept emailing us.” He really wanted to be involved somehow, so one of the producers ‐ my money’s on Timpson ‐ asked “do you want to run around with your pants off at 4am in the morning covered in blood?” Like any of us would, he said yes.
27. Crew members brought their kids to play around with the props, and Howden recalls seeing them having fun with gory bits, fake knives, and a prop pump-action shotgun. “It’s West Auckland, you see that all the time anyway.”
28. “Bogan” is a slang term for white trash in Australia, but in New Zealand the meaning shifts more specifically towards serious heavy metal fans. “I’m a proud bogan.”
29. He’s read some criticisms of the film’s love story saying it’s unnecessary, but he’s also heard the opposite from people who love that subplot. “It’s great that people get different stuff out of it,” he says, which I take to mean he’s totally cool with my own review of the film.
30. Howden’s looking forward to fans making the horn handshake a trend.
Dark Sky Films
31. The big massacre at the end while Brodie attempts to play the tune left the room a bit too messy. “We shot this wide shot, and I just looked down the barrel and was like ‘fuck, this is too much gore.’” They had to remove some of it out of the scene, “because otherwise they’d just be falling over people and gore.”
32. It was suggested to him that they should have shown Zakk’s throat being sliced, but he “didn’t think it was right to actually show it.” They use sound effects and the actors’ faces to make it effective instead. “I don’t think it was necessary,” he says about a gory demise for poor Zakk (and probably about the film’s love triangle too).
33. Cawthorne drags a fake razor across Blake’s throat, but it left a visible red mark as it moved across the skin. “In the back of my mind, when I saw the red mark happening through the monitor, I thought ‘fuck have we just done a Brandon Lee?’”
34. If they do a sequel it will just be Crossman dressed up in her metal-head fashion glimpsed briefly in the film’s epilogue.
35. He submitted five different ideas to the New Zealand Film Commission, and they chose his most ambitious. So yes, we should probably be sending them thank-you cards.
36. One of the many joys of listening to commentaries is that they often take me all the way to the end of the credits, and more than once I’ve discovered post-credits scenes I didn’t even know were there. That’s the case here as we get a great bit featuring Brodie and Zakk thinking up new band names now that 75% of the band is dead. Cawthorne and Blake ad-libbed the names including “some really dark shit that we can never show.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- “I’m just gonna keep talking, until…” [followed by silence]
- “There was a bit of controversy over the dick guitarist, but he made it in there.”
- “I actually love Poison.”
- “One thing about New Zealand, the beer is fantastic. It’s so hard to get good beer overseas. Sorry world, but it’s true.”
- “In my teen years there were no demons with chain saws, but I don’t think there were any girls either.”
- “I wish we had more actual eye trauma.”
- “This commentary’s probably been one of the most rambling, incoherent commentaries.”
Howden’s first commentary track starts off a bit choppy as he leaves a few long, silent gaps, but things pick up once he gets used to talking to himself in an otherwise empty studio. It’s clear throughout that he’s not just playing a role with his heavy metal love ‐ he’s a legitimate fan (and part-time participant) ‐ and he name-drops bands, albums, and songs more than a few times. Happily for us non-metal fans he’s also vocal and enthusiastic about his love of horror films.