By Nicole Veneto
Death to Metal is the best sort of low-budget exploitation flick because its ideal balance of ridiculously excessive gore and self-aware humor makes up for its technical and budgetary shortcomings.
Death to Metal, directed by Tim Connery. Now available on VoD
If you were to compile a list of things I look for in a movie, blasphemy would be right up there at the top along with head explosions, impromptu dance sequences, full-frontal male nudity, and beautiful women with blood-soaked daggers and/or sharp objects. I’m fully aware that my particular brand of taste hovers in the valley between weirdly niche genre films and movies only sickos would enjoy. (Please take that into account when you read my reviews, dear Arts Fuse readers.) Having been raised Roman Catholic and subjected to numerous hours of afterschool CCD growing up, I inevitably developed a penchant for the sacrilegious in my viewing habits. This isn’t because I harbor any sort of animosity for religious doctrine — I simply find the exorbitant theatrics of repressed sexuality and mortal sin to be incredibly lucrative for cinematic spectacle, from nuns behaving badly to priests who take their affinity to God to inhuman extremes.
Obviously I’m not the only person who gets a kick out of onscreen heresy. In addition to co-owning the only video rental store operating in the Greater Boston area, The Video Underground’s Kevin Koppes also happens to be a fledgling screenwriter. And I’m pleased to report that the metalsploitation movie he co-wrote with director Tim Connery, Death to Metal, meets two of my most important movie criteria: blasphemy and full-frontal male nudity, both of which happen within the first two minutes. Shot on a budget of about $100,000, Death to Metal is a super low-budget horror comedy that’s as playfully incendiary as it is incredibly charming. If you’re in the mood for some sleazy fun, this ought to sound like heaven to you.
Gleefully reveling in its in-your-faceness, Death of Metal opens with a passage from Romans 1:18, reading, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness from men.” That quote is quickly stamped out by the lyric “Fuck your God!” before a transition to a black-and-white flashback of a small bespectacled boy being bullied by a trio of greasy metalheads who literally piss all over his precious Bible. This childhood incident proves traumatic for Father Milton Kilborn (Andrew Jessop, a dead ringer for B-movie heavyweight Jeffrey Combs)m who we next see as a grown man preaching fire-and-brimstone sermons against “gay weddings,” “low rise jeans,” and “pizza buffets” at an unassuming Midwestern church. For head priest Father Brennan (Dan Flannery), Kilborn’s overzealous homilies are far too wrathful for modern parishioners. He suspends Kilborn from his priestly duties, with the added sting of referring him to a psychiatrist.
Distraught, Kilborn goes on a bender via some stolen communion wine an ends up crashing his car into a roadside toxic waste dump. He survives the wreck, but Kilborn mutates into a hideous monster hellbent on exacting revenge against those who’ve wronged him, including the town’s metal aficionados. Meanwhile, heavy metal singer Zane (Alex Stein) is unceremoniously kicked out of his band Withered Christ days before they’re set to open for Grandma Incinerator at the annual Holy Saturday Metal Massacre show run by local promoter Ryan Rammer (Charlie Lind). Worse still, his girlfriend breaks up with him immediately afterwards. In an effort to save some face, Zane beseeches his best friend Mariah (Grace Melon) to be his plus-one to the event, despite the fact she hates heavy metal. Unbeknownst to Zane, the mutated Father Kilborn is stalking the venue and killing everyone who gets in his way, putting both him and Mariah on a collision course with the hideous priest.
Death to Metal is the best sort of low-budget exploitation flick because its ideal balance of ridiculously excessive gore and self-aware humor makes up for its technical and budgetary shortcomings. Don’t expect the sort of artistically theatrical blasphemy films like The Devils or The Exorcist flawlessly orchestrate. But you will see a horrifically disfigured priest rip a fetus out of a pregnant woman’s belly, and surely that must count for something, right? In these kinds of movies what you’re really looking for is a variety of inventive kills. (In addition to the hilariously forced abortion, Kilborn also makes a man to drink bleach until he croaks.) To this end, Connery and Koppes more than deliver, and they do it with all the low-budget stylistic trappings that make B-grade horror movies so much fun to watch. There’s a good amount of practical blood splashed around alongside your standard fog-machines and neon lighting, so even if the make-up and effects aren’t all that great, it’s shot well enough that you eventually stop caring that Charlie Lind appears to be wearing a cosplay wig.
Performance wise, Andrew Jessop steals the show as the pre-mutated Father Kilborn. Think Re-Animator’s Herbert West — if he took the cloth instead of going to medical school to play God. Special kudos for the casting team as well. Being such a low-budget feature, most of the side characters and extras are played by first-time actors, friends of the production, and members of the Midwestern metal community. Jessop aside, none of the other performances are all that good (though they have their natural charms), but everyone here looks and acts exactly like every heavy metal fan I’ve ever met. Between all the long stringy hair and big bushy beards featured throughout this movie, you’d be hard pressed to find a more accurate depiction of Midwestern metal heads on screen. And I’d be remiss not to mention the movie’s real stand-out performer, Jimmy Leighton, who plays Ryan Rammer’s adorable young son Danny. Their scenes together are almost too cute for words, especially the part where Ryan’s teaching Danny to make a devil horns gesture with his tiny little fist. It’s maybe one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen in my life.
Overall, I had a lot more fun with Death to Metal than I was expecting to have. It pulls from B-horror greats without drowning in itself in referential nostalgia. Like many of the movies I’ve reviewed for The Arts Fuse, Death to Metal isn’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable B-movie — and also want to support our friends at The Video Underground — you can’t go wrong with a movie about a mutant priest who murders metal heads.
Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, concentrating on feminist media studies. Her writing has been featured in MAI Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazine, and Boston University’s Hoochie Reader. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi for weird and niche movie recommendations.