The Video Store Days #7: A Heavy Metal Double Feature

Today, on The Video Store Days, we go down memory lane back to 1995 and the discovery of the 1981 animated HEAVY METAL, a film that would go on to find a place in our hearts and our fondest memories. The sequel not so much, but the first film is an outright classic. Join us as we tell our story of HEAVY METAL.

Sometime in 1995, I headed off to my local video store (it was known as R & R Video, but had recently changed its name to Lion Video). It was Tuesday and anyone who knew anything about movies and new releases knew that Tuesday was “New Release Tuesday”. Going to the video store on a weekday instead of going on the weekend like everyone else almost guaranteed that you would get the films that you and everyone else wanted to see.

I can’t remember what I was going to the video store to get. I can tell you that it was probably a few titles that I was going to pick up, but not exactly what the titles were. As I searched the new release wall, I spotted a release on the wall that I had never seen before. The cover was all black except for a small window in the middle of the box that contained one lone screenshot from the film. I wish that I could remember what scene it was but I can not.  The title of the film, HEAVY METAL, was presented in plain what letters underneath the screenshot. This blankness caught my eye. I picked up the box and turned it over. I read the description on the box and then I noticed that it was an animated film that had the voices of John Candy, Harold Ramis, and Eugene Levy AND was produced by Ivan Reitman. I knew all these names. I had been getting into 80’s comedies and these names were on a lot of them.

I ran into a problem, though. There was an orange sticker on the front of the box that said that you needed to be 18 years or older in order to rent the film. That blew my chance to see this film that I had never heard of but needed to see. I then noticed who was working. It was a girl that I went to school with. She was a year older than me, but that didn’t matter. I walked up to her with the box in my hand and asked her if I could rent the film. She told me that she would have to talk to the owner. It just so happened that I got to know the owner after he had bought the video store and year before. I rented from that store all the time and he was there a lot. We would talk about films and would let me rent the films early. He was a good guy. Anyway, she goes into the back and comes out a few minutes later. She said that he said yes and I was out of there a minute later.

The whole way home, I tried to imagine what this film was going to be. The pictures on the box gave the feeling that there was going to be a lot of fantasy elements to it. It was also R-rated, so maybe some language, and hopefully, graphic violence and nudity. My mind was going wild the entire walk home. As I approached my house, I thought that this was going to be the best film ever.

The film starts out with a space shuttle in orbit. The bay doors open to reveal a convertible with a man wearing a spacesuit in the driver’s seat. Riggs’ RADAR RIDER plays as the car travels down to earth. The car then lands and drives to a house in the middle of nowhere. The driver gets out of the car and enters the house. A little girl approaches him asking what he brought her. The man takes her to the dinning room where he opens a handled case that he had been carrying with him. Inside is a green orb. He touches the orb, it begins to shine a green light, and he melts. The orb then begins to float, corners the girl, and begins to tell his story.

This entire sequence blew my mind. The idea of an astronaut going back to earth not in the space shuttle, but in a car was a wild idea to me. The big thing though, was the man melting when he touched the orb. I had never seen anything like that in my life, let alone in an animated film. I was fifteen when I first saw HEAVY METAL and this was also the first animated film I ever saw that was R-rated. I was brought up with Disney movies. I knew that there were R-rated animated films out there, but I had never come into contact with one. Watching an animated character melt was a mind trip.

The orb, known as the Loc-Nar, tells this girl a bunch of stories of how it can corrupt people. There are eight stories in total:

  1. SOFT LANDING- This is the first story. The title sequence. It is the only story that doesn’t feature the Loc-Nar in some capacity.
  2. GRIMALDI - This is the framing story with the girl and the Loc-Nar.
  3. HARRY CANYON - This is the first story that the Loc-Nar tells. This is a future story that finds a taxi driver getting in over his head. He meets a girl who has the Loc-Nar and she needs his help with selling it to the mob. 
  4. DEN - A teenage boy finds the Loc-Nar after it falls to Earth. During a lightning storm, the Loc-Nar transports the boy to another world. On the way, he is transformed from the skinny, nerd he is to a bald muscular man. He changes his name to Den and saves a girl from a ritualistic sacrifice. He then beds the girl. He is captured by Ard, a man who wants to Loc-Nar more than anything else. He tasks Den with stealing the Loc-Nar from the Queen. Den is captured by the queen and beds him. I won’t spoil the rest.
  5. CAPTAIN STERNN- Here we find ourselves out in outer space and the story of Captain Sternn who is on trial for a litany of crimes. A man by the name of Hanover Fiste, who just found the Loc-Nar, is called to be a character witness for Sternn. Everything starts out alright in terms of the questioning of Fiste, but he starts to smart, telling people of some crimes that no one knew about. Fiste then grows in size and starts to destroy everything in his path. Fiste goes after Sternn, chasing him through the space station. The rest is best to be seen.
  6. B-17 - The Loc-Nar lands on a B-17 during World War II. The B-17 is shot up pretty badly and the co-pilot decides to survey the damage and to check for survivors. Everyone is dead and now they are zombies.
  7. SO BEAUTIFUL AND SO DANGEROUS - Dr. Anrak, a prominent scientist, arrives at The Pentagon for a meeting regarding mysterious mutations that are plaguing the United States. At the meeting, the doctor tries to dismiss the occurrences. When he sees the Loc-Nar in the locket of Gloria, a beautiful buxom stenographer, he begins to behave erratically and sexually assaults her. A colossal starship drills through the roof and abducts the doctor and, by accident, Gloria. The ship's robot is irritated at Anrak, who is actually a malfunctioning android, but its mood changes when it sees Gloria. With the help of the ship's alien pilot Edsel and co-pilot Zeke, the robot convinces Gloria to stay on board and have "robot sex" (albeit off-screen). Meanwhile, Edsel and Zeke snort a huge amount of a powdered drug called Plutonian Nyborg before flying home, zoning out on the cosmos. Too intoxicated to fly straight, they crash-land unharmed in a huge space station.
  8. TAARNA - The Loc-Nar, now the size of a giant meteor, crashes into a volcano on a peaceful world. It draws people. The volcano erupts, and green lava covers everyone, mutating the crowd into an evil army. The mutants attack a city. The city leaders, desperate, mentally summon the Taarakians, a (possibly extinct) warrior race, with whom the city had a pact. But the city falls. Taarna, last of the Taarakians, answers the summons. She is strong, beautiful, and mute. Her hair is white and her neck has the Taarakian mark (a sword). She flies upon a large Taarakian bird, her loyal companion. At a deserted temple, she collects armor and sword. The temple releases great power onto the sword. Taarna flies to the ruined, deserted city. Its people have already been massacred but they can be avenged. She travels in search of the culprits. She encounters a small band of mutants and realizes that she has found the city's destroyers. They try to rape her but she slays them with ease. Now more informed, she travels towards the mutant camp but they are prepared. They surprise her and capture her and her mount. She is bound, stripped, whipped, and thrown into an open pit, unconscious. Her mount escapes and rescues her. In the ensuing chase, it is mortally wounded and forced to land. The mutants catch up, and their leader faces Taarna, one-on-one. He wounds her but she kills him. Surrounded by the mutant army, Taarna and her mount, both bleeding profusely, make a death flight to the volcano. As they approach, the Loc-Nar warns her off, by saying that sacrificing herself would be futile. She releases power from her sword. This destroys the Loc-Nar while annihilating her and her mount.

Having gone through all of these stories was an amazing journey. So many different kinds of stories told with just as much wit as it has childish humor. I liked that each story had its own animation style and told its story in a unique way. There are far too many anthology films that fall into the trap of telling the stories in the same style. Here we get some space stuff, some fantasy stuff, and some horror stuff. The humor is pretty well done too.

This bootleg VHS would go on to be rented by myself numerous times over the course of the next year. I told everyone at school about this film and would hold viewing parties at friends’ houses on the weekends for about a year. Almost everyone who came to one of these viewing parties loved the film. Had it not been for this bootleg VHS, I may not have seen HEAVY METAL and if I did, I may not have had the same love for the film that I have to this day. I am not the biggest fan of piracy, but there are times when it is ok. If a studio is not releasing a film, for whatever reason, then I find it ok to find other means to see said film. I will write my views about bootlegging in an upcoming THE VIDEO STORE DAYS.

A few years after watching HEAVY METAL for the first time and preaching the good word about the film, HEAVY METAL 2000 was released. After viewing the trailer, I decided not to see the film. It did not look like a HEAVY METAL film as it decided to tell one story instead of many and the film looked like it wasn’t made with the same care that the first one was. When the film was released, it was met with universal disdain. No one liked the film.

It wouldn’t be until I decided to write this article that I decided that I should probably sit down and watch the damn thing. So I did, and I hated the film. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to use 2D and 3D animation and they do not mix well. The 2D animation is ok, but it is cheapened by the 3D animation. It would have been ok if they used to 3D stuff for space ships and whatnot, but they use it for a lot more and it just looks ugly.

The story is also a letdown. Here is a story that could have been told in full in about twenty minutes, but the filmmakers had to stretch it out as far as they could and ruin any potential it had. Scenes are thrown in to make the film feature-length and that never sits well with any audience.
Of course, Michael Ironside is badass as the villain, but his character is not well written at all so Ironside isn’t given much to do. I will say that I think that Julie Strain, who plays the heroine, has been given a bad rap in this film. Sure, she isn’t the greatest actor in the world, but she does fine with her role. I never thought that her performance was flat and she was actually kind of good.

HEAVY METAL 2000 is a terrible film. The animation is wonky, the story has been told better in the first film (it feels like this story is a remake of Taarna) and the world is never really believable. I just wanted to see some badass characters fucking shit up, but the film can’t even get that right. You know your film is in trouble when the main character has taken on a new name (Faak2) in one scene and then when she has to give her new name (Faak2) in order to get into a space colony, an advertisement for a video game called “HEAVY METAL: FAAK2” is seen on the door in which she is trying to enter. That is terrible writing that is not to be forgiven. Stick with the first film and forget that the second one even exists.

There was also a very short-lived tv show that told a different story every episode. I have not seen this show, but I have heard that it isn’t very good, although Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins both make appearances so it can’t be all bad. Its available in the U.S. from Shout! Factory on both DVD and blu-ray.

HEAVY METAL is an amazing film. It has everything a genre fan could ever want. There’s horror, fantasy, sci-fi, tons of nudity, graphic violence, tons of badass moments, and some really cool imagery. I do think that animation fans and genre fans need to watch this film. They may shoo it away because it's animated or the use of rock music, but it is an endlessly enjoyable film that still holds up to this day. HEAVY METAL 2000 should be skipped by everyone, regardless of whether you’ve seen the first film or not. It’s just so bad. Also, give the magazine a try. I have only read a few issues so I can’t give you much of an impression, but it does feature some really kickass artwork and its where the stories from the films and tv show came from.

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  1. For the late 70's and early 80's the references are Punk rock bands like The Clash, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, along with AC/DC and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Deff Leppard; etc. The best way to understand what Heavy Metal is, should be to listen to good references.