review by Diablo Joe
Ever since haunting church bells segued into the legendary Tony Iommi power chord at the top of Black Sabbath’s eponymous first album and track, heavy metal and the occult have been inextricably linked. And, as Sabbath had taken their moniker from the title of Mario Bava’s classic film, horror cinema and metal have similarly been entwined. Hurtling in with double-kickdrum fury is writer/director Michael Kuciak’s film of demonic musical possession, “Death Metal.” And it’s likely no coincidence that this film is quite reminiscent in spirit and madness of Bava’s son Lamberto’s “Demons” and its sequel.
Abyssinster is a band on the rocks. Their label is on the verge of dropping them, and like metal versions of Snake Plissken, everyone reacts with surprise that they are still around. Their “Hail Satan” pass comes in the form of a chance to record an album with legendary producer Fleming in his remote studio. And, for the occasion, their de facto leader, Ivan, has returned from a retreat in Europe with a coveted inspiration: a demonic score known as “The Devil’s Concerto,” music supposedly so steeped in evil that all who hear it are murderously damned.
“Death Metal” is, much like the musical namesake, an enjoyable and raucous affair that seems to be enjoying the hell out of what it’s doing. Kuciak and company obviously love gross-out demonic horror and head-slamming music. And while the film may be light on the actual music (we never really see or hear Abyssinister perform much—though the film treats us to an opening title clip from death metal vets Incantation), it exceeds in the gore department with some genuinely icky effects. As implied above, “Death Metal,” much like the Italian horror it seems to homage, isn’t overly concerned with plot or logic. It establishes a basic premise and runs from there, letting Hell literally break loose.
The film’s performances are a bit of a mixed bag, with some actors faring better than others. But even a couple of stiffer cast members don’t gum up the fun and horror. Faring best is Shadia Martin as, well, “Shadia.” Because if Black Sabbath can be a film, band, album, and song, why can’t an actor and a character share a name too? Martin is by far the standout in the movie, and the fact that Kuciak has relied upon her as much of the emotional backbone of the film is a smart move on his part. Also quite good is Tom Kondilas as Katon, the Abyssinsister member who suffers one of the more unsightly fates the film offers up.
In fact, one of the film’s stronger points is that its characters are decently distinct—at least the ones who survive the film long enough. Interestingly, however, for a movie that appears to have been made by a filmmaker with a more-than-passing love of metal music, the machinations of being in a band and recording an album sometimes seem as stereotypically inaccurate as any Hollywood-ized version.
But again, that doesn’t detract from the bloody mess of fun that “Death Metal” dishes up. Its demonic grue and gore are delightfully excessive and wonderfully creative. Except for some hackneyed digital stuff near the film’s conclusion that resembles crappy video effects from the 80s, the movie excels in that department, giving us more than our money’s worth. Kuciak’s visual sense is spot on for this sort of thing. The creepy slow motion, the gross-out extreme close-ups of flesh and organs, and the moody atmosphere. It’s all there.
“Death Metal” is, in the end, just the sort of film that a horror or metal fan (and they are so often one and the same) would get a welcome kick in the gut from. It’s great fun and a gory, loud, good time.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Death Metal” 3 out of 5 imps.