Local director Josh Vargas, best known for his Dean Corll biopic and a heck of a lot of great metal music videos, is debuting his latest feature release, Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre, at Texas Frightmare in Dallas this weekend, and if you happen to be attending, I can’t recommend the glorious explosion of music and mayhem enough. Not only does it bring an amazing amount of amperage as a horror outing, it’s also a surprisingly touching film with solid bones and a good heart.
The film follows a metal band named Witch’s Lips as they head to a remote cabin to rediscover their music identity and take an Ozzy’s worth of drugs, two things that are not mutually exclusive. Of course, the cabin is surrounded by an eerie graveyard and there’s a demonic tome in the basement and, bibbity-bobbity-boo, zombie flick. If you were looking for an original story, this is not the movie for you.
However, for all that the script is derivative in its plot lines, within this comfortable-trope framework is a really good movie. Number one, it is quotable as heck, with Vargas's dialogue coming off as a slightly more puerile Diablo Cody. At one point I just started writing down lines that made me pause my screener because I was laughing so hard. That list includes…
“I once knifed a guy for not believing in unicorns.”
“Fuck, dude, you look like an After School Special.”
“Get those dick-skinners in the air before I paint the grass with fairy blood.”
Jokes aside, it’s got a really marvelous slow burn of story, very much in line with something like Night of the Demons or an old grindhouse flick that takes a while to get anywhere but pays off like gangbusters when it does. The zombies show up later than Axl to his own concert, but they are fantastic beasts and their attack is truly inspired.
How you do your zombies says a lot about your film and what it stands for. There are the fast, medical zombies that threaten us with being left behind by a new breed of human. There are the mindless corpses that are stand-ins for humanity as a mob. And then there’s what Vargas has, the corrupted soul zombie.
His monsters look…occupied. There’s nothing biological about them aside from the rotting flesh. Something evil and inhuman stares out through the eyes of his cast members, driving the shambling wrecks the way Stuntman Mike drove his car in Death Proof. All of this Vargas portrays through a hazy blue fog that invokes some of the best of ’80s horror. It takes a scene we have seen a thousand times and makes it something new and interesting, and not just because the band takes them on with flame-throwing guitars in the end.
So about the metal…I’ve written before about how I think metal and horror mix like bread and mold. Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre, meanwhile, is basically a metal music video from the beginning and you get a new musical sequence every ten minutes or so. Whether it’s a performance piece or more of a narrative, like the battle scene I mentioned, the film is part face-shredding concert, part actual face-shredding. No other film I can think of has mastered this.
There’s a lot of cheese on the table here, but it’s a good cheese. There’s also real emotion. When a band member is bitten and undeath is imminent, the profanity-laden good-bye and execution, again a scene we’ve seen a thousand times in other films, honestly managed to make me tear up. One thing Vargas has captured that so few horror films bother with lately is a sense of brotherhood in his cast. These assholes actually care about each other the way only a band can, and it makes for compelling drama. You can be willing to die for and still ready to dropkick a pretentious poet who calls himself Thaddeus Doomhammer. That’s band love.
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Or take the aftermath of the death of the cabin’s owner, who was a PTSD-ridden veteran who describes the horror of war to the band before dying and whose arsenal the band takes up to fight back. In the context of film, it drips with the statement about the effects of war and how it ensnares a new generation. It’s Apocalypse Now by way of Judas Priest.
On the other hand, you can also just enjoy it for what it is; a solid romp uninterested in anything but dick jokes and gore. Everything is turned up so loud the knob breaks off, and my favorite scene in the whole movie involves demonic vomit on a character’s face. There’s a refreshing lack of self-awareness, and that’s good because horror is at its worst when it tries to wink at the audience as if we’re in on a joke. Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre couldn't care less. It’s just here to rock and kill things, and it does that in a most badass and enjoyable manner.
Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre screens at Texas Frightmare at the Hyatt Regency DFW
2334 North International Parkway in Dallas on Friday, April 29 at 11:45 p.m.