Heavy Metal March 16, 2017
Heavy Metal (1981) is as heavy metal as, say, Avril Lavigne’s eyeliner, but in the scope of its randy, infectiously energetic 90 minutes are we not much concerned with how well its Blue Oyster Cult and Nazareth starring soundtrack matches it sonically. Produced by Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters) and based on the pulp imitating stories published by the magazine of the same name, Heavy Metal is an anthology film comprised of furious – and distinctly strange – segments tonally ranging from the throes of film noir and sci-fi to erotica and fantasy. Mix it all together and we have an inarguably uneven product to sit with. But never unfelt are the adolescent joys that beam off its likably outlandish body, and its coddling of our most materialistic desires get it far.
In the film, all the conflicts center around an otherworldly green orb that, in addition to being reminiscent of the lethal suitcase that killed off the majority of Kiss Me Deadly’s (1955) supporting cast, is inexplicably able to malevolently introduce itself as “the sum of all evils.” In Heavy Metal’s framing story, the sphere terrorizes the bewildered daughter of an astronaut, keeping her captive and forcing her to listen to the ways in which it has menaced the human population for a generation, thus providing the movie with its diverse array of stories.
Some are set in the present day, others in the future or in parallel universes that have no sensical period backing. A handful barely manage to work cinematically, but all visually astound, meshing together magnificently well considering the fact that each of the vignettes is drawn by a different animation studio. But I like Heavy Metal best when it’s recreating a given genre: I particularly took a liking to its third segment, which, despite being set in a slimy dystopian future, reworks the tropes of neo noir and makes it distinctly individualistic. Even stronger is the story preceding the epilogue, which twists the ankle of the swords-and-sandals subgenre and shakes together something unexpectedly entrancing.
Some have challenged Heavy Metal’s standing as a beloved cult classic as a result of its blatant misogyny, racism, and homophobia. And it’s true that it treats women as curvaceous trophies worshipped solely for their sexual appeal, and it’s also true that it makes a plentiful amount of low brow jokes at someone else’s expense. But maybe it’s all excusable because it matches the attitudes, fetishes, and fantasies of the chintzy, dumbly fun heavy metal songs of the 1980s so fittingly. I can’t call it politically correct, but I can call it opulently drawn and weirdly spellbinding. And that counts. B