“Don’t thank me. Thank Satan” — Tom Araya
Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre: The Movie.
Stop here and re-read that title. I’ll write it again for emphasis.
Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre.
It’s beautiful, in the same way that the large wrapped Christmas present from Grandma would tease you from under the tree in the weeks before the special morning; full of promise, hope and the secret siren whispers of toys that your parents would never buy you. And while sometimes you would open that box just to have your little boy spirit crushed by a years supply of fucking socks, there was also the occasional time that Granny would get it right.
This is that time.
In fact, if we wanted to keep the analogy going proper, this would be the equivalent of Granny having your gift hand delivered by a squad of midget strippers who packed your present in to the box tightly with cash and drugs.
The last time I saw a movie title that was this awesome (and accurate) was when I bought the straight to DVD movie: “Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter.” That movie was the box of socks. This movie was midget stripper gold. Why? Let’s dive in a take a look.
First off, ask yourself the following questions. What is a movie for? What decides if it is successful or not?
I am not a filmmaker. I have never made a movie, but having worked in the arts as both a composer and a writer, I understand a little bit about what storytelling mediums have in common. And so to answer the first question about the purpose of film, in this case it would be to tell a story in an entertaining fashion.
This is something that no amount of budget can buy.
If your story sucks, and your characters suck, no amount of special effects and high dollar infusions can save it. You can keep dumping money on the head of an ugly hooker until you bankrupt Wall Street, but it will never make her face not instantly wilt you boner. The inverse to this is that if the story is strong, and the characters are developed where we can invest emotionally into them, high budgets are not needed to make a great movie.
HSZM was not made by a known filmmaker (yet). Josh Vargas has made some music videos for some respectable names such as Down and Phil Anselmo. And to be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to view it. I will not lie; I had prepared myself for another Jesus Vampire Hunter movie that looked like it might have been made by a second year film student with his friends after losing a bet to see who could hold their nuts on a running belt sander the longest.
But that is not the case.
This story follows the tale of a hair metal band called Witches Lips on their quest to record on album and secure a recording contract. The movie starts out by introducing us to the band members, taking us through a gig, and finally out to a studio in the middle of nowhere to record an album.
And right away everything works.
Perhaps it is the musician in me, but I know, have known, have collaborated with, fist fought, and cursed out every one of these guys. Obviously not the actual fictional members of this band, but their real life counterparts that can be found in almost every musician I know to some degree.
This was not handled in a stereotypical fashion (like the animated characters from Dethklok), but in a very realistic way. If you would have told me that this was a real band and the first part of this film was a documentary of their last tour/recording project. I would have believed you. The actors that make up this band are that good. And the band itself is believable. If you have ever been in one, or have been friends with guys in a group…you will believe it too. They have chemistry. They should probably be a real hair band.
There are some beautiful moments. When the drummer is crying during the recording session as he is forced to tap out his drums parts on a keyboard (to get…that sound), I felt his pain. Yes it was hilarious. But it also touched on something, that despite your take on it for good or ill, is a very real issue out there in modern recording.
And the bass player. Poor bastard. Spent most of the film in a substance-induced haze, only coming out of it to help save the day. This sums up most of my bass playing brethren.
This movie is the bastard love child of Spinal Tap and Evil Dead.
So our heroes are recording their album in a cabin in a graveyard (how metal is that). During the session they go into the basement and discover an ancient book that summons the dead from the graveyard. Of course, the sound engineer can also read ancient dead languages (If you know some professional sound engineers…this kind of shit is not really far-fetched).
Obviously, the engineer and the visiting representative from Iron Blade records decide that the band must reshape its sound to include this text. I won’t spoil the story for you…but the following mayhem involves zombies, and an outstanding appearance from Slayer’s Tom Araya.
So, after looking at our definition earlier we see that HSZM does succeed on telling us a story with great characters that we can invest in and hope that they overcome their obstacles to reach their goal.
This is not to say that HSZM is not without its share of issues. Obviously you can’t take a film about zombies crashing a recording studio too seriously. The main plot development device of having the long lost book of evil power sitting on alter in a guy’s basement that nobody has found seems a bit convenient. You would have thought that it at least would have been in a hidden chamber in said basement.
The other thing is it almost felt like two movies. Mr. Vargas could have left the whole zombie thing completely out of this film and kept the tone of the first half following Witches Lips gigging and recording adventures and had an outstanding movie.
Once the second act engaged, it was the first time since starting the movie where I remembered I was watching an indie flick. This is not any fault of the creators of the film at all, but just the reality of doing blood and gore on a lower budget. They did a great job, but it feels very B-movie, which if that was the intent, than they were very successful at that. With a title like Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre, I suppose that they were probably going for that style.
I think the problem was that the first act was so good that it took away from the second a little bit.
These are small, small nitpicky details. This film is very entertaining and I did enjoy the zombie action (though I love B-movie horror films). I would venture a guess that the fact that I wanted to know more about what is going to happen to Witches Lips when the credits rolled is a testament to the great development done by Vargas.
The music itself was composed by Marzi Montazeri and featured Tim “Ripper” Owens. How freaking badass is that. The soundtrack to this is going to be awesome.
Fans of early Peter Jackson films, Spinal Tap, Evil Dead, and anyone who has ever played in a hard rock or metal band will really enjoy this movie. You can tell that a lot of love and work went into it.
So what about the second question? What makes the movie successful?
I suppose the answer to this will change with every person you ask. Some only count the dollar signs, and some will only count artistic expression. I think that the fact that I had a really enjoyable time taking this ride with Witches Lips is evidence enough that Josh Vargas and team succeeded in creating a great movie. I’m looking forward to the next one.
Make sure to check out Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre: The Movie upon its release. It gets the Dr. Froth seal of Moistitude.