Sunday, 15 February 2009

Heavy Metal-The Movie

I know, it's kinda cheesy now, and I really am old enough to know better, and of course, nothing dates quicker than animation, but I do still have a bit of a soft spot for the Heavy Metal movie.

I'd seen a couple of copies of Heavy Metal before this came out, I think. In fact, HM ( and soon after, Epic Illustrated ) became a sort of gauge in our house. Whenever any of my younger cousins came over and wanted to paw their sticky fingers through my comics, Mum would always ask me if what they were looking at was ok for them to be looking at. In the case of Heavy Metal the answer was always no. In fact, at that tender age I probably shouldn't have been reading some of it myself.
Anyway, when the movie came out, there was no way the fleapit's in Cambridge were gonna show a dirty cartoon ( except maybe that one place that seemed to show Flesh Gordon every saturday night for like, a decade ), so as a treat, me & my irksome younger brother ( who, natch, had zero interest in comics but knew a good deal when he saw one ) went to stay at our uncle's in London, with the intention of seeing the film at Leicester Square.

I wish I could say either of them came out of the film with a newfound interest in fantasy & sci-fi, but alas no. I seem to remember my uncle saying something along the lines of: " The girl in the last story didn't say much, did she? "
Me? I thought it rocked, obviously. It really was the equivalent of seeing a moving issue of Heavy Metal on the screen ( If in a slightly more family friendly, slightly less misogynistic version. ) In it's six stories, you got some very cool visuals, like that completely pointless yet insanely brilliant opening sequence with the astronaut driving a corvette through space:

Leading onto the introduction of our narrator, that friendly neighbourhood essence of all evil itself, the glowing green orb known as The Loch-Nar, who, having located the one little girl on Earth who can destroy it, rather unfeasibly decides to spin her a few bedtime yarns before wiping out it's most dangerous enemy in the universe. Ten out of ten for arrogance, Lochie, but minus several million for good thinking. (Still, only Heavy Metal would have Evil Itself narrate it's movie! )

The first story is that of slobbish sci-fi cabbie Harry Canyon, a kind of future noir that's a lot like Blade Runner, as well as Moebius' The Long Tomorrow, but makes a good deal less sense than either, as various bad guys & gals cross and double cross each other for possession of The Loch-Nar. There's not a whole lot of logic in this movie, but with visuals like these, you kinda don't care.

Next comes my favourite episode, Den, adapted from Richard Corben's Neverwhere, and replaying Corben's grandiose sword & sorcery epic as an Animal House movie, complete with boob gags, and a brilliant 'gosh wow' voiceover from the late, great John Candy.

Berni Wrightson's Captain Sternn is next, and is clearly a tribute to the Mad work of Wally Wood, with it's lead character who looks like Superduperman, and it's fall guy, the classic Hanover Fiste, who looks bizarrely like one of my cousins.

Then there's the EC inspired B-17, where World War Two pilots come across some gruesome Mike Ploog zombies. Maybe the weakest one in it's predictability, but damn, them zombies look cool.

So Beautiful & So Dangerous follows, incredibly freely adapted from Angus McKie's serial ( It shares the title and the space-ship and that's about it ). This episode really has no plot to speak of, but Harold Ramis' green drug sniffin' alien is a hoot. Plus there's the " I forget. Are you jewish? " line.

Last up is every 15 year old boy's favourite segment, Taarna, a sword & sorcery spaghetti western with a healthy dose of bondage thrown in for good measure. It's good, smutty fun, and the music ( by, I think, the same guy who did the Conan movies ) is suitably sweeping and grandiose, easily giving the whole thing an epic feel. ( Not easy to do in a 20 minute cartoon segment. )

Even now, 20 odd years later, I still like a lot of Heavy Metal; Like Dens' ridiculously camp villain ( " You die, she dies, EVERYBODY dies!! " ), the fact that it's The Hooded Claw doing the voice of Hanover Fiste, and the fact that Taarna rides Arzach's flying beastie, and really just the sheer freewheeling fun of the whole thing. And it was directed by somebody with the wonderful name of Gerald Potterton, who I hope is even now propping up a bar somewhere, dressed in silk jacket & cravat, saying: "Heavy Metal? Oh yah, one directed that, don't you know? Cigar anyone?"

Avoid, avoid, avoid the alleged sequel Heavy Metal FAKK 2 though; really no story, and animation that isn't even as good as the first movie. ( How is that even possible? )

But I guess the last word on the movie has to be this missive, sent to the magazine's aptly named ( as you'll see ) letters page Chain Mail, along with a classic reply from HM's legendarily rude editor Lou Stathis:


  1. great write-up and fantastic screen shots! The letter, lovingly scanned, is classic! Thanks for sharing!

  2. HEAVY METAL's been one of MY favorite movies since I first saw it in a theatre. Nowhere near as good as I thought it should have been, yet on its own, it's a BLAST! I especially love the humor added to Den via John Candy's narration.

    "Look, Den. The rising moon climaxes our love. It is a sign."
    "YES. A SIGN."
    ("I had NO IDEA what she was talking about!")

    As for music... well, CONAN was Basil Poledouris, but HEAVY METAL is ELMER BERNSTEIN! That's right-- the guy who did music for ANIMAL HOUSE. (Oh-- yeah-- and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, which Den mentions at one point. And THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN... of course!!!) I have the Bernstein score on CD, transferred perfectly from vinyl. I underatand a greatly "expanded" version has been issued with all the music from the film, but I'm used to having the Bernstein score all by itself (the rock music was on a separate comp) so I'm fine. One of Bernstein's masterpieces, no doubt.