Welcome to Gut the Punks, a monthly dissection of genre films that have a loose connection to punk rock music and culture. This month here at Nightmare on Film Street, it’s March Break. We’re talking psychological breaks, broken bones and vacations. But for this month’s column, I’ll be talking about the deadly consequences of “breaking edge,” as portrayed in the 2019 party slasher Straight Edge Kegger. As discussed in my previous column on Heavy Metal Jeff from Porno, there are three rules to being straight edge: “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs.” To break any of those rules means you’ve broken edge.
Straight Edge Kegger is a darkly satirical take on straight edge culture. It depicts an extreme scenario of what might happen when a militant youth crew takes their ideology too far. The film appropriately opens with a quote from Ian MacKaye, the frontman of hardcore punk band Minor Threat and the originator of the straight edge lifestyle, commenting on how people took his lyrics way too seriously.
Brad (Cory Kays) is having second thoughts about being straight edge, mostly because his friend James (Julio Alexander) and the rest of the straight edge crew have been terrorizing the local punk scene with their stringent rules. Their crusade started off noble, kicking out racist skinheads and drug dealers out of the clubs. But that evolved to telling local band UGLYBoNES to not play their hit party song “Boozehound,” or beating up a kid for simply wearing a Budweiser shirt.
Outside of a punk show, Brad meets Sean (Sean Jones), kickstarting an unlikely friendship since Sean is far from sober. One day, Brad confesses to James that he’s getting bored of bullying drunks, and their argument turns into a shoving match. Stressed out, Brad goes to Sean for solace, who offers him a drink to calm him down. Thinking it’s just juice, Brad downs the whole drink, immediately freaking out when he realizes it contained alcohol. Sean suggests he should have several more drinks now that he’s past the point of no return.
“[…] there are a ton of practical effects deaths, many of the fatalities being alcohol-related, like a corkscrew to the throat or a beer bong shoved down a throat.“
James notices Brad has been distant lately and hasn’t been showing up to their meetings. When he gets word that Brad is planning on attending a house party, James decides to go teach him a lesson by driving up to the party with the rest of his crew wearing masks, brandishing machetes, crossbows and straight razors, with the goal of murdering everyone. There are only five straight edgers versus dozens of partygoers, however they have them at a severe disadvantage since everyone inside the house is drunk and disoriented. Brad, along with his new love interest Maybe (Evey Reidy), must survive the massacre and confront James once and for all.
My first exposure to Straight Edge Kegger was a short parody trailer of a grindhouse trailer with a deep voice telling the audience “you will leave this party dead…drunk.” It was promoted by the satirical punk news website The Hard Times, so I just thought it was a one-off joke. Fast forward a few years, I came across the Kickstarter campaign to fund a feature-length version. Despite barely reaching their goal of $15,000, writer/director Jason Zink ended up with a ton of credit card debt trying to complete this movie. He now donates his own blood plasma twice a week to pay off that debt. He also used his own home as the party house, redecorating his walls with spray-painted penises and show flyers.
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In a series of video diaries, Zink admits to learning everything by scratch and on the fly. His production company Weird On Top Pictures (a line taken from David Lynch’s Wild At Heart) had previously put out an anthology called Night Terrors, but working on a movie with a single storyline involved a lot more attention to continuity, and working around people’s schedules since a lot of crew members had to work regular jobs. Zink says he didn’t account for certain hiccups, like camera shadows or rain on days scheduled for outdoor scenes. Certain things that sounded simple in theory were a lot harder to pull off in practice, like throwing a brick through a window or getting the right consistency for blood splatter. In one video, Zink recounts the stress of filming a bar full of rowdy extras and how they would knock into the camera while filming the moshpit scenes. But he fondly remembers that shoot as one of the funnest days on set, and the energy of the crowd really comes through in the opening scene.
As you can imagine, there are a ton of practical effects deaths, many of the fatalities being alcohol-related, like a corkscrew to the throat or a beer bong shoved down a throat. The makers knew their audience and knew they wanted blood. But besides the awesome deaths, it’s a movie made by punks for punks. Zink wanted the characters and the dialogue to feel authentic, and not like “an ad for Hot Topic,” which can’t be said for most films I’ve covered for this column. Each actor plays their part incredibly well, especially Julio Alexander as the uncompromising tough guy and Cory Kays as the sensitive timid guy. The fact that they have an intimate knowledge of the punk rock scene (Kays once played in a hardcore band) makes their performances that much more convincing.
The friendship between Brad and Sean is particularly intriguing. They challenge each other’s beliefs with stimulating debates on the merits of a straight edge lifestyle. Brad is perplexed that Sean is a fan of Noose, a Chicago hardcore act with a reputation of being fiercely opposed to anyone who isn’t both straight edge and vegan. They were kicked off their label for essentially being bullies at shows. But Sean argues he can still enjoy Noose’s music without necessarily subscribing to their message, the same way he can enjoy watching porn without supporting the exploitation of women, or hypothetically listen to a neo-Nazi skinhead band without buying into their hate speech.
The only thing that’s stopping Sean from listening to a racist band is because “their music fuckin’ blows.” Sean then reverses the question on Brad, asking why he was at the UGLYBoNES show last week, if he can’t support a band that only sings about getting wasted? It’s a conversation many punks have had in real life on numerous occasions.
“Any idea taken too far is problematic.” – Director Jason Zink
By simply placing a beer in Brad’s hand, Sean is opening up Brad to a whole new world of experiences, far from the close-minded worldview of James’s crew. A straight edger would argue the opposite though, that they in fact are seeing the world clearly while everyone else is wasting their time getting wasted. But Brad needed to live a little. He and James had become like a bickering couple, and he needed to be around someone who doesn’t take themselves so seriously. Unfortunately for him, the straight edge community takes betrayal very seriously and they don’t easily forgive and forget.
It’s not like Alcoholics Anonymous; if someone slips up, they are out for good. A crew is like a family, and the second alcohol touched Brad’s lips, he betrayed his family, his core values and everything James had fought for. What separates Brad from Heavy Metal Jeff in Porno is that none of his coworkers seem to care when Jeff takes a drag off a cigarette for the first time in a year. But when Brad breaks his edge, you see the disappointment and rage in James’ eyes when he puts two and two together. He almost acts like a jilted lover. That’s why he feels justified in punishing Brad and murdering a bunch of innocent people, because he believes he still has the moral high ground.
Neither this movie nor this column should be viewed as an attack on the straight edge scene. According to Zink, the roles could have been easily reversed, with the drunks attacking the straight edgers. I completely understand why a person would choose a poison-free existence, but it’s definitely not something for me. Hell, I’m even sipping on a beer as I’m writing this. I view the straight edge lifestyle the same way I view religion: I respect the dedication, but I draw the line when someone tries to shove that lifestyle down someone else’s throat. To quote the director himself, “Any idea taken too far is problematic.”
Straight Edge Kegger is meant to be played loud for a complete punk rock experience. Afterall, the one thing every character in this movie has in common is their love for music. No band is fictionalized, which is why it was important to the film’s budget that they chose artists who were not widely known. Thankfully, some of their music is on Spotify, so I’ll be adding as many songs as I can to the Gut the Punks Spotify playlist. Unfortunately, the songs by UGLYBoNES that appear in Straight Edge Kegger aren’t on Spotify, but their latest album Sunshine is and it’s just as good. I’ll be adding tracks from that, as well as a few tracks off of Noose’s final compilation Moral Law.
The lyrics of some of the songs in Straight Edge Kegger are pertinent to the situation at hand. For example, “The Cult Song” by Oakland garage punks Shannon and the Clams features the “One of us, Gooble Gobble” chant from Tod Browning’s 1932 classic Freaks and it plays when Brad is getting drunk with Sean for the first time. One song I couldn’t find on Spotify but still worth highlighting is “The Downfall” by xREPRESENTx because the lyrics are aimed at someone who broke edge and illustrate what is likely going through James’s head: “You’ve made a mockery of everything I’m made of, and there will be no compassion for traitors.” The music video follows the band members as they grumpily storm into a bar and drag out one of their crew members so they can yell at him in the alleyway. They carry the same energy as James’s crew.
Movies like Straight Edge Kegger are the reason why I started this column. Not only does it have great gore, but it encapsulates the do-it-yourself attitude that has catapulted many horror classics to cult status. It’s exactly as it is advertised: a straight-forward premise without any major plot twists. It’s not overly ambitious, yet it’s beautifully shot and fun to watch, especially while knocking back a few beers. It’s often been compared to Green Room, but I’d say it’s more like a punk rock You’re Next.
Straight Edge Kegger isn’t streaming anywhere just yet, but it mightl be coming to Shudder sometime in the future. But before that happens, you should help Jason Zink make some of his money back, so I highly recommend buying it on DVD or Blu-Ray through Scream Team Releasing That way you get commentary, deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes doc, all contained in awesome case with art that pays homage to The Teen Idles’ album cover.