Having made a name for himself with his effects work, including being a part of Avengers Assemble and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, New Zealander Jason Lei Howden made his feature film directorial debut with the brilliant Deathgasm. A heavy metal horror comedy mish-mash brimming with ballads, blood and boobs, this debut feature is one that marks Howden out as a truly unique talent that you should be keeping an eye on. Ahead of Deathgasm’s upcoming UK home release, we were lucky enough to speak to the director about the film, his love of metal, particular favourite horrors of yesteryear, New Zealand cinema, and why The Sound of Music needs more “blood, boobs and Nazi guts”.
STARBURST: Deathgasm is a massively unique movie. So with that said, where did you get the idea from?
Jason Lei Howden: My teenage years as a young metalhead living in a small New Zealand farm town were a big inspiration. Many of the characters and situations were based on my own experiences (apart
from the demons).
So you were you a bit of a metalhead when you were growing up? Who were the bands that really stood out to you?
Totally, I still am. I got into metal through school friends. I've always liked the dark imagery, even when I was a kid. But it wasn't until I was 13 that a friend started giving me dubbed tapes. Pestilence, Cannibal Corpse and Deicide were some of the first. It scared the fuck out of me at first, but then I got really into it. We had a cool record shop in my hometown of 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 by Deicide with the dead Jesus on the front. I was later the vocalist for a metal band. I probably shouldn't talk about our stage antics because I'm not sure about the statute of limitations, but they were the best years of my life.
Similarly, were you a big horror nerd in your younger years?
Where I grew up 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.
Whilst Deathgasm is certainly one of a kind, there are also a few similarities to something like the brilliant Todd and the Book of Pure Evil or even Evil Dead. Were there any shows or films that you took inspiration from when putting together the movie or did you try to just keep it as fresh and innovative as possible?
I still haven’t seen Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, it wasn’t well known down in Australia and New Zealand. I need to check it out. For Deathgasm I tried to tap into ‘80s VHS classics like Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons and Trick or Treat. Also movies like The Goonies and Monster Squad. I love films about a group of misfits and losers having to save the day. There are many other influences and inspirations in there - Dungeons & Dragons, Garbage Pail Kids, Boris Vallejo. And the film is semi-biographical, many of my own experiences as a teenage metalhead are in the film.
How vital to you was it to keep a good balance between comedy and gore in the film?
I think the gore is the funniest part! It is hard, especially when you have to take an actor from a moment where they are fighting for their life to some banter about dildos. Luckily we had a fantastic cast. I was always more focused on comedy rather than trying to be scary. In hindsight, I wish there were a few scares in there.
As events start to take a turn for the worse, the gore certainly starts to flow. You obviously have a background in SFX, but how tricky was it to actually get the desired results when it came to the bloodshed and violence here?
They were all pretty difficult given the time and budget. Most of the gore gags were one-take wonders. I won't say his name, but a certain character gets chainsawed through the mouth and his head cut off from the jaw up. We prepped the blood rig, called action and the blood went straight up in the air for metres. It landed across the studio on some gear that cost more than our whole film! We were up for hours cleaning it. The worst thing was, you hardly saw the blood through the camera so we had to do it as a pick-up later. We used 80 litres of blood on the shoot, which is a good amount of life-juice on camera. But Peter Jackson's splatter masterpiece Braindead (Dead Alive) used 300 litres, so I'm still aiming to top that high-score. Maybe then he will start making splatter-comedies again! We had a great blood and gore team. Tim Wells and Storm McCracken went all out to try and get as much grue on screen, and they did an awesome job.
From what we understand, Deathgasm was you feature film directorial debut. You’ve been on a million sets before, but how did it feel to be the man in control of overseeing everything?
Awesome! It’s the best. I just want to do it more now.
Without getting too much into spoiler territory, the film is a little open-ended during its final minutes. At this stage, are there any plans, or even just ideas, for a sequel?
There is, I finished the script last Christmas. I wrote the first film during Christmas. ‘Tis the season, I guess. It’s called Deathgasm 2: Goremageddon and is incredibly gory. The only way to do a sequel to something as OTT as Deathgasm is to make it even more OTT. I’m going to cross some lines with this one, if it gets made that is.
It really feels as people are standing up and taking notice of New Zealand cinema over the last decade or so. Sure, there’s the big spectacle stuff like The Lord of the Rings, but people are now getting equally impressed by lower budget efforts like Black Sheep, Housebound, the movies of Taika Waititi, and now Deathgasm. Given that previous decades have featured the likes of Once Were Warriors, Bad Taste, The Frighteners, and Dead Alive, do you feel that maybe NZ filmmakers and films haven’t quite gotten the credit they deserve over the years?
It’s funny, because for every Black Sheep or Housebound we do two dozen dramas that no one sees internationally speaking. I personally think we need to keep establishing ourselves as the land of horror comedy. We seem to be good at it. It all goes back to Peter Jackson, who paved the way for splatter comedy fans like myself.
Moving forward, what’s up next for you once the home release promotional push for Deathgasm is done with? Whatever projects are on the horizon?
I’m writing an action/comedy. It’s pretty insane, in the vain of Kickass, 21 Jump Street or Hot Fuzz. Except with more bullets. Wayyyyy more bullets.
And finally, Deathgasm certainly seems like a massive pleasure project, but what other dream features would you like to work on?
I would love to do a remake of The Sound of Music, except with way more gore. That film really needed more blood, boobs and Nazi guts. Also, a Garbage Pail Kids remake would be awesome. I feel pretty qualified to do that at this point.
Deathgasm is released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on February 29th, and you can find our review of the film here.SHARE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW OR ON TWITTER @STARBURST_MAG
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