One of the few acts who can legitimately thank Beavis and Butt-Head for making them famous (as opposed to merely cult), Gwar was, and still is, an American heavy metal act with punk roots who got started in the 1980s in Richmond, Virginia. They’re best known for performing in elaborate monster/alien costumes (mostly big headpieces and bare midriffs) and deploying lashings of fake bodily fluids and prosthetics in their act, such as a notorious massive codpiece called the Cuttlefish of Cthulhu that sprays “sperm” at the audience – and got them banned in North Carolina at one point.
That episode is one of many recounted in this in-depth oral history rock doc, a sturdily made work whose appeal will very much depend on viewers’ interest in the band in the first place. Director Scott Barber doesn’t really pan out to discuss Gwar’s context much, either in terms of 80s-90s punk-metal, or the southern music scene, or even the overlap between art-school craft and fringe performance, all of which would be fascinating subjects in their own right.
But the film does provide an exhaustive guide to who joined when and what they did, some of the many times the late lead singer Dave Brockie was a jerk, or all the times co-founder and lead fabrication-designer Hunter Jackson left and came back, then left again. Also, much screen time is given to the transformative moment in which one member got shot during a road rage incident, resulting in his needing to wear a colostomy bag for years afterwards. (Thankfully, it seems, it was never used as part of the act itself.) But that’s what you get for living in America, as the victim notes with stoic grace.
Even if the antics shown here aren’t really your thing, it is still a hoot seeing Gwar members get interviewed by a game Joan Rivers: you can tell that beneath all the latex most of them are sweet, normal folk who remained loyal (mostly) to one another and shared a vision for the group long after Beavis and Butt-head’s attention had moved on and many another bands would have thrown in the fake-blood-soaked towel.
• This Is Gwar is released on 21 July on Shudder.