Disgustingness and passion fuel heavy metal creativity in This Is Gwar

A new doco tells the story of Gwar, the most iconic heavy metal/art collective/monster band in the universe, as told by the humans who have fought to keep it alive for 40 years. Tony Stamp ponders how the cost of cleaning up each venue is handled after they spray gallons of bodily fluid into their crowds.

I first encountered Gwar when I was around twelve years old. I can’t remember how or why, but I was a kid with an interest in fantasy roleplay and music, and the band is still the best example of those two worlds meeting. All it took was one photo of the members, human eyes peering out from their cartoonish, polystyrene-sculpted masks and armour, to sear itself into my memory.

Aside from that, and hearing a few tunes over the years, I didn’t pay much attention. I was aware that they were still performing after all these years, and that their stage shows were something to behold, but that’s all.

This is Gwar makes it clear that Dungeons and Dragons was a key influence for the group, before music even entered the picture. And it opened my eyes to how extreme your average Gwar show is, a kind of Spitting Image onstage where people’s (fake) faces are skinned from their heads, sharp objects are inserted into (fake) bottoms, and gallons of (fake) blood and cum spray the crowd. In fact, my only lingering question is how the cost of cleaning up each venue is handled.

The more footage of shows appears on screen, the more it coalesces into a kind of wet, fleshy mass. To call it over the top is an understatement. But it’s what broke the band, and kept them going for nearly forty years. They all love it with abandon, presenting the most disgusting version of a heavy metal concert performed by alien monsters each night.

The documentary chronicles the project from its inception, from a kind of extreme performance art to a genuinely accomplished group, who manage to play technically tricky music each night while weighed down by a ton of prosthetics.

Their brief brush with fame in the early nineties led to them appearing on talk shows like Joan Rivers, where lead singer Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie) and bass player Beefcake the Mighty (Todd Evans), showed how sharp their sense of humour was, even under the bright lights of daytime television.

This is Gwar is overlong, and slightly impenetrable to begin with, presenting a large roster of revolving band members (there have been 25 in total), and an army of supporting personnel handling props, special effects and makeup. For fans this will be no problem, and for newcomers things become clearer as they go.

The movie becomes the story of Gwar the brand, as after Dave Brockie’s death in 2014, no original members remain. But shows continue, as do comic books and merchandise. The fact that this mini industry is running to this day speaks to the passion of its members (many of whom started as fans), and to the uniqueness of the disgusting phantasmagoria performed at each show.

Things become more emotional as the film goes on, as you’d expect for a band with nearly forty years of history, and several members who’ve passed on. Seeing these people unmasked and emotional, after a career based around humour and horror, isn’t what I expected, but it’s certainly well-earned.