Before the days of the internet and massive sites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, it was not uncommon to see encyclopedias of movies available for purchase or reference at video stores. In Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s Heavy Metal Movies, Bazilion Points Books has published such a volume. While many of the encyclopedias, such as the Leonard Maltin series, that were so popular in the video store heydays tended to be collections of movies from specific time periods, Heavy Metal Movies covers “way over 666 headbanger classics.” The films reviewed span several decades with the book giving much lacking press to B-movie legends such as Fred Olen Ray (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) and Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case).
Before delving into the reviews, McPadden introduces his background in both heavy metal and cinema. He is a fan of both, and grew up in New York City during seedier times in the late 20th century when Times Square was ripe with sleaze and cheap theaters played underground cinema and double features of exploitation flicks. He peppers his stories with anecdotes about when and where he first viewed certain films and talks nostalgically about bootleg VHS tapes of movies such as Faces of Death being passed from person to person across the country. At the same time, he gives respect to Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guides and reminisces about seeking out and watching every movie that Maltin panned with the infamous “bomb” rating in lieu of stars.
This reminded me of my own years as a youth discovering movies through books, magazine reviews, and word of mouth – often coming from video store employees. Without the help of countless video store clerks, I may have never seen such iconic flicks as They Live, Kentucky Fried Movie, or Battle Royal. Now that the video store has lost its influence, and alternative theaters are as rare as a bootleg VHS tape, Heavy Metal Movies serves as a guidebook for youngsters looking to corrupt their souls through the magic of lewd, violent, and subversively thought-provoking filmmaking.
After the introduction, there is a brief essay by Alice Cooper which is worth the read. He recalls anecdotes from the films that he worked on, including John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and This is Spinal Tap. In his bit about working on the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees, Cooper opens up about some non-metal music that he appreciates:
“In 1978 the Bee Gees were the hottest band in the world, and I really liked them. As much as disco was our enemy, Saturday Night Fever was one of the greatest albums ever made.”
In that quote, the rock legend reveals one of the greatest challenges in writing a book about movies that relate to a certain genre of music: the genre of music means something different to different groups and individuals, and each group and individual makes exceptions with their love of metal based on personal preference. For example, Judas Priest has been covering a Joan Baez song for decades. This flawed and often contradictory nature of purism is apparent in McBeardo’s guide.
While the book bills itself as a source for metal-related cinema, it suffers from a vague definition of what constitutes a “heavy metal movie.” When I first opened it, I thought that there would be a much more concrete connection between the films reviewed and their connection to the genre. As it turns out, this connection is uneven at best. While there is a vast selection of heavy metal documentaries reviewed, there are also seemingly unrelated films featured, as well. For example, what does Deep Throat have to do with heavy metal? At times it seems that the influence of having worked for Hustler for over ten years has influenced McPadden to draw connections between heavy metal and pornography that most others wouldn’t.
Other examples that seem like a stretch, as far as connections between metal and movie, in fact, have a concrete connection and serve as metal education to the not-yet-informed. One example can be found in his review of 2001: A Space Oddessey, in which McPadden explains how Black Sabbath’s first incarnation, Earth, drew inspiration from the Stanley Kubrick classic for their band name.
All-in-all there are some consistent themes with the films that have been included. First of all, there are the movies that have heavy metal soundtracks (Gummo); then the movies that are about heavy metal (Decline of Western Civilization II); flicks that feature metalhead characters (Crossroads); those that include heavy metal musicians in the cast (Trick or Treat); the ones that inspired heavy metal band names (White Zombie), selections that feature sword fighting in the iron age (Beastmaster); and finally, movies that just seem to fit because the author likes them (The Last Unicorn).
In addition to the copious film reviews, there are plenty of illustrations, including both full-color and black-and-white movie posters. Many of the posters are from overseas, or are of alternates to the most well-known versions. These illustrations are great, partially because they provide another way to find recommendations for movies.
While the head banger in me is a bit disappointed that the book is more about movies than metal, the content is informative, fun, and written with passion. More importantly, the guide is chock-full of thoughtful notes on great films that may not otherwise be seen by the casual viewer. There is no doubt in my mind that McPadden loves what he says he loves, hates what he says he hates, and throws himself into every review completely. While doing so, he peppers his writings with historical references, humor, and honest assessments of films that he may even like more than he should. For example, when reviewing the Rowdy Roddy Piper vehicle, Hell Comes to Frogtown, he writes, “The movie is fun but not great, and though totally metal, it should be heavier!”
In conclusion, I applaud Mike McPadden for writing this book. While anybody can go online and search for horror movies, there is something to be said for an expert opinion. If anyone is looking for a gift for a 16-year-old who is into heavy metal and/or horror movies, this would be a terrific option; I fear for the day when unsuspecting high schoolers no longer have the proper guides to find their way to films like Necromantik, and The Toxic Avenger. Heavy Metal Movies is also a great buy for any headbanging cinephile who is interested in revisiting some of their favorite classics by reading a fresh perspective with some historical context. After all, you can only talk about Frankenhooker with those same hometown friends for so long, before you begin to feel like you’ve gotten all that you can from it.
Heavy Metal Movies is available now through Bazillion Points Books