Where has this animated sci-fi/horror/fantasy cocktail been all my life? This is the ultimate geek movie. I’m not sure why Heavy Metal isn’t as highly esteemed as Jaws, Halloween, and Dawn of the Dead. Yes, that’s a bold statement, but fuck it...this flick rocks! It was essentially the first adult-oriented mainstream animated feature. Many of the “critics” on IMDb bellyache over the crude animation. The film is incontrovertibly dated, but I appreciated the old-school “comic book” vibe that this checkered cartoon betrothed. Heavy Metal is the cinematic equivalent of a black-lite poster. NOTE: I dig lava lamps and black-lite posters. I’m that guy.
Imagine Creepshow cross-pollinated with The Fifth Element and The Neverending Story. Good times, good times. This is an anthology that trots out six vignettes and a wraparound story. In 90 minutes. It goes without saying that the pace never lets up. The manifold plot threads slip up here and there, but even the film’s detractors can’t say that this bizarro acid trip ever comes close to being boring. Is this a case of style over substance? Of course, but who cares? I’ll try to dissect each segment without writing a novel. There isn’t much to type about “Grimaldi,” the wraparound story. I bet that I’ll find a way to type about it, though.
An astronaut brings home an emerald orb as a gift for his daughter (don’t ask...I don’t know either). The orb turns out to be a nefarious entity who wreaks havoc across the universe. The motley stories that subsume Heavy Metal are lurid tales that our spherical antagonist relates to the astronaut’s daughter. First up, we have “Harry Canyon.” A grizzled taxi driver is embroiled in a film noir-esque power struggle between a ginger bombshell and a cigar-smoking heavy. Oh, and this takes place in the future. For no apparent reason. This is probably my least favorite vignette. It feels aimless, but I got a confusing thrill out of the sex scene. There are two-dimensional milk pillows in almost every segment. I think I ogled them too much.
“Den” follows, and in my opinion, this is where the fun begins. John Candy voices a nerd who finds a meteor that transports him to another planet. Candy’s Den transmogrifies into a buff superhero who bears a striking resemblance to the Silver Surfer. Cool monsters, Lovecraftian landscapes, buxom space broads, and lighthearted scrapes ensue. The tone varies from story to story, but Heavy Metal never comes across as disjointed. “Den” boasts a goofball charm. Some of the other genre-refracting sketches are bone sober. For the most part, the film pulls off comedic detours with relative ease.
“Captain Sternn” takes this levity and runs with it. A smug general squirms his way out of damaging charges and allegations by paying a meek beneficiary by the name of Hanover Fist to testify for him in court. Fist inexplicably mutates into a seething ogre while under oath. “Sternn” doesn’t make much sense, but I found it to be pretty funny. The captain is tried on thirty-seven (yeah, I spell out numbers...you got a problem with that?) counts of rape and one traffic violation. I can relate. The fourth segment is entitled “B-17.” It was based on a story by Dan O’Bannon, which explains why it’s a slab of no-bullshit horror.
“B-17” has “EC Comics” written all over it. The plot concerns zombie soldiers on a fighter jet. A barebones premise, to be sure, but it fucking works. We get a fair amount of viscous gore. It’s beyond badass. “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is pure satire. Apart from the barbed, mordant jokes, this is a pointless tangent that doesn’t have much to offer. I was still entertained, though. Miraculously, the film can carry a rambling digression without it cheapening the end product as a whole. At the very least, the lesser moments are visually compelling.
“Taarna” caps this cult classic off in majestic form. A warrior must save a post-apocalyptic world from a race of cybergoblins. The warrior is a scantily-clad sorceress (pictured above) who piggybacks a pterodactyl and wields one mean dagger. This closing vignette exhibits class and restraint. It contrasts well with the preceding hour. Matte paintings, still photography, and model sets are employed to accent the animation. All of the special effects are urbanely executed. I was actually taken aback by how much I enjoyed Heavy Metal. At the end of the day, it may be classified as a b-movie, but it deserves more accolades than it receives.
I’m hesitant to watch Heavy Metal 2000, the ill-conceived sequel that is more than likely upstaged by its own soundtrack. Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and pick up the Heavy Metal soundtrack. It features bitchin’ (if I may use that term) tunes from Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Sammy Hagar, Devo, Cheap Trick, and Nazareth among others. Fucking. A.
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 8:17 PM