Heavy Metal (1981)
April 4, 2018 6:14 PM - Subscribe

A glowing green orb - which embodies ultimate evil - terrorizes a young girl with an anthology of bizarre and fantastic stories of dark fantasy, eroticism and horror.

Time Out: Among those listed in the credits are a handful of collaborators whose reputations should be rescued from the cosmic junkheap this deserves to rust on - notably writer Dan O'Bannon - but the collective animators of this dopey Disney parody (reportedly 1,000 artists working in five cities simultaneously) still have a lot to answer for. Fantasies that are gratuitously sexist and Fascist (macho whoring and warmongering), and whose roots reach all the way back to post-hippie paranoia, feed the tangled plot-lines of a movie that, given the orchestral overkill and surprisingly low profile of heavy metal music, should disappoint even the teenage wet-dreamers it's aimed at.

AV Club [from Heavy Metal 2000 review]: Premiering in 1977, Heavy Metal magazine shattered old comics taboos regarding sex, violence, and drugs to the delight of horny adolescent boys of all ages. Inspired by adult European comics and fantasy artists, it enlisted foreign and domestic talent to produce tales of the fantastic, many involving scantily clad women equipped with weapons and enormous breasts. A 1981 anthology film attempted, with mixed results, to bring the magazine to the big screen. Basing a handful of stories on the work of artists such as Berni Wrightson and Richard Corben, at its best it served as a showcase for some innovative (if financially constrained) animation. At its worst, it seemed to aim squarely for a core audience of sexually retarded stoners.

Empire: While undoubtedly rooted in a pubescent male fantasy of gigantic space age breasts, aroused robots and limb-lopping ultraviolence, this animated portmanteau has become a cult film in a genuine sense. It even rivals the Rocky Horror Picture Show on the midnight circuit, a sleazy, sexist brilliantly made adventure movie that says more about the nature of comic books than a brigade of camp-clad X, Y or Z-men.

NYTimes: ''Heavy Metal'' has been animated with great verve, and scored very well, with music much less ear-splitting than the title would suggest. Its landscapes tend to be barren and otherworldly, its characters stern and mighty. Superhuman fierceness is at the root of this kind of fantasy, but there are also enough sympathetic touches to make the material involving. A very good bird in the last story is one.

This bird is the chief transportation of the film's one heroine, who ruins her chance of counteracting the wild misogyny of ''Heavy Metal'' by wearing a kinky black outfit and getting herself involved in a sadomasochistic fix. Animated or not, this isn't a movie to take children to, unless you'd like them to develop an early interest in bondage.


Film School Rejects: Movies We Love--Heavy Metal
posted by MoonOrb (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Convinced my dad to take me to this because I was a big fan of the artwork in the magazine. I was twelve. It was a very quiet drive home.

Rewatched it a few years back. I remember the magazine had some really interesting elements and some fun storylines, plus some innovative artwork, but was incredibly and frustratingly uneven. The movie was a very solid reflection of its source material.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:59 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

All I remember from this is 'paging Hanover Fist'.
posted by parki at 7:14 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I remember watching this on a small black and white TV in San Jose, Costa Rica, in the middle of the night with my best friend in 1986. Somehow I had never seen when it came out, despite the sci-fi and fantasy magazines all hyperventilating over it at the time.

Holy shitballs, it's terrible.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:20 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember this coming out, when I was all of ten, and desperately wishing I could figure out some way to sneak into it.

I remember it coming back as a "revival" showing when I was somewhere in my twenties, and going with a few other friends to see it. I would have enjoyed it more when I was ten.
posted by nubs at 7:44 PM on April 4, 2018

I'm not sure which thread to post this in, but I will admit that one of my favorite parts of Ready Player One was the fact that the virtual reality avatar of the Corporate CEO big bad of that movie was Captain Sternn of all things. One, because a sleezebag like Sternn is a perfect fit and also shockingly self-aware of a choice, and two, because Sternn's look is already an extended riff on Superman, those not familiar with Heavy Metal (either movie or the original magazine issues Sternn's stories appeared in) would probably think his avatar is just a badly done Superman. Made me wish they'd included Hanover Fist too, but that probably would have spoiled the obscurity of the reference.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:26 PM on April 4, 2018

That was no trailer - here are the trailers: Short, Long (red band).

I was in my 20s when this first hit the theaters; I was at an age where I didn't know anyone who shared my taste in movies, and went alone to see them at the local multiplex. This was the second best movie experience I had during that time... the best was "Airplane". But I was already subscribing to the magazine and agreed with GhostintheMachine - "incredibly uneven", so I knew what I was in for. It had all the violence, nudity, scifi tropes and snark the mag had. Still, I recognized and appreciated the art of Moebius, Angus McKie and Bernie (pre-Swamp-Thing) Wrightson, the voices of SCTV's John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis, and the music of Blue Oyster Cult, Donald Fagen, Cheap Trick and DEVO. Worked for me.

And radwolf just gave me a reason to go see Ready Player One.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:32 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

The movie was a very solid reflection of its source material.

This is about right. The magazine filled in the gap between the death of the underground comix of the late seventies and early eighties and the birth of independent comics publishers in the early eighties. The artwork was astonishing, and it didn't hurt that there was a lot of adult content (and newsstand proprietors were apparently ignorant of this, which was of intense relevance to a thirteen-year-old comics reader). Now it's a little embarrassing, but at the time it all seemed very sophisticated and daring; ditto for the movie, which was probably the first full-length adult animated film that I'd ever seen. Just from watching the trailers, and remembering what the actual quality was, I'm not sure that I'd trade it now for a single Rick and Morty episode. But having John Candy narrate "Den" was an inspired touch of humor.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:51 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Robot to young woman: Why can't we get married?
Young woman: Honey, mixed marriages never work. I'd come home some night and you'd be screwing the toaster.
posted by orange swan at 9:18 PM on April 4, 2018

Ugh, that should have been "underground comix of the late sixties and early seventies." Late seventies is when I started reading them.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:20 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Like a few others above, I was in the sweet spot of adolescence when this came out (14 that summer). Fortunately, the Odeon down on King Street had two screens so if something rated R was playing one one screen you could just buy a ticket to the PG-rated thing on the other (looking over movies from that summer, I suspect the box office receipts of Arthur were erroneously inflated by $4.50 or whatever admission was then, because of me).

Heavy Metal was at the very least the second time I did that at that theatre: I saw Omen:The Final Conflict there a few months earlier. Between these two and Arthur, it occurs to me there may be a reason that few people consider 1981 a banner year in film.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:23 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Looking at the cast list now, I see now how shockingly full it is of seventies/eighties Canadian actors. Harvey Atkin! Jackie Burroughs! August Schellenberg! Al Waxman! John Vernon! And oddest of all, Zal Yanovsky appearing as someone other than Zal Yanovsky!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:34 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was just a kid when this came out, so I discovered it relatively later in life. I actually came to it after I discovered Blue Öyster Cult in high school.

This, for me, is pretty much the apotheosis of the "problematic fave." It's definitely a fave, but dang is it problematic.
posted by MrBadExample at 9:58 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I had the soundtrack album, too. Devo, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Journey, Stevie Nicks, Sammy Hagar, Grand Funk Railroad. It well matched the movie (deeply uneven, mostly forgettable, some bright spots, a surprising amount of talent, well matched to the time, probably not worth revisiting overall).
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:28 AM on April 5, 2018

Looking at the cast list now, I see now how shockingly full it is of seventies/eighties Canadian actors. Harvey Atkin! Jackie Burroughs! August Schellenberg! Al Waxman! John Vernon! And oddest of all, Zal Yanovsky appearing as someone other than Zal Yanovsky!

Len Blum and Daniel Goldberg ( lead writers ) are both canadian, along with exec. producer Peter Lebensold and director Gerald Potterton.
posted by mikelieman at 5:31 AM on April 5, 2018

This, for me, is pretty much the apotheosis of the "problematic fave."

Evil Antimatter Universe Me is right. I still love this movie all these years later, but hoo boy, is it ever...not...great.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:39 AM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Dan O'Bannon one is unproblematically excellent. Genuinely terrifying.
posted by maxsparber at 10:05 AM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

All I remember from this is 'paging Hanover Fist'.

You rang? And it's "Hanover Fiste".

That segment is where my user name (and my LARP persona name) come from.
posted by hanov3r at 10:16 AM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did get a few issues of Heavy Metal around 1979, so I associate it not so much with bemuscled barbarians as with Moëbius (Pharagonesia in particular, which I thought was hilarious), Matt Howarth and the music column by Lou Stathis, which is where I found out about a number of amazing things, most notably Holger Czukay's Movies, which blew my (admittedly microscopic) mind.

Never did see the film.

I'll see myself out.
posted by Grangousier at 11:50 AM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

The thing I remember most from Heavy Metal the magazine was Paul Kirchner’s strip "The Bus" (particularly the one with the bus descending into the pavement)

I haven't seen the film in at least 20 years - I'm sure parts of it have not aged well at all, but I have high hopes that the explanation of how to fly a spaceship while stoned and all the Plutonium Nyborg stuff still holds up. I recently watched the opening bit after Musk's car went into orbit and it's still great. I remember the gremlin part was good and creepy but I don't remember much else about the segment.

OTOH, I remember an article about the making-of that came out around the time the film did that talked about the animators being so very excited to draw female full-frontal nudity and should the split of her labia be visible from the front. (boys, have you seen a woman nude?) *sigh*
posted by rmd1023 at 12:30 PM on April 5, 2018

I used to read Heavy Metal and the other indie comic magazines as a teen in the late 70s and early 80s, so I was prepped for that movie...it was awful. They managed to make all that nudity and violence boring. I mean as a kid I wasn't even thinking of things like the massive amounts of misogyny in it,
just that I was embarrassed to watch it.
posted by happyroach at 2:33 PM on April 5, 2018

Yeah, I remember finding the movie as a whole kind of underwhelming.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:12 PM on April 5, 2018

I snuck into a showing of Heavy Metal up at the local state university in the mid 1980s when I was just barely a teenager. The films were supposed to be for students only but they didn't check at the door.

That evening was a double feature with Purple Rain, and there was me and a packed auditorium of inebriated college students. They cheered so loudly at the first nude scene that the projectionist started rewinding each nude scene and showing it a second time, for both movies. A few scenes even got a third rewinding.

Even at 13, and even with getting to see all the nude scenes twice, I still mostly found it cheesy. I rewatched it about a decade ago, and while parts were actually good, the sense of cheesiness had definitely increased.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:32 PM on April 5, 2018

So, Plutonium Nyborg is a really, really weak drug, right? Those guys snort what appears to be literal pounds of it to get basically just a little high. I would think, for space travel, when the amount of weight on a spaceship should be kept low for takeoff and landing fuel-consumption reasons, that you'd want dope that didn't have to be laid out with a baseball field striper.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:55 PM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

It should be noted that Heavy Metal Magazine still exists, published almost regularly quarterly with comics legend Grant Morrison serving as Editor in Chief and contributing at least a part of a story in every issue. Still some good stuff in every issue, but more consistently Grant-Morrison-ish and if there's one place you don't want consistency, it's Heavy Metal Magazine.

And thank you for the memory flogging, rmd1023, about Paul Kirchner’s "The Bus". Definitely a regular highlight.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:31 PM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I still love this movie, though, for providing me with one of my favorite villain lines ever:

"If you refuse, you die, she dies....everybody dies."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:48 PM on April 6, 2018

In the UK there was late night comedy show that would show clips from it so I was primed when I finally saw round a mates house on his video. I remember buying the video myself on sale a few years later. So I must have liked it then.... but I re-watched not too long ago, and it's not aged at all well. A lot of the animation is very rough and the subject matter and stories are even rougher.

I remember reading some of the actual magazine in shops - it was too expensive an import to actually buy and reading a friend's Lone Sloan / Delirius GN.... it kinda blew my teenage mind.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:25 AM on April 7, 2018

18 years of nothin' and now twice in one day!
posted by kirkaracha at 12:06 PM on April 9, 2018

So, Plutonium Nyborg is a really, really weak drug, right? Those guys snort what appears to be literal pounds of it to get basically just a little high.

I always thought it was just that they'd built up a hell of a tolerance to it and needed that much because of their habit.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I want to mention that the magazine had a brief period where it also included reviews of various art stuff, all pretty underground and upsetting, largely consistent with the magazine's editorial viewpoint. I had an issue that wrote about both the band Foetus and the films of Richard Kern, and I hadn't known stuff like that existed before and was profoundly upset to discover it did.

I was probably 16 at this time, living in suburban Minneapolis around a lake, and it was one of the access points for me to a world that was much stranger than the one I experienced every day. I never really got into the sort of nihilistic punk art that this reviewer had a taste for, but it was eye-opening to discover it existed.
posted by maxsparber at 7:00 AM on April 11, 2018

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