80’s Trash of the Week: Heavy Metal

In honor of the South Park episode “Major Boobage,” I dug out my copy of Heavy Metal from 1981 to review. I love the movie, but it is definitely trashy; thankfully it has a sense of humor about itself. The sequel Heavy Metal 2000 is apparently terrible, with a single story starring 6’1″ B-movie siren Julie Strain (who just happens to be married to the editor of Heavy Metal magazine, Kevin “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Eastman). They are planning a real anthology-style sequel with David Fincher attached to direct a segment, so that has promise.

South Park’s version.

If you know nothing about the movie, Heavy Metal magazine is a collection of science fiction, fantasy and erotic sequential art (aka comics) that has been published since 1977. Famous for introducing many to the art of Moebius, H.R. Giger, Jean “Moebius” Girard, Hajime Sorayama and others, it is probably best recognized as the magazine with the robot boob ladies on the cover. It was groundbreaking in bringing great European comics to the U.S. and showcasing some of the best art of its kind from around the world.

The movie is an anthology of stories by Dan O’Bannon (of Alien fame), Bernie Wrightson (Stephen King’s favorite illustrator), Richard Corben, Angus McKie and Juan Gimenez. The animation styles differ for each, and the voice talent includes John Candy and Eugene Levy from Second City, and Roger Bumpass, who has such a great name I had to mention it here.

There is a story that frames them all, about an artifact of ultimate evil called the Loc-Nar. The movie begins with the space shuttle in orbit, in a scratchy, cut-out style of animation that would later be used by South Park before they went digital. A spaceman in a ’58 Corvette launches out of it and lands on a desert landscape to the strains of 70’s hard rock. The animation is crude at times throughout the movie, but much better than other independent animators of the time, such as Ralph Bakshi. This is yet another movie we have Ivan Reitman to thank for. He really helped make 70’s and 80’s a better place.

The iconic opening.

When the spaceman lands, he drives up to his house with a present for his daughter. A glowing green orb from outer space! Apparently this toy was made in China, because it immediately melts his face off and begins tormenting his child with a deep voice, telling her it is the greatest concentration of evil in the universe, and regales her with tales of how it corrupts living creatures into paths of destruction.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

The next story is about Harry Canyon, New York cabbie circa 2031. Once again we are promised rocket cars of the future, and I know damn well in 24 years we’ll still be on the ground like suckers. Harry has a jet powered cab, and picks up a ravishing redhead after her Dad the scientist is murderized by thugs hunting the Loc-Nar. The Fifth Element generously cribs from this story, ith the cabbie, the orb of ultimate evil, and so on.

New York City 2031.

Thankfully Jaws IV: This Time it’s Personal ended any hopes of a Jaws 7 in 2031. This story is your usual noir with the leggy dame needing help. In fact, it’s a lot like the Mike Hammer film Kiss Me Deadly, with a box full of radioactive goo that will melt your face off. If only we were still using Checker Cabs. They were tanks. We also get our first sex scene with this story. Unlike Kenny on his cat-piss acid trip, we get to see the titties, and like Trey & Matt joked, the entire world of the movie might as well be covered in them.

This resonated strongly in my 11-year old dreams.

The next story is based on Richard Corben’s Den stories, set in a post-apocalyptic or pre-civilization world where everyone runs around naked killing each other when they’re not fornicating like a sackful of ferrets. It begins with a nerdy kid voiced by John Candy being transported to this world, and transformed into bald, musclebound superman Den. He quickly dons a loincloth to save us from the sight of his enormous schlonghood. In the comics, he was never shown with a rapaciously engorged tumescent, turgid member much to the chagrin of the readers, who suggested he was impotent. Maybe the Loc-Nar would be his Viagra.

The film’s major audience in 1981.

Den saves Kath from sacrifice by the evil queen, who wears a Cthulhu-like mask and whose followers chant his name backwards. They get it on of course, before she is captured by the immortal Ard, one of the funniest characters in the movie. He’s so nonchalant and whiney. He will release her if Den steals the Loc-Nar for him. “If you refuse you die, she dies, everybody dies.”

In the promised land of violence and nudity.

I deserve credit for finding a screen grab of Den & Kath that is work safe, mind you. The way to the Queen’s lair is perilous and they are nearly devoured by what seems to be a giant carnivorous Fraggle, but they manage to succeed. Den even gets to bag the Queen, another big-breasted redhead of many in the film. no way to know if the curtains match the drapes, because everyone is shaven down there in this world, but with the other redheads here, there is firecrotch galore.

Amusingly enough, this reminded me of Boober the Fraggle.

What’s compelling about each sequence is that they have their own visual style. Some are a little simplified, but there is always quality there. They use a lot of tricks and aren’t beyond rotoscoping or using psychedelic backgrounds. It doesn’t look as clean as big-budget animation or CG, but it never looks that bad.
There’s a final battle between the Queen and Ard over the Loc-Nar before a roiling pool of living evil or something, and Den uses his nerd knowledge of electricity to settle their hash good. And the nerd gets to live happily ever after, by choosing Kath’s totally rockin’ tits over the omnipotence offered by the Loc-Nar.

My Loc-Nar!

The next story is Bernie Wrightson‘s, and features the slimy Captain Sternn on trial for a all sorts of vile crimes such as a schoolgirl prositution ring and selling drugs in a nun’s habit, among other things. He pays off his lackey Hanover Fiste to be a character witness, but the Loc-Nar has other plans, making him tell us about Sternn’s more lurid crimes, and become a Hulk-like behemoth in the process. He chases Sterrn around the space station smashing everything.

32 counts of rape…

However, when Fiste finally corners Sternn, he pays him off and Fiste deflates back to his wimpy self, so perhaps it was all a scam to let Fiste escape, since his lawyer said he’d be lucky to be buried someplace where his grave wouldn’t be defiled. He then doublecrosses Fiste and dumps him into space, therein ending our comical interlude, and setting the Loc-Nar free to land back on Earth.

Mark McGwire testifies before Congress about Human Growth Hormone.

Back on Earth, the Loc-Nar follows a B-17 bomber that has been peppered with flak. Only two crew-members remain, and one goes back through the plane to check for survivors. Except he finds that his crewmen have been stricken with zombosis! There’s not much to this simple horror tale, but it is very memorable and reminiscent of the Tales from the Crypt comics and the like. This part was written by Dan O’Bannon, the same script that’s morphed into the hilarious space flick Dark Star and the horror classic Alien. He got more mileage out that script than I did on some of my English Lit papers.

Zombosis!

After that we get another funny interlude that starts at the Pentagon, where they are discussing what to do about the rampant acts of mutation occurring among the populace. The Loc-Nar is now safely nested between a red-head’s breasts, and the man reading the report suddenly goes apeshit and tries to get it. They are both then sucked up a tube by an alien spacecraft hovering above the Pentagon.

So what if she fucks robots, she’s hot.

Up in the ship she finds a robot with two megaphones for ears, who charms her into bed despite sounding like Fozzie the Bear meets Groucho Marx. The alien stoner pilots decide to snort a roomful of “Plutonian nyborg” before taking off, going on a psychedlic space journey set to more 70’s rock. The soundtrack is actually quite good, and was not released on CD for many years. Black Sabbath (Ronnie Dio era), Grand Funk Railroad, Journey, Stevie Nicks, Devo for some 80’s flair, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Nazareth and of course the title track by Sammy Hagar are all great contributions and work well with the stories. Riggs, a band heretofore unbeknownst to me, has a few great tracks, including the opener, “Radar Rider.” It’s definitely worth tracking down for a dose of late 70’s/early 80’s enjoyment.

Mommy, why are they snorting floor cleaner?

The stoner aliens crash into a space station after they spirit the Loc-Nar from Earth, and it is assumed that the girl and the robot have a nice Jewish marriage and live happily ever after.

Close encounters of the groovy kind, maaan.

The final sequence is the one best remembered, and it is the longest. The Loc-Nar crashes into a another planet, lands in a volcano and turns a group of people into rapacious rampaging reavers, who slaughter to and fro. Before they can slay the elder of the city, he manages to send a signal to the last of the Tarakians, who guard the universe from evil.
Taarna is the last, the silent, snow-haired sword siren who haunted many a dream of the young adolescents who saw this film back in ’81. Based on Moebius‘s Arzach stories, she rides a pterodactyl-like steed to mete out justice at the end of her bloody sword.

No resemblance to Leeloo here, nopenope.

Taarna never utters a word as she stalks the slayers of the city, soon finding them at a tavern where Devo is playing.

Not unlike Devo’s real live shows.

Much of the film, especially Taarna’s sequence, is rotoscoped. They draw over live-action frames to make things go more quickly. It often looks jerky, but here it’s very smooth, but often a little too slow. Like when she beheads these guys in the bar, it looks almost as if it’s in slow-motion.

Black vinyl battle thong.

But you get used to how she moves. Who’s kidding, you’ll be staring up her asscrack for 30 minutes. The silence gives the sequence a mythic quality, and it’s too bad that the bad guys talk. If they only made zombie groans, it would have been more powerful. The Moebius stories it was based on had no dialogue, so at least they went partway. Taarna is captured and abused, and yes the curtains match the ivory drapes. Her sky critter helps her escape, and her final battle with Mr. Cuisinart Hand is somewhat anticlimactic, but still good gory fun.

I drew stuff like this in school for years afterward.

The film is certainly juvenile in many ways, but rarely takes itself seriously, which saves it. When Ard is whining about the Loc-Nar, the smart choice of picking funnymen John Candy and Eugene Levy, and the good writing temper the sheer onslaught of boobage and fantasy slaughter that would normally put this film next to The Warrior and the Sorceress on the video shelf. That’s the fantasy movie with David Carradine with the sorceress who goes topless the entire movie. And yeah, I wish I’d seen it on HBO when I was 12, dammit.
It is definitely a relic of its time, but still enjoyable now. There were a lot of indie animated films aimed at adults up until the mid-80’s, then things petered out, and were dead completely after Cool World showed just how much money you could lose on such a venture. Hopefully the new sequel will happen, and might even spur some new animated films that aren’t for kids. The Incredibles was a good start, actually. One of the better action movies of its year. If the new one is like that with blood and a few boobies, we may have a hit.