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“HEAVY METAL MOVIES” (Book Review)

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How can you even review a book like Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s HEAVY METAL MOVIES (Bazillion Points)? It defies normal criticism. It probably has to be approached the way one would review a textbook—in this case, for the most fun class you ever took.

While most capsule-review books in the tradition of Leonard Maltin’s tomes apply a blanket rating system to determine whether a film is worth watching, McPadden’s volume is predicated on the criteria regarding what constitutes a “heavy metal movie.” As the author told this writer, it is defined as such: “First up, there are the obvious documentaries and concert films; then come narrative movies where the music is an essential subject, like THIS IS SPINAL TAP. From there, it’s films where characters love heavy metal, such as WAYNE’S WORLD, and/or the musicians appear on screen, as with Lemmy in HARDWARE and EAT THE RICH. Rob Zombie’s features fall under this same umbrella. After that, you’ve got movies that inspired band names and/or song lyrics, and soundtracks dominated by heavy metal certainly qualify—AC/DC’s work in MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, for example.

HEAVYMETALMOVIESREV“Now, past the direct, tangible connections is the really interesting stuff, where you have to say, ‘I know a heavy metal movie when I see it.’ This is the realm of aesthetic embodiments, influences and inspirations—movies that crystalize and catapult forward the spirit of heavy metal: CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE EXORCIST, the MAD MAX and TERMINATOR series, George A. Romero’s zombie epics, Italian cannibal gross-outs, ’80s slasher films, banned ‘video nasties’—even something as beautiful as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.”

Many readers will be mystified by the book’s inclusion of a film like HARDBODIES, which on the surface doesn’t appear to be a heavy metal movie; in this viewer’s mind, it has always been classified among beach/party films such as REVENGE OF THE NERDS, FRATERNITY VACATION, etc. However, on close examination, it meets two of McPadden’s requirements: “bikinis” and an appearance by the band Vixen, fulfilling the “hair metal” criteria. Therefore, many surprises surface throughout, and you’re happy to see them. An interesting example is Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, which falls into three of McPadden’s categories: Satan, Sacrilege, and Censorship—all themes found within heavy metal. And horror films, of course, make up a large percentage of the flicks covered.

Upon my first encounter with the book, I skimmed through the reviews (there are way more than 666; it’s likely closer to 850), stopping at those titles I had seen or heard about. You can linger over McPadden’s interpretations of such classics as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT to enjoy his humor and insights. The real value here, though, is in the return visits to unfamiliar titles. I’ve never seen NEKROMANTIK or GRINDCORE: 85 MINUTES OF BRUTAL HEAVY METAL, for example, yet I look forward to the joy of benefitting from McPadden’s exhaustive research.

In case the multitudious critiques are not enough, the appendices are enlightening and entertaining as well: “The 66.6 Most Metal Moments in Movie History,” “The Unfit Fifteen, Metal Moments in Non-Metal Movies” and “TV Casualties, Notable Headbanging on the Small Screen.” The alphabetical reference arrangement, inclusion of color posters and impressive general layout all add to the impression that this is the last word on its subject, and will remain so.

Addressing rock ’n’ roll music in the 1970s, music journalist Lester Bangs wrote: “Rock ’n’ roll is an attitude, it’s not a musical form of a strict sort. It’s a way of doing things, of approaching things. Writing can be rock ’n’ roll, or a movie can be rock ’n’ roll. It’s a way of living your life.” Even the most extreme movie enthusiast will find something in this book to learn from, and more importantly, a cultural definition of the “heavy metal movie” has been permanently hatched from the bowels of hell.

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About the author
Michael Lee Nirenberg
Michael Lee Nirenberg is an artist and filmmaker whose works have been exhibited at festivals and galleries throughout the world. His feature directorial debut, BACK ISSUES: THE “HUSTLER” MAGAZINE STORY—based on his father’s experiences as creative director at Hustler in the 1970s and ’80s—will be released in the U.S. on July 15 via iTunes, Amazon Instant, Xbox, PlayStation, Google Play and VUDU. It’s currently available in all VOD platforms in the UK, and comes out in August on DVD in Australia and on HBO in Canada. Nirenberg lives in Brooklyn with his son Oliver.
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