This Is Gwar review – bodily fluids spray freely in oral history of monsters of metal

In-depth rock doc about the unmistakable legends of heavy metal and their outrageous antics will be best appreciated by their fans

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.

Contributor

Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Mötley Crüe: The End review – rawk'n'rollers' hair-raising finale
This concert documentary sees Nikki Six, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars bow out after decades of heavy metal debauchery. As they sang: All Bad Things Must End

Peter Bradshaw

06, Oct, 2016 @9:15 PM

Article image
Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché review – riveting take on British punk heroine
The X-Ray Spex singer is revealed as a mystic, rebellious working-class woman of colour in this valuable film

Peter Bradshaw

05, Mar, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Edgar Wright to direct documentary about cult pop duo Sparks
The Baby Driver director told IndieWire that he has been a fan of the Los Angeles band since seeing them on Top of the Pops in 1979

Laura Snapes

22, Jun, 2018 @7:59 AM

Article image
This Is National Wake review – the story of South Africa’s multiracial punk rockers
The rise and fall of the apartheid-era band is unspooled in this occasionally dazzling but often lacklustre documentary

Sammy Gecsoyler

25, Oct, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
There are no limits to where Welsh language music can go
The broadcaster’s new documentary surveys the last 50 years of Welsh language music and highlights its bright future

Huw Stephens

07, Nov, 2018 @2:39 PM

Article image
Top 10 music movies

From wild-haired rockers to joyful bolero singers, films with or about celebrated musicians have played a key part in the movies. Here, the Guardian and Observers' critics pick the 10 finest

20, Dec, 2013 @4:57 PM

Article image
Supersonic review – Oasis pop history lesson ignores battles
The excitement of Noel and Liam Gallagher’s rapid rise to pop stardom is well captured in Mat Whitecross’s documentary, but it is disappointingly coy on the band’s decline and breakup

Peter Bradshaw

02, Oct, 2016 @8:00 AM

Def Leppard Viva! Hysteria – review

British heavy metal takes Las Vegas by storm in this concert movie, but a better film might have explored the musicians' off-stage dynamics more, writes Peter Bradshaw

Peter Bradshaw

12, Sep, 2013 @11:05 PM

Article image
End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones review – heroes of punk
I can’t remember a rockumentary that I sat through beaming with as much sheer pleasure as this celluloid love letter to the Ramones

Peter Bradshaw

07, Jan, 2005 @1:15 AM

Article image
As the Palaces Burn review – from Spinal Tap to courtroom drama

A would-be rockumentary changes tack in gripping fashion when Lamb of God's singer stands trial for manslaughter, writes Mark Kermode

Mark Kermode

02, Mar, 2014 @12:04 AM