When it comes to a band like Gwar, you’d think they would need no introduction. Any church lady could take one look at anything they have released, and promptly fall into a coma. But wait, any American band willing to dress like this for almost 40 years, has got to be in on a joke. This isn’t Norway. With wild stage names like Oderus Urungus, Beefcake the Mighty, and Balsac the Jaws of Death (among many others that you’ll just have to look up yourself), you can’t help but chuckle at demonic immaturity of intergalactic proportions. And with memorable stage shows, where audiences file in to be drenched with gallons of fake blood and other fluids, all while the band members decapitate dummies of history’s greatest punching bags, you know this is a labor of love. Enough love to warrant This is Gwar, a documentary that chronicles the timeline of the band’s rise, and the many bumps in the road. How deep does this rabbit hole go? Well, I think I came out the other side somewhere in Antarctica and passed a preserved, zombie T-Rex along the way.
The opening scene showcases how far the “fake blood system” has come since the early days, and clues you in to the level of dark humor you’ll soon be very familiar with. We then begin proper in mid-80’s Richmond, Virginia where poverty and high crime rates have birthed a thriving punk scene. From there, the band its original members, a group of outcast artists, converge at an abandoned milk bottling plant that looks like a place you’d want to explore in a Fallout game. Our first major player in this crazy origin story is Techno-Destructo himself, Hunter Jackson, a then VCU art student with aspirations of making a low-budget sci-fi film with some colorfully nasty costumes. Jackson is immediately established as an underdog to the story. Speaking as someone who wore an Insane Clown Posse shirt to a college French New Wave class, I can definitely relate to an art school kid whose professors look down on his more schlocky tastes. This underdog mentality breeds a fascinating villain origin, and later redemption arc, as Jackson’s film is digested in Dave Brockie’s (Oderus) band aspirations. From there, creative differences, and the late Brockie’s unfortunate drug habit drive a wedge between them. You can’t blame a creator for just wanting control of his IP, even if that means resorting to some underhanded tactics.
Despite this conflict with Jackson, Brockie is still painted in a pretty positive light and looked back on fondly by the other members of the band. Never before seen footage of Brockie throughout the years shows his passion for the project, and despite his questionable work ethic, he was committed and creative till the end. Who else could turn obscenity charges into fodder for one of a few long-form music videos? (See the Cuttlefish of Cthulhu incident followed by the Grammy-nominated Phallus in Wonderland.) Oderus was, and still is, the face of the band, and it’s easy to see why. With his commanding stage presence, and quick improvisational skills during interviews, there is a hilarious plethora of entertainment left behind. It’s worth that alone to make it to the end of the film and hear the heartfelt message Brockie makes to the band and what the experience has meant to him. He’s that one friend, who despite his literal demons, is full of surprises, and definitely DMs a killer Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Speaking of which, with how Gwar has branded itself over the decades, it is insane that there isn’t a D&D inspired RPG game. I checked, there’s a deck building game, but no table top game. With all the characters over the years, and the insane amount of lore, this would go hand in hand. Among the usual band “merch” you’d expect Gwar has official comics, beer, GWAR BAR, CBD, and even NFTs, so it is baffling that this is the bandwagon they haven’t jumped on, especially now that table-tops are more popular than ever. And this makes even less sense as Brockie co-wrote an unrelated RPG game called Lamentations of the Flame Princess before his death. I think the aspirations were probably there. Am I getting through to anyone in the marketing department here?
Anyway, director Scott Barber crafts a digestible and visual feast that fully encapsulates the band’s antics, while also serving as a solid jumping off point for newcomers. In the mix of behind the curtain footage, and interviews with the many members of the band, Barber employs the use of pulpy 80’s comic illustrations provided by Matthew Cook, and put in motion by Casey Pinkston. When a crazy story is being recounted to you, the extra visual aid feels right at home, even in moments of history that could have taken a more tragic turn. These are also intercut with interviews from various non-Gwar personalities and fans like ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon, Bam Margera, and Bill S. Preston, Esq. himself Alex Winter. Their commentary serves to reiterate that throughout their run, Gwar has been full of many talented musicians and artists who focused their skills on making a pastiche of the Heavy Metal scene, and made it work so well, that many people still take it seriously today. One weird nitpick though, that I’m curious about, is despite two clips from an interview with director, Adam Green, there’s no footage from his series Holliston, where Brockie played Oderus in a prominent role.
I got into Gwar pretty late in the game (my younger brother was more of fan). My interest finally peaked when I heard the track “Hail, Genocide!” over the opening credits of Hatchet III a few months before Brockie’s death. I made the mistake of thinking that was probably the end of the road. Well, the biggest compliment I can give, is that This is Gwar has definitely reignited my interest in their music. The doc is endlessly entertaining with twists, turns, and truth stranger than science fiction. It’s a music doc that does a great job of both appealing to the hardcore fanbase but also crafts a tale for the curious outsider to enjoy. A group of misfit artists came together to create, and spiraled into musical theater/splatter horror. Members have come and gone, and some have even used their tenure in the band to springboard into other lucrative fields. They’re still going strong, with a new album called “The New Dark Ages” and a European tour. Here’s hoping they’re still Beavis and Butthead’s favorite band when their new revival drops later this year. Crack open a Blood Orange IPA and give this a watch this summer. I’ll see you in the splash-zone!
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