Cast your mind back to 2018: did you thin Bohemian Rhapsody was a barn-storming bonanza or boilerplate musical biopic bobbins? In any case, the staggering success of that Queen gambit – with $900m global box office and multiple Oscars to boot – means we are now rolling in rock movies.
Already this year we have had Baz Luhrmann’s caffeinated Elvis, the trippy new Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream is due in September, and an authorised Amy Winehouse feature film is on the way. Even This is Spinal Tap is returning for an encore, with a sequel mooted for 2024 to mark the 40th anniversary of the original hard-rocking mock-doc.
These are all cultural touchstones, indelible icons and musical superstars, rightly celebrated even before the legacy-polishing glow-up of a cinematic tribute. But an underdog story where the act essentially remains a niche concern can be just as compelling. Especially when it is focused on a transgressive troupe of metal-heads in latex fancy dress who hose their fans with mystery fluids.
This is Gwar recounts the rollicking origin story of the US shlock-rockers perhaps most famous in the UK for being Beavis and Butthead’s favourite band (and truly, what an honour). It is a tale that deserves to be told, not least because Gwar have always claimed to be immortal aliens banished to Earth for creating too much intergalactic havoc.
The truth is a little more grounded. Taking their name from an imagined war cry – despite the legend, it is not an acronym for God What an Awful Racket – Gwar evolved from the 1980s punk rock scene in Virginia’s traditionally conservative capital Richmond. According to lead singer Dave Brockie, an affable but impish Canadian who performed as demon-faced provocateur Oderus Urungus, a key inspiration was the silliness of Monty Python. The group thrived on boundary-pushing stage antics, combining oversized costumes with buckets of gore to create a splatter-heavy shock-rock revue. Brockie and the rest of the collective – notably special effects impresario Hunter Jackson – took the theatricality of KISS and amped it up into a goofy, goopy assault on the senses.
This is Gwar front-loads its most recognisable talking heads – including Weird Al Yankovic, Bill & Ted’s Alex Winter and suave comic actor Thomas Lennon – who passionately outline their love for the band’s toilet-humour daftness. After that, it lets the surviving Gwar members narrate the story of an oddball collective who became notorious without ever quite achieving critical or commercial success.