The Horror Honeys: Director Interview: Jason Lei Howden - DEATHGASM

Director Interview: Jason Lei Howden - DEATHGASM

A Head Honey Indie Interview by Kat

If you're a fan of splatterpunk, horror comedy, and metal music... there's really NO WAY to lose with Deathgasm (watch the trailer HERE).

The story: Two teenage boys unwittingly summon an ancient evil entity known as The Blind One by delving into black magic while trying to escape their mundane lives.

Packed to the gills with hilarious moments, fountains of blood, weird makeup fx (those demon teeth, yo), and the kind of endearingly witty and understatedly hilarious dialogue I've come to expect from Kiwi films, Deathgasm is definitely going to be on my list of MUST HAVE releases for 2015. (Read my full SXSW review HERE)

Writer/Director Jason Lei Howden called from Melbourne Australia to chat about the journey of his horror festival charming indie film. Per his request, I've edited out all of the um's. 

"I'm surprised more films haven't done dildo massacres..."

Deathgasm is still making the festival rounds, and was featured at the Stanley Film Festival recently, and you're jetting off to a brand new international screening this week - tell us what's up for Deathgasm right now:

Yes! It's going to be playing at two festivals this weekend, in Seattle and I'll be in in Brazil for its screening at Fantaspoa. Fantaspoa is a massive film festival, it's weeks of genre film. Everyone who's been has been telling me that it's a wicked time, and some of the filmmakers that I met at SXSW like the directors of Turbo Kid are going to be there as well. Brazil has a huge heavy metal background, so I'm hoping that the film resonates with them and that they'll be into it. It's always exciting to see how different cultures are going to respond to the humor, so it'll be interesting to see on the same note how the European screenings go as well.

The response from North American audiences has been amazing. SXSW was really amazing, I was really taken aback by how many people got what we were trying to do.

Kiwi film and Kiwi horror film in particular is a very special type of genre film - how do you feel that Deathgasm fits into that niche?

It's interesting, obviously as a kid seeing Brain Dead, Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles blew me away, but I guess it's not until I came over to the States that I realized that people have a certain idea about New Zealand film. So many people were like "OMG it's a crazy New Zealand film! I love that New Zealand sense of humor!" and I didn't really think about it until people mentioned it. I think it's great, and I think it's something we should capitalize on. I think there's a been a resurgance inthe last coupld of years, there was a bit of dry spell - the film commission wasn't funding genre films at all. They were all Arts Festival, kitchen sink dramas, but in the last few years it's been amazing - we've had Housebound and What We Do In The Shadows and I hope it continues.

I'm a horror comedy fan regardless, there's something about the comedy offsets the horror... especially when you have heavy gore and you can find yourself laughing at people being decimated and it's ok.

You've probably talked to death about the contest that you entered Deathgasm into (Make My Horror Movie), but I want to know a little bit about the other projects you submitted.

I pitched 5 projects, and Deathgasm was the hardest, and in a way I was "Oh god, I hope this doesn't win." but I also hoped it would win because it's amazing and it's the one that I would most want to watch. There was Tooth for an Eye which was a really gory, gritty kind of crime horror in the vein of Cold in July and I Saw The Devil. I had this other one called Generator which was an enclosed supernatural horror about this guy who operates a hospital generator and he works the night shift and uncovers a supernatural presence. That was actually the first feature film script I wrote and I was trying to repurpose it into a Make My Horror film pitch. They're all ideas that I'm fleshing out at the moment and other stuff that I'm trying to get off the ground.

I'm glad that it happened this way, the idea seemed to resonate with the producers and the panel of judges that included Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun) it's really cool how it all came about.

I'm working Tooth for an Eye at the moment, and I'm hoping to pitch it around soon, but that's probably the only one of that bunch of films that's on my slate at the moment, but I keep having ideas like a sentence that maybe I'll turn into a synopsis so it'll be interesting to see what wins out and which I can take and produce next. We're also currently working on Deathgasm 2, it's a lot bigger - it's what happens in a few years carrying on with the same characters. It should be more silly, gory, semi-offensive fun.

I'm really excited about the sequel because I'm in love with the characters and the cast and crew, and I want to hang out with them again. They're such great people, and I want to explore those characters again. I'm in Deathgasm mode right now, and the sense of humor is still happening so I'm constantly writing more gags and writing more gore and more splatter. In the 80s the sequel is always lesser than the first, but we want to make this sequel bigger and better.

Since you're working on the sequel, it's obvious that there has been a lot of positive attention coming your way - what happened after SXSW?

The reviews have been really cool, I guess I didn't know what to expect! I definitely didn't expect them to be so good. It's hard because you're doing it every day you watch the film again and again and you lose a bit of perspective, and you're also sitting there thinking "I could have done this better, I could have done that differently..." so you kind of dwell on stuff like that, but it's been really great. I think the coolest thing is that people really get it, and get what we're trying to do. There are lots of other festivals that are picking it up, Brazil and Seattle [are happening first] - Seattle's going to be really cool, there' a thrash metal band, Paralyzer, playing before the screening which I think is great. We're setting up something for the opening night at Fantaspoa too. Fantasia (UK film fest) just picked it up as well, that was just announced. Ever since I got into filmmaking I've been trying to get into Fantasia! NIFFF festival in Switzerland just got announced as well, and Chris Carter from the X-Files is going to be there, I might just go and stalk him (laughs).

I've read in some other interviews that you based Deathgasm on your life growing up in New Zealand - can you tell us how it influenced the film?

I think there's alway that small town intolerance, and I'm not bashing New Zealand... it's everywhere, we know it. I grew up in a town called Greymouth, and Brody's character and experience in Deathgasm is kind of based loosely around that. I left my school in Nelson and had to move with my dad and stepmother and it was hard. I was in 5th form (when you're 15 in school) and I didn't know anyone until I met another metalhead named Markus and we jammed together and just smoked pot and drank beer, and basically a lot of the stuff that's in the film. There are a lot of in-jokes in the film as well, I'm really looking forward to taking the film back home and watching it with some old friends so they can see all the in-jokes (laughs). I think it's always fun to put a bit of yourself into whatever you're doing - even with the short films I've made there's been an aspect of my own life in there, it's what helps the work come across as genuine.

My Scottish English teacher in school always told me "write what you know," and I never believed him, I was always like "Nooo I want to write Sci-Fi, I want to write horror!" but now that I'm older and less arrogant, I understand what he meant.

The opening credits of Deathgasm is my favorite thing - how did that come to life?

My best friend in New Zealand, Wade Cowan, he's an illustrator, animator, designer - we actually used to play in a lot of bands together. He's collaborated on a few of my short films before... I can't remember if I asked him or how it first happened, but I was tossing ideas and he was really keen to do the titles. I think we used stuff like you see in Beavis and Butthead - the Rob Zombie sequence (Ratfinks, Suicide Tanks and Cannibal Girls) was definitely a reference point, I think the original idea was to have inspiration from Heavy Metal covers, and the different ages of metal. We just went from there and came up with a bunch of offensive stuff (laughs). He actually designed the Haxansword poster with the skull with the dick... Everyone has commented,"There are so many dick jokes in the movie..." but it's not me! He set me up!

The music for the opening credits was by a band called Axeslasher, and the lead singer Justin just went and presented the movie at the Stanley Film Festival. We've had amazing support from the bands involved, they've just been amazing to us.

I think the most fun thing for me has been interacting with the bands, they're such cool people. Some of them, like Emperor are childhood heroes of mine, so that's been an amazing thing.

What are your next plans for Deathgasm? When will we see it on DVD/Blu Ray/VOD? I need this movie in my life. 

Hopefully we should be announcing that in the next month or two. We're trying to stretch out the festival run, I know it's really frustrating and people I know in New Zealand people are really jealous that everyone in America has been seeing it. We should be announcing those dates soon, we're getting a really good package together - a lot of people have been hitting us up for merchandise like the Deathgasm hats so we'll be doing another run of those too.

Deathgasm plays at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 15th and June 7th (Buy tickets HERE), Fantaspoa Brazil on May 15th, Sydney Film Festival on June 5th and will be in Europe for Fantasia Film Festival this summer.