A Tribute to the Cult Classic: “Heavy Metal”
Spandex workout clothes. Indoor smoking. Pee-Wee Herman. HIV stigma.
These are a few things about the ‘80s that we’d be glad to never see again.
But when it comes to that era’s music and cult movies? We are not ashamed to be complete fangirls. In this post, we’re going to take a minute to acknowledge a cult classic and its 40th birthday this 2021.
Many of these classics begin the same way. A very technicolor Columbia Pictures opening sequence, a list of credits placed at the beginning, and a setting in outer space. But only one begins with screaming electric guitars and a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette falling through space down to Earth.
This is the intro to the movie “Heavy Metal”, an intro Elon Musk liked so much he re-enacted it in space. But don’t be deluded into thinking this is a cool and laid-back sort of movie – it’s as quirky as hell. “Radar Rider” by Riggs, the song playing throughout the first scene, abruptly comes to a stop. In a few seconds, our groovy astronaut in his fancy car has melted into a pool of green goo.
What’s Heavy Metal
Let’s rewind a little bit. “Heavy Metal” is a sci-fi/fantasy movie based on a magazine of the same name. The movie itself unfolds through eight different segments: Soft Landing, Grimaldi, Harry Canyon, Den, Captain Sternn, B-17, So Beautiful So Dangerous, Taarna. Like the magazine, each segment was conceived by different teams of creators and even different animation houses. They all, however, fall into one unified storyline: a glowing evil green ball called the Lac-Nar – the one that liquefied our David Bowie spaceman – torments the human race across different universes and seeks to destroy its arch enemy.
It’s a carnival of music and colors, with a soundtrack loaded up with classic rock songs and some scenery taken directly from former magazine issues. Although animated the whole way through, you can forget about watching it with your kids. It’s not just chock-full of top-heavy female game characters like Ivy Valentine from Soulcalibur. It also has quite a few scenes that aren’t exactly family-friendly. It’s like a lesser version of the ads you see on those sites you visit in the middle of the night.
Yes, you know what we’re talking about. If you really don’t, just pretend we never said anything.
Since this is a tribute post, we’re going to focus on the part that interests us the most, the music. Also we’ll take a moment to highlight our favorite parts in general. Prepare for the mother of all spoilers.
Soft Landing / Grimaldi
“Soft Landing” is the opening scene in Heavy Metal we talked about above, which ends when “Radar Rider” does. The story begins with our astronaut walking into his home to greet his daughter, who’s eager to see what gifts he brought her from outer space. He opens his bag to reveal what looks like a glowing sour gumball. It kills him instantly. Maybe it’s a metaphor for crazy high import duties? The sour gumball then rolls up to the screaming girl and declares itself to be “the sum of all evil”. Anyone in the audience who’s ever tasted sour gumballs in Kindergarten would have to agree. This declaration is a hilarious lead in to the Memo song “The Sum of All Evils”, which begins to play as the scene changes, and the overrated candy ball begins to show the girl stories of his past exploits.
His first story begins with men digging at an excavation site, hoping to find the sour gumball. The first man who touches it also melts into green goo. Without even a pause to mourn the death of the poor construction worker who was probably only earning minimum wage, the scene changes to a cityscape. As the song “True Companion” by Donald Fagen plays, we hear the voiceover of a taxi driver named Harry Canyon saying, “Yeah, New York. Big deal. Scum center of the world.” It proves that even in an alternate universe, New Yorkers are still as bitter and cynical as ever. And the traffic jams are just as bad. The only advantage is that taxi drivers don’t really need plexiglass to stay safe from violent passengers. In this universe, you can just burn them alive.
We discover that the gumball is actually called a ‘Loc-Nar’, and the organizer of the dig has it on display at a museum. Alien gangsters overrun the museum to steal the ‘Loc-Nar’, kill the owner, and chase his daughter, who jumps into Harry’s taxi to get away. Ironically, the music here is relaxed and dreamlike, as if the narrator is saying ‘chill, guys, all that happened was she got into a taxi’. The only time you hear rock take the stage again is when Harry is being hunted down by the gangsters and “Heartbeat” by Riggs blasts at full volume. It’s a car chase to the Statue of Liberty to save a girl’s life. Could they really choose not to feature a song there?
When love ends in Heavy Metal
Long story short: the girl sells the ‘Loc-Nar’ to the mobster, and instead of agreeing to split the money with Harry like she agreed to, points a gun to the back of his head and demands to keep it all. He burns her alive – a regular event in New York taxi cabs, apparently – and then drives away with the money. We then go back to the sour gumball – sorry, the ‘Loc-Nar’ – and Grimaldi’s daughter. “My evil corrupts the most innocent,” he says. The girl is still screaming. This is the point where you notice that she looks a lot like a younger version of Mick Jagger. We’re calling her Mick from now on, just so you know.
Anyway, she’s clearly not impressed enough yet, because the ‘Loc-Nar’ begins telling her another story. “In some worlds,” he says, “I’m worshipped as a God.”
Lots of missed opportunities here, in our opinion. A nerdy kid picks up the ‘Loc-Nar’ in his hands and takes it to his bedroom, where he’s conducting an electrical experiment in the middle of the night. Lightning strikes, he gets flung naked into space. While swirling through a kaleidoscope of colors and neon planets, he has a ‘Hulk’ moment. He transforms into a bald and beefy stud who crash lands onto an Aztec-like planet. So many good songs could have been used her. “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, anyone? “You Shook Me All Night Long”? Yes, both those songs came out after this movie was released, but we’ve made our point. Now is not the time for heavily castrated wannabe-Star-Wars music, which is all this scene had to offer.
A close encounter
This segment is all about a Queen and a revolutionary leader called Ard fighting to possess the ‘Loc-Nar’ and use it for a ritual sacrifice. No female in this segment is fully dressed or with a bra size less than 34DD. It’s pretty darn explicit, but there are some funny moments. When the nerdy kid – now named ‘Den’ – saves a Playboy-worthy lady from ritual sacrifice, she comes out of her mini coma naked and gasping for air. Eye to eye with her breasts, which are bigger than her face, his only comment is, “She had the most beautiful eyes. I wanted to make some conversation.”
There were lots of action sequences in this segment. A possible reference to Planet of the Apes and Snow White, but nothing more than heroic movie music. It all ends with Den deciding to forget about Earth. He’ll prefer instead to stay on the strange exotic planet where he can be buff and get laid regularly. The ‘Loc-Nar’, unable to seduce him (maybe it would’ve worked if it had nipples?) goes to a courtroom instead.
Eerie outer-space music follows the ‘Loc-Nar’s journey into the courtroom, where it appears as a tiny little green marble. A man named Hanover Fiste sees it rolling around on the floor and picks up in his hand. Whatever we missed out on in the “Den” segment, we get in full in this one. Captain Sternn, the defendant, stands accused of murder, theft, piracy, fraud, rape, and one moving violation. He pleads not guilty, as he’s confident that Hanover Fiste (“hand over fist”) will testify on his behalf in exchange for money. But as Hanover plays with the ‘Loc-Nar’ he begins to let things slip. “He’s never done anything illegal…” he says, “Unless you count all the times he sold dope disguised as a nun!”
Eventually, he turns into The Hulk (this movie’s filmmakers have a thing for that) and threatens to kill the Captain. He chases him around with “Cheap Trick” by Reach Out on pumping up the scene. It ends really weirdly – the Captain pays him for the chase, Hanover Fiste turns back into a regular man, and then Captain sends him falling through a trapdoor. And then the ‘Loc-Nar’ moves on to its next victim.
After an opening sequence featuring the song “Takin’ a Ride” by Don Felder, the ‘Loc-Nar’ turns dead men on a B-17 bomber into zombies who devour the only two remaining survivors. That’s all you need to know, really. What makes this scene worth its keep is the ending – after the ‘Lor-Nar’, still talking to Mick, says that humans are to him “nothing but playthings”, Queen Bee immediately start singing “they can’t see what you mean to me” – a lyric from the chorus of “Grand Funk Railroad.” It’s irony at its finest.
So Beautiful, So Dangerous
This segment is a lighthearted mash-up of quirky visuals and ideas. It’s also where one of the funniest bits of dialogue in the movie takes place.
It begins with a man named Dr. Anrak ignoring a legion of reporters who are asking him desperately about mutant sightings and green radiation they’ve seen in space. He sits at a table of government officials and assures them that there’s no such thing as aliens… just as a spaceship that looks like something out of a Japanese anime arrives and hovers over the building. He becomes hypnotized by the glowing green jewel – the ‘Loc-Nar’ – that the minute-taker is wearing around her neck, and attacks her. The spaceship controllers stick a long tube in from the ceiling and Hoover-away both of them. Video game/arcade music plays as they swirl up through the tube.
The doctor arrives in pieces like a broken jigsaw puzzle, to the dismay of the colorful hipster aliens at the controls, but the girl is fine – all the trip has done to her is reveal her underwear. She has a gynecologist’s appointment on Wednesday, but that doesn’t stop a tiny robot with big ears from wanting to do her. He leads her away, and the chill song “All of You” by Don Felder plays as the hipster aliens snort white powder off the ground.
Artificial weird intelligence
The music becomes cinematic as we cut to a scene of the robot in bed with the girl. She says she has a boyfriend and feels guilty being with him. He answers: “Of course you would! Earth women who experience sexual ecstasy with mechanical assistance always tend to feel guilty.”
A few seconds later, he asks, “Why can’t we get married?” followed by a bit of hilarious dialogue with the priceless line, “I’m afraid I’ll come home one day and find you screwing the toaster.” This is clearly a very important scene and the main driver of the plot. So the song that follows it must be the film’s namesake: “Heavy Metal” by Sammy Hagar.
The stoned hipster aliens crash land the spaceship, and then we’re back to the ‘Loc Nar’ and Mick, who’s still screaming (she’s got strong lungs). He says he’s going to kill her because she could destroy him in the future, but he wants to tell her one last story before she dies. It’s kind of like a reverse Scheherazade – she probably wants to die at this point, but the villain won’t shut up and keeps wanting to tell her stories.
This final episode is for many the most iconic part of Heavy Metal. Probably Southpark’s dads Parker and Stone think the same: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_Boobage. The ‘Loc-Nar’, having abandoned the Jewish girl with the robot fetish and attachment issues, is now a meteor swooping through space. It hits a mountain and erupts baby food (or what looks like baby food). Then it consumes a bunch of men who were working on the fields surrounding the mountain. They emerge as buff green mutants who yell “death to all who oppose us!” without any good reason to be so angry. Did their labor union collapse, have they tried and failed to make bacon pancakes a thing? No one knows for sure. But they invade the city and begin killing everyone while jamming to “Mob Rules” by Black Sabbath. The Council leader, who looks like a mixture between God, Plato, and Santa Claus, decides to summon the last heir of Taraak the Defender to come to the city and protect them from the mutant invaders.
Puss* in boots
The last heir is a woman. Like most women, she takes a really long time to get ready. A cinematic theme plays as she flies over a colorful landscape on what looks like an overweight [uor a giant deformed duck. She has white hair, an angry face, and a type of anorexia which doesn’t impact her blessed Double D’s, which she exposes the second she comes onto the screen.
The score is heroic as she rises naked out of the water. Surely this is the most dramatic ‘coming out of the bath’ sequences you’ll ever see. She then gives the viewers a reverse striptease – slipping on thigh-high boots, a g-string, a leather-strap skirt, and red gloves. Her sword rises up to meet her. We don’t think the innuendo there is intended, but who knows for sure. (In our view, it would’ve been hilarious if “Dirty Water” by The Standells replaced the filler music here).
The Heavy Metal grand finale
Dressed as a proper stripper, she flies away on her duck (we’re calling it a duck, sorry not sorry) to the devastated land. By the time she’s there, everyone in the hall is dead. So she parks her duck in front of a bar, where “Through Being Cool” by Devo is playing. She sees a bored mutant entertaining himself by beating up a human.
Inside the bar, rockers dressed like Boy George are playing on rainbow instruments. They stop only when she kills a bunch of mutants who gathered around to sexually harass her. She decided to fly away on her duck to the source of the evil – the glowing green mountain – but gets kidnapped. Slightly perverted events and lame action sequences follow. However all you hear is dreamy instrumental music. The movie ends with the Taarakian heir sacrificing herself to save the world. Somehow, this also kills off the real-time version of the ‘Loc-Nar’ who was telling Mick the longest bedtime story in the world. Mick ends up picking up the “spirit of Taarna” and becomes the new Taarakian Defender. The movie ends with the song “Working in the Coal Mine” by Devo.
If you are both confused and entertained, don’t worry. That’s normal. That’s what makes Heavy Metal so great.