Review: This Is GWAR Is a Powerful Story of Artistic Moxie, the Dream of the ’90s, and Latex Dongs


Given the well-lubed touring machine that they are now, it’s easy to forget how GWAR started. What is now one of heavy metal’s most time-honored institutions and live rites of passage was once a scrappy art collective squatting in a former milk-bottling plant in Richmond, Virginia. But while it can be hard to see past the endless rubber warts, decapitated politicians, and alien thrash anthems that make up the band’s gore-caked legacy, GWAR’s story is a fundamentally human one, full of more tragedy, hilarity, and honesty than those of many other artists. And now, in Shudder’s new feature documentary This Is GWAR, the band’s story has been indecently exposed for the entire galaxy to see.

Review: This Is GWAR Is a Powerful Story of Artistic Moxie, the Dream of the ’90s, and Latex Dongs

In This Is GWAR, the viewer gets everything: the band’s humble origins in the punk rock scene, their surprisingly meteoric rise to fame in the ’90s, their loss of momentum at the turn of the millennium, and their rebirth as a tried-and-true heavy metal band in the early 2000s. But what it also offers us are things we might have forgotten in hindsight — that GWAR were nominated for a Grammy for Phallus In Wonderland, that Dave Brockie was arrested and Oderus’ Cuttlefish of Cthulhu was confiscated by the police, that Pete “Flattus Maximus” Lee was accidentally shot by a cop during the band’s heyday. The story is a treasure trove of facts that sometimes feel buried under a mountain of foam rubber.

Similarly, the struggles of the individuals behind GWAR are more tangible than ever. Lee’s sadness after her got shot is harrowing. When Danielle “Slymenstra Hymen” Stampe talks about feeding George Clinton a banana held like a dick at a Grammys after-party, you cackle along with her. Founding member Hunter “Techno Destructo” Jackson’s bitterness at seeing his dream project slowly taken away from him is deeply sympathetic; it’s easy to roll your eyes and say On with the show at a distance, but to watch a human being lament the loss of his art rips your guts out. The film is a solid reminder that all art, even insane heavy metal art, is made by people, and their woes and triumphs are no different from ours.

But in a lot of ways, the real star of This Is GWAR is the ’90s and its artistic climate. The idea of something as gross and DIY as GWAR rising to international acclaim on word-of-mouth and creative moxie alone is unthinkable today. These guys were in the right place at the right time, putting all their energy into telling the pretentious high-end art world to go fuck itself with a foam-rubber sword. That rare, beautiful spark of madcap creativity would’ve withered under the cold glare of social media and helicopter parenting. That we got GWAR when we did is a gift, plain and simple.

Of course, here I am, using lofty language to praise a documentary about artists who hated that sort of shit. Make no mistake, This Is GWAR also has tons of blood, and guts, and decapitations, and alien death penises. It’s a cornucopia of sensory overload, packed with celebrity guests paying undying homage to their intergalactic sex overlords. But while the carnage will get you through the door, what will keep you watching This Is GWAR to the very end are the people who make up this band’s history, and how relatable their stories are to us all. It’s okay to get a little misty-eyed, even as you’re being tossed into the meat grinder.

This Is GWAR is streaming now on Shudder.

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