Okay rivet-heads, here’s one especially for you because holy shit Heavy Metal has been around for 40 years. I read my first issue back in 1979. A friend of mine swiped a few from his dirtbag older brother and gave me one. I was hooked, but I wasn’t able to buy them on my own. You had to be 18.
Fortunately I had this uncle, my mother’s sister’s husband, who A) had one of the greatest comic book collections in the history of ever which is where I got hooked on Tales From The Crypt much to the anguish and dismay of my mother and even worse my grandmother who thought I was going to hell for reading Son Of Satan and listening to Led Zeppelin, B) would take me with him to Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh and let me wander around aimlessly while he did grad school shit, and C) subscribed to Heavy Metal so he could read it then give it to me.
Sidebar: You just read a 99-word sentence. Personal best for me. But I digress.
Jump ahead to the summer of 1981. No doubt you can imagine my excitement when Heavy Metal hit the big screen. I couldn’t wait. Tricky though. It was rated R and I was only 16. And hadn’t gotten my driver’s license yet. And had no access to a car during the day anyway. Now normally, my friends and I would ride our bikes to Showcase Cinemas and watch a couple matinees.
Weirdly (well, perhaps not) I was the only one interested in Heavy Metal, so off I went, bought a ticket for another movie with the same showtime (I believe it was a Disney flick called Condorman), waited for the previews to start, went to the bathroom, then snuck into Heavy Metal since nobody was around to pay attention at the early shows. Dunno if you could get away with this today. Cameras and shit. I figured I shelled out my filthy lucre to see a movie. Which one I see should be my decision, not the MPAA’s. It’s an ethical position I stand by to this day.
So, what was this phantasmagoric extravaganza all about? Well, the mag itself was billed as science fiction/dark fantasy/erotica, and combining those elements often yielded some top tier horror results. Think EC Comics, H.P. Lovecraft, and Rob Zombie meet Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Gene Roddenberry. The movie was pretty much an anthology of graphic novel type stories from the magazine. It was heaven.
The framing device centers on the Loc-Nar, a green sphere that constitutes “the sum of all evils.” Through a number of vignettes the Loc-Nar reveals its history to a terrified girl whose astronaut father has brought it from space. Highlights from those segments include:
-Reanimated dead attacking a plane crew (“B-17”)
-A noir-style cabbie narrator with a secret disintegrating ray in his cab (“Harry Canyon”)
-A teenage geek who is transported to Neverwhere and is transformed into a super-buff warrior (“Den,” pictured above)
-A bosom-forward showdown between the Loc-Nar and the Taarakians (“Taarna”)
And that’s just a-scratchin’ the surface. Dig a little deeper and you find tons of visual gags and hear soooooooo many familiar voices: John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Richard Romanus, John Vernon. Wowzers. Ultimately though, the brightest star in the Heavy Metal universe is the soundtrack. Hole. Lee. Fuck. Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Cheap Trick, DEVO, Donald Fagen, Don Felder, Grand Funk Railroad, Journey, Sammy Hagar, Nazareth, Stevie Nicks, Riggs, Trust. In fact I’ve got it on right now. I might be chair dancing.
So I mean, imagine all this at 16. Gasp and swoon but it was a visual, auditory, hormonal tsunami after which I staggered out into the daylight to catch my breath then marched back right back in and did the same thing all over again. Now then, in retrospect, are there aspects of Heavy Metal that didn’t age well? Oh hell yes.
In what was at the time probably a stroke of marketing genius, both magazine and movie had a definite white adolescent male demographic in mind. This was given further appeal by being so-called adults only. What’s the best way to get a hormone-addled teenage boy to part with some disposable income? Make it forbidden fruit.
Sadly this also relied on much over the top objectification of women, some other depictions of sexuality that could be improved on, and enough drug use and graphic violence to send today’s nanny state into fits of apoplexy. But damn the visuals and the music still hold up. Might even make these creaky ol’ bones feel just a wee bit younger.
BODIES- Way too many to count. A plane full of zombies, sacrifices, murders, at least one war
Hulu, Philo, Sling, Starz, and for rent on Prime, Vudu