Bazillion Points might just be the best publishing house in America. From Brian Lew and Harald Oimoen's brilliant Thrash Metal photo book Murder In The Front Row to former Sub Pop boss Bruce Pavitt's intimate grunge memoir Experiencing Nirvana via The Slayer Mag Diaries, We Got Power and their lovingly restored reprints of the seminal US hardcore fanzine Touch and Go, the New York-based publishers have an outstanding record for producing quality books for rock and metal fans. And with Heavy Metal Movies, an encyclopedic, irreverent and hugely entertaining compendium of “guitar barbarians, mutant bimbos and cult zombies amok in the 666 most ear and eye-ripping big-scream films ever!”, they've hit the bullseye once more.
We spoke to author Mike ‘McBeardo’ McPadden about his book and the films every metalhead should see.
What, to your mind, defines a Heavy Metal Movie?
There’s different criteria. There’s stuff with a very obvious connection to heavy metal – documentaries, concert films, films with heavy metal musicians in them or made by heavy metal musicians, as with Rob Zombie’s films – and there’s the more theoretical stuff, like Conan the Barbarian or Mad Max, where they embody the spirit of heavy metal and employ a lot of heavy metal aesthetics, and you just feel metal where you watch them.
Because the connection between, say, A Serbian Film and Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, might not be immediately apparent to everyone…
Haha! Well, somehow when you listen to Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Melvins, Slipknot, Poison and Def Leppard, somehow you know they’re all in the rock/metal world: Def Leppard might be one end of things, starting out as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and becoming pop-metal, and then you have A Serbian Film – which has a lot of industrial metal on its soundtrack – with a lot of extreme gore and sadism in it, akin to the lyrics of grindcore songs and, say, Cannibal Corpse album covers, which is the other end of the spectrum. The best analogy I can think of beyond that is that when you see a Great Dane and a Chihuahua somehow you know they’re both dogs.
Clearly years of research have gone into your book, but in writing it did you discover any metal movies that have now become personal favourites?
Well, it’s not a good film, but there’s a film I’ve come to love, which is called Paganini Horror, which is an Italian splatter film from 1989, about the ghost of classical composer and violinist Niccolo Paganini haunting a castle, and when a metal band shows up to record an album and film a video there, he goes around slashing them with his razor sharp violin bow. I’ve kinda come to love this film.
So, out of the 666 films featured in the book, could you advise on three films that everyone should see?
You have to start with This is Spinal Tap. It’s always been my favourite comedy, it’s the essence of what life is like in every rock band, and it gets all the specifics about metal right. The fact that those guys were great musicians and could write great heavy metal songs makes it just perfect. Then I’d go with, in terms of the abstract, Heavy Metal, the 1981 animated film. Even though the soundtrack has, like, Stevie Nicks and a Journey ballad on it, there’s an incredible scene where space barbarians invade a city, riding atop laser-shooting dragons, set to Mob Rules by Black Sabbath, and that to me encapsulates that Viking eruption you get when you hear a great metal song. My third choice, then, is linked to my interest in heavy metal-specific horror films of the 1980s, films like Black Roses, Rock n’ Roll Nightmare, Rocktober Blood and I revisited a film called The Gate, which is a PG-13 kids horror movie about a couple of suburban kids who play a metal album backwards and open up a portal to Hell itself in their backyard. Through this portal comes various demons and ghosts, and a little army of foot-high hobgoblins, and it’s a brilliant vision of pre-CGI film-making and ‘80s heavy metal horror at its best.
Okay, so let’s do a quick pop-quiz: I’m going to throw a few film names at you, and you can tell us whether they’re Metal or Not Metal. Let’s start with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes…
666% metal. There’s a great US metal band called Slough Feg who had an album called Ape Uprising, inspired by a real incident in Singapore where several orangutans went into a cafe and overturned the tables, and the original Planet of the Apes is one of the great metal films, and a great inspiration to a lot of metal bands. The final of the original film, where you learn that the planet of the apes is in fact earth after being destroyed by nuclear war and Charlton Heston is beating his fists on the sands is one of the most perfect doom metal moments in all of cinema. The modern Apes films, about outsiders forming their own communities, rising up and saying ‘We reject what is handed to us, we’re going to do our own thing, and good luck trying to stop us’, are pure metal.
What about the latest Transformers film, Age Of Extinction?
I’m calling False Metal on that one. I mean, it’s easy to beat up on those films, but I’m not a fan of CGI and those movies are entirely made of CGI and to me that’s like playing a guitar solo that’s composed of samples from previous well-known solos. So, yeah, false metal.
And finally, Frozen…
Good call! I’m going to say that’s absolutely metal. Again, it’s the story of an outcast who says ‘If I can’t be part of your society I’ll start my own’, it has a great anti-hero, it has the black magic elements to it, the witch-y elements, and the Scandinavian images of ice and snow, with big white fjords and blizzards and icebergs, all of which are very metal. Its message - let it go, do your own thing – is as metal as it gets!
So, beyond metal, what’s your next project Mike?
I’m hoping to do an encyclopedia of teen sex comedies from the VHS era, from the late ‘60s to the late ‘80s. I was at high school when Porkys came out, so its a subject near and dear to my heart.
Heavy Metal Movies is out now on Bazillion Points. Order it online here.