Four months and several stops after its SXSW premiere, NZ finally got a look at Jason Lei Howden’s Make My Movie winner Deathgasm on Friday, with a raucous crowd absolutely up for many litres of blood, a good amount of metal and a considerable number of witty one-liners the PC brigade would deem inappropriate.
The inappropriate didn’t end when the credits rolled. “What was it like kissing Kimberley Crossman?” was one of the early questions for lead Milo Cawthorne during the Q&A. “My wife’s here, mate,” Cawthorne responded. “It was OK.”
Jetlag didn’t seem to be slowing Howden down after his trip to Korea to present Deathgasm at BiFan (where fellow NZIFF debutante Turbo Kid won the Best Director gong over the weekend). Hours before the NZ premiere of Deathgasm, Howden himself has been announced as one of the recipients of the NZWG’s latest round of seed funding. Once his travels in support of the film are over, he’ll hole up for a while to work on a sequel.
The plot is straightforward (“two small town metalheads inadvertently summon a demon” pretty much covers it) and the execution has a lot of fun with plenty of tropes from the types of names and fashion choices metal bands favour, through an Iggy Pop-alike legend and references to 1970s Dennis Wheatley devil-worship titles.
As with many a low-budget NZ title, Deathgasm lined up an impressive line-up of talent behind the lens. Immediately behind the lens was cinematographer Simon Raby, who more recently shot Rebecca Tansley’s NZIFF-premiered Crossing Rachmaninoff, a shoot for which he didn’t have to wrap himself in plastic to avoid getting showered with bodily fluids.
Also popping up in the Deathgasm credits were Tim van Dammen, whose Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song premiered in the NZIFF two years ago, designer Jane Bucknell (Housebound, the upcoming Born to Dance and Timeslow), and former NZFC development executive Kath Akuhata-Brown.
Producer Andrew Beattie (also a producer on the first Make My Movie winner, How to Meet Girls from a Distance) paid special tribute to Main Reactor’s Roger Murray (Crouching Tiger 2, The Shannara Chronicles and many a Rob Tapert-produced show) for his incredible work and generosity.
“He just opened up their storage locker and it was full of body parts,” said Howden, who also thanked all the bands who’d contributed tracks for free. There is a soundtrack release on the way, so “hopefully they’ll all get some dollars from that.”
Steve McQuillan (The Dead Lands, Slow West and the upcoming Born to Dance and 6 Days) took care of the stunts, including – one assumes – the first opportunity he’s had to choreograph a sword fight with dildos.
Going down well
Audiences and critics have enjoyed the film’s screenings, and Friday’s NZIFF audience was no different. Darren Bevan described Deathgasm as “Devilishly good fun, demonically funny and satanically silly”, saying the film had “a searing eye for never losing sight of the characters while clamouring to deliver the fun one-liners”.
Cinema Aotearoa was a little more ambivalent, saying there were “hints throughout of the film that Deathgasm could have been… the potential to examine small-town life in NZ for a person who falls outside our pervasive sports-mad culture goes unfulfilled.”
One could say the same thing about The Ground We Won, but in both cases it would be criticising an apple for not being an orange.
TV3’s Daniel Rutledge gave the film four and a half stars, saying “Deathgasm is a highly entertaining, hilarious film about metal, demons and friendship, all set in Aotearoa. It’s brilliant… This is a party of a movie, the sort of low-budget triumph I wish New Zealanders made more frequently.”
Howden’s day job is as a VFX artist, formerly with Park Road Post and Iloura where he worked on a bunch of titles from Jason Stutter’s Predicament through The Great Gatsby, Man of Steel, The Wolverine and The Hobbit. Working late into the night, Howden did over a hundred of Deathgasm’s VFX shots himself although he was quick to credit former boss Cameron Harland for the support he and Park Road had shown the film.
Howden also thanked the audience at the Auckland premiere, noting it was the first time some of the Kiwi references and turns of phrase in the script had been rewarded with a response. Howden hopes audiences will continue to have a lot of fun with it as its journey continues.
After supporting select NZIFF screenings, Howden and Deathgasm are off to Melbourne, then Germany, the UK, France, Austria and Mexico, ending the journey at AFM in the US in November where Howden will be trying to attract financing for future work.
Deathgasm plays a number of centres in the NZIFF but ironically, given the almost 100 litres of blood used in production, won’t take the gore to Gore. Its Friday night outing at Wellington’s Embassy is almost sold out.
Dates for further NZ releases are still tbc, although local rights holder Madman is likely to time NZ releases as close to the October US release as possible.