Interview: Jason Lei Howden, Director of Deathgasm
When I first saw the trailer for Deathgasm, I was automatically charmed. Featuring spiked leather jackets, demonic monsters, home-made slasher weapons, a Skull Fist song, and the phrase “brutal as fuck”, this preview promised a movie straight out of my dream journal. That it was made in New Zealand was somewhat surprising (I know nothing about the NZ metal scene), but not terribly so (New Zealand has a great film pedigree that includes solid horror comedy). Now making its way around the horror festival circuit, Deathgasm has become a much-loved cult film, hailed by horror hounds and headbangers alike as a new favorite.
When I casually mentioned the film on Twitter, I was almost immediately followed by Jason Lei Howden, the director behind Deathgasm. A little research into Howden shows that he has a long career in visual effects; a quick online chat with him also showed that he was funny, easy to talk to, and as dedicated a metalhead as the Deathgasm trailer seemed to suggest (it always sucks when you talk to one of these guys and they’re like, “I don’t listen to metal personally, but, you know, that world is so interesting”). When I asked Jason if he wanted to do an interview, he was more than happy to answer my questions.
What are your definitive horror movie and metal album—the two you couldn’t live without and could watch/listen to over and over again eternally?
Metal album, it’s a tie between Iron Maiden, Killers, and Cannibal Corpse, The Bleeding. I find myself going back to Di’Anno more than the Dickinson as I get older. For the horror, I always come back to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Cool gross-out practical effects and Kurt Russell kicking ass.
Tell me about growing up in New Zealand. Was it hard to track down horror and metal? Is it a country with a big metal scene?
I grew up in a small farm town, the main hobbies for most people were rugby and beating the hell out of anyone who doesn’t like rugby. The cinema was pretty shitty, and there was no internet streaming. So I would always lurk in the Horror section of my local VHS shop, even when I was too young to rent them. So I would just stare at the VHS covers. For hours. Just looking at the artwork and reading the loglines until they kicked me out of the shop. My dad would let me rent R18 Ninja movies because he wanted me to do karate, so I started off with a lot of shuriken and katana gore. When I was old enough, I rented every horror tape I could, just obliterated entire rows of horror VHS then moved on to the next shop.
Metal was easier, we had a cool record shop in Greymouth that stocked piles of metal tapes and posters. It took weeks to save up for a tape, so my friends and I would trade dubs. I still remember buying my first metal shirt, Once Upon The Cross, and getting screamed at by my step-mother.
You have a storied visual effects background—how long has Deathgasm been on your mind?
I’ve been wanting to do a splatter movie for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I thought of chucking metalhead characters in the mix. I wrote these characters for a short film, but then the idea of Heavy Metal Splatter was just too much fun.
Okay, the movie itself. Tell me about Deathgasm.
Deathgasm is a heavy metal splatstick horror/comedy/gore movie. It’s about two outcast metalheads who get the demonic apocalypse rolling by playing the ‘Black Hymn’, and have to save the world by smashing skulls in with blunt objects and playing killer riffs. It’s basically the film that every stoned 16 year old metalhead wanted to see. I went and made that film.
Is there a type of metal your heroes lean towards? Do you have a personal metallic preference?
Brodie has pretty broad tastes. He listens to a lot of stoner/doom and some thrash, but is also into the extreme stuff. Zakk, on the other hand, is all about death and black Metal. He probably gives Brodie shit about his bands being pussies.
I personally listen to all genres, I find myself going back to the early NWOBHM stuff heaps recently, and late 80’s Florida death. But even the worst metal is better than the best EDM, to me.
When most people think of metal in the movies, they think Conan or the zombie apocalypse. Why go for two dudes with modified violent weed whackers?
Conan is fucking incredible, but let’s be honest–most of us just are never going to be a witch-banging, sword-swinging, camel-punching adonis like Arnie. I survive purely on a diet of pizza, beer and radiation from my computer screen. I start wheezing if I have to walk further than my front gate.
I wanted to have a couple of teen metalheads saving the day, dudes that we could all relate too. These guys aren’t too smart, they aren’t very strong, and they are blazed out of their minds most of the time. But their strength is a heavy metal bond. That’s the theme of the film: metalheads have to stick together. I go to a lot of festivals, and by far the coolest, most considerate audiences are metal crowds. We knock each other down in the pit, then pick each other up.
What’s the best metal for fighting monsters?
Most of the songs from the Deathgasm soundtrack have monster-killing attributes. Pathology, “Alone” increases strength by +5 with endurance bonuses, while Skull Fist’s “Hour To Live” adds +10 to your Paladin’s speed.
Tell me about the soundtrack. Who’s on it? Whose contributions are the most important to you?
We have a wide range of bands and genres, but I consciously steered away from metalcore and some of the newer genres. Not because I think it’s bad, but I wanted to evoke an older time in metal history.
We have death-thrashers Axeslaher, masked black ‘n roll maniacs Midnight, Canadian speed metallers Skull Fist, NZ power-metal band Razorwyre, epic NZ doomers Beastwards, 8 Foot Sativa, Goatesque, Lair of the Minotaur, devil-metal heathens Nunslaughter, Australia’s Elm Street, brutal death-metal Pathology, Norway’s The Wretched End (with legend Samoth), and black metal pioneer turned-prog musician Ihsahn on a track with Devin Townsend doing guest vocals. All of the bands have been just so fucking generous and supportive.
New Zealand’s Bulletbelt have been especially amazing, we have two tracks off their 2015 album Rise Of The Banshee, including a Deathgasm theme song which I did backing roars on. We cut together a video clip with band performance and shots from the movie, which should be coming out soon.
So proud to have two tracks from Norwegian black metal legends Emperor on the soundtrack. In The Nightside Eclipse is one of my favorite albums, it’s one of my proudest moments having them on the soundtrack.
We are currently working on doing a vinyl soundtrack release. It’s going to melt people’s balls off.
What’s your favorite metal release of 2015 so far?
The new High On Fire release Luminiferous has been getting heaps of rotations in the Howden household (The Rhombus household, too! – Ed). If High On Fire are reading this, guys: hit me up about getting on the Deathgasm 2 soundtrack!
I know you’ve been hitting the festival circuit a lot—are there plans to release Deathgasm in theaters around the world?
Yeah, the festival thing has been insane. I think we are doing 70 festivals across planet earth all up, which is mind-blowing. I can’t say for sure about a cinema release, but hopefully.
How has crowd reaction been? Have a lot of metal fans come out in support?
I’ve seen a huge amount of Metal tees and battlevests in the crowds. The reaction has been awesome. The Sydney, Australia screenings were my favorite. The coolest thing is, people get what we are trying to do with it, and understand the references and metal in-jokes. If someone thinks they are up to the challenge, then shoot me a definitive list of all the metal Easter eggs in the film. I’ll send them a prize, like, I dunno, a T-Shirt or some shit.
Where can fans see Deathgasm in the near future?
We just announced Frightfest London, and Sitges Spain, there are some more dates in the U.S to be announced. I’m doing the hometown shows in NZ in a few weeks, as well as PiFan Korea, and some others I can’t mention yet. Then there will be a DVD/VOD release.
On a broader, more abstract note: why metal?
I can’t speak for others, but for me personally, metal is the soundtrack of the underdogs, the outcasts, the working classes. Like what rock was until it was stolen by shoegazing rich kids. It helped me through some dark times, and made me feel like I’m a part of something. I’ll always be a proud metalhead.
Keep an eye on the Deathgasm Facebook to find out how you can see this kickass film.