Death, hurricanes and Slayer cameos: The surprisingly emotional story of glam metal splatter-comedy Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre

The poster for Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre
(Image credit: Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre via Facebook)

Across the spectrum of metal-themed films, you’ll find an array of serious, thought-provoking pieces of art alongside far-less-serious productions that revel in their absurdity and embrace niche audiences with open arms. Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre: The Movie proudly stands in the latter category. This over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, heavy metal splatter comedy has overcome a slate of devastating hurdles to make its way onto the screen and into the hearts of headbangers across the globe.

At first glance, Hairmetal Shotgun… may seem little more than a crass orgy of gratuitous violence, sophomoric humour and an endless barrage of headbanging riffs. But beneath this superficial veneer lies a doggedly affectionate celebration of heavy metal culture and the positivity and solidarity that underpin its ethos. Not to mention a few very special cameos from some bona fide metal legends…

As writer/director Josh Vargas told Decibel, the concept was, “What if we put a drug-and-sex-obsessed hair metal band in an Evil Dead-type situation?” Expanding upon this tasty premise, Hairmetal Shotgun… revels in its outrageous violence, taking every opportunity to showcase shockingly excessive kills that defy both physics and common sense.

Narratively, the film tells the story of a vapid, drug-obsessed hair metal band called Witches’ Lips who, after deciding to record their debut album in a stereotypically creepy cabin located in the middle of a cemetery, accidentally open a portal that allows demons to possess the corpses that reside on the grounds. Sustaining themselves on weed, booze and heroic amounts of cocaine, the band attempt to survive the night. 

In any other context, the film’s unwavering commitment to outrageous levels of gore would quickly grow stale, but within the framework of this movie, it’s a riotous celebration of the kind of jaw-dropping, over-the-top violence that operates as both comedy and satire. Hairmetal Shotgun… doesn’t take itself seriously, and it doesn’t expect the audience to, either. The film is peppered with humour that ranges from groan-inducingly cheesy one-liners to disastrous levels of self-sabotage that would make even the grimmest metalhead crack a smile. The characters, including a grizzled hero with a seemingly endless supply of shotgun shells and an eccentric inventor who creates elaborate zombie-killing contraptions, are all scene-chewing caricatures that generate endless laughs along the way.

Intentionally calibrated for metalheads, Metal Shotgun… is packed with more inside jokes, metal references, band names and glammy stereotypes than a Steel Panther world tour. But beneath the multiple layers of chaos and comedy, Metal Shotgun… delivers an open-hearted love letter to heavy metal culture. While both Vargas and Whitney are old school hair metal fans, the film’s high-profile cameos come from far heavier realms: Slayer’s Tom Araya (hilariously playing himself in the fiery climax), Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe and Morbid Angel’s David Vincent all make appearances in the film. Musically, Witches’ Lip’s songs were contributed by power metal mainstays Helstar: a stupidly catchy blend of King Diamond-esque shrieks and stadium-sized riffs that stand up exceedingly well on their own merits.

Low-budget movies are difficult enough to make, but Hairmetal Shotgun… faced more than its fair share of challenges. Shot in three back-breaking weeks, Vargas and co-writer Justin Whitney had little margin for error: no small feat considering all of the stunts, special effects and pyro called for in the script. In 2016, having stitched together a sufficiently-decent edit, they premiered the film to select audiences at some conventions. But, in 2017, flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey destroyed all of the hard drives containing the film’s post-production work. They had to recreate the entire post-production process from scratch.

Tom Araya in Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre movie trailer

Slayer’s Tom Araya in Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre (Image credit: HAIRMETAL SHOTGUN ZOMBIE MASSACRE)

A limited release was re-scheduled for 2020 but then further tragedy struck. Speaking to Metal Hammer about what happened next, Vargas says, “In the middle of getting a proper surround mix and strategising a proper DVD/Blu-ray, our friend and producer [Jason Poh] suffered a very untimely death. That pretty much derailed everything.

However, the writer/director adds: “[Hairmetal Shotgun…] was a blast to make and is a fun, ridiculous, heavy metal horror movie. I turned a version loose on YouTube just so people could see it.”

And just like that, the movie is now freely available just in time for Halloween. Fans interested in supporting the cause can also scoop up a commemorative (and employment-threatening) t-shirt.

While Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre: The Movie may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it never pretends to be anything other than what it is: a gloriously chaotic, headbanging romp through a world where logic takes a backseat to mayhem. This self-awareness and willingness to embrace absurdity are what make the film so endearing: it knows it’s ridiculous and fully embraces its campy charm. In doing so, it invites the audience to suspend their disbelief and simply enjoy a wild, head-banging ride.

Metal Hammer line break

Watch Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre: The Movie in full here:

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.