This Is GWAR – Dir: Scott Barber (Shudder)

This is GWAR is the best film and documentary ever made and ever will be made about the best band that has ever existed and ever will exist across the entire universe and multiverse, by director Scott Barber.

GWAR is a heavy metal band, a collective of creatives, musicians, artists, filmmakers, and SFX visionaries, wrapped in elaborate lore and mythology that includes intergalactic barbarian warriors and ultra-violent visceral experiences on stage that incorporate extreme political satire and endless fountains of fake blood and other bodily fluids.

Just the effort required to edit that description of the band into those bare necessities told me that the editor of the new documentary, This is GWAR, would no doubt face a similar problem. And despite that comically over-the-top summary above, I was genuinely surprised to find such vast depth of the entire band’s history captured and displayed on film.

I’ve been a side-line fan of GWAR since I first roleplayed Ethan Embry’s character in Empire Records while also watching that film for the first time in my late teens, and the more I found myself being reminded of their comically violent and wonderfully obscene presence over the years, the more I enjoyed and appreciated the tireless creative effort involved.

GWAR’s music is, like Natural Born Killers and key-lime pie, an acquired taste, it’s at once both brilliantly anthemic and comfortably repetitive, but I always felt like criticising GWAR’s music (or, to even some level, their musical performance) was kind of missing the point, like listening to the Cirque du Soleil on the radio.

The band’s entire history is presented here on, from the early formation in 1984 Virginia and across the vastness of time and space, break-ups, make-ups, new faces, and final goodbyes into the present day. It’s an epic documentary about an epic band, rocking in at just under 2 hours with a tightly compacted narrative that is layered between an expansive collection of interviews.

I usually find music documentaries suffer from second-half syndrome, where the first, exciting passion of the band is condensed into a nostalgic sizzle-reel and later loses steam as the band enters a more reclusive or passive sense of involvement. Perhaps it’s the endless playfulness of GWAR, or the sheer number of people involved across its near 40-year (ahem, as old as time itself) existence.

It’s in this blurring and blending of fantasy and reality that we see the commitment to what GWAR represents, both as a collective and to its individual members. Their sacrifices, dreams, successes, and legacies are all blended on-screen in an expressive desire to pursue freedom in creativity, to laugh and be vile and obscene in the face of restrictive art and restrictive society.

We also get to see behind the collective mask of GWAR for what feels like the first time ever, with all of those involved breaking character and allowing themselves to be completely vulnerable and open to the viewer.

It’s beautiful to see the humanity and the authenticity behind everyone involved in both creating and supporting GWAR over the years, even in the darker and more painful moments discussed between the band. It also feels respectful to the decision to make this documentary in the first place, and manages to maintain the narrative momentum without making a moment feel wasted or poorly spent.

This is GWAR is a documentary for fans of the band, fans of visual SFX, fans of weird creatives, fantasy nerds and D&D adventurers, and anyone who has ever asked themselves if the pursuit of their creative passion was worth it, and yet, no matter how serious I could about this review, it’s still this line that lingers from the film:

“They took Dave’s Dick away in a 5-gallon bucket – we never got it back, it’s still in evidence in Charlotte North Carolina.”

 For me, that’s the magic of GWAR and this documentary, the same kind you see on the face of every audience member in the front row sprayed head-to-toe in red joy – the kind of magic that comes from pain, and talent, and decides to laugh and play on until the end of time.

Oxford Lamoureaux

This Is Gwar streams on Shudder from July 21st. 

Click here to watch and listen to Oxford’s interviews with Gwar.