Spandex, mullets and profanity: the eternal genius of Heavy Metal Parking Lot

Judas Priest holding a Judas Priest banner at the Capital Center in 1986
(Image credit: Fans: John Heyn and Jeff Krulik | Rob Halford: Jim Steinfeldt/Getty Images)

On May 31, 1986, aspiring filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn borrowed a video camera and drove to the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland, a dozen miles west of Washington D.C.

The film they made, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, had passed into legend. It's only be 17 minutes long, but it’s 17 minutes of unfettered hilarity, as the pair point their camera at fans loitering in the car park prior to the evening's show from Judas Priest and Dokken and let the tape roll.  

The film is a joyous celebration of barely coherent heavy metal buffoonery, boasting a cast of intoxicated dirtbags sporting spandex, curly perms and mullets. These stars, who declare their devotion to rock’n’roll through profanity-laden tirades fulled by underage beer consumption, include the now-iconic Zebraman, a boisterous teen dressed head-to-toe in a zebra-striped spandex who delivers the final word on punk rock. 

“Punk shit? That punk shit doesn’t belong on this world," proclaims Zebraman. "It belongs on fuckin’ Mars. Fuck that Madonna shit too, man. Madonna’s a dick. Heavy metal rules!”

"This punk shit circle of shit with all the dicks and all that can all go to hell," he adds, perhaps unnecessarily. 

"At the root of this we were just going to kind of wing it and see what we got," Krulik told Film Courage in 2014. "We were wandering around with this camera and microphone and we had no agenda. We had no you know we had no interest in putting words in people's mouths. 

"We were not you know trying to make fun of anybody. We just wanted to see what would happen and and it all just kind of unfolded a very a real sense, in an organic sense and in an anthropological sense."

Heavy Metal Parking Lot was traded on bootleg video tape for 20 years, and became a viral, word-of-mouth success, albeit it at pre-internet speeds. 

"I would go around local record stores with VHS copies with some basic box art, to see if they would sell it or rent it," John Heyn told The Verge in 2016. These copies would be dubbed and passed on, with copies-of-copies-of-copies of ever-decreasing quality spreading the film around the world.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot received a boost in 1994, when film director Sofia Coppola rented a VHS from Mondo Video in Hollywood, then tracked down Heyn using a Maryland telephone directory to ask if she could include the film in a show she was putting together for Comedy Central. 

There were other small triumphs. White Flag singer Bill Bartell reportedly gave a copy to Nirvana, who kept it on their tour bus. And when Scottish post-rockers Mogwai curated the All Tomorrow's Party festival at the Camber Sands Holiday Camp in the south of England in 2000, the film was available to watch in the residents' chalets. 

The film was finally released on DVD in 2006. Krulik and Heyn were able to track down Zebraman – now a clean-cut, country music fan somewhat embarrassed by the attention – and they show him on camera watching the film for the first time. This footage was included with the DVD extras, which featured three further films shot using the same template: Neil Diamond Parking Lot, Monster Truck Parking Lot (not as good as it sounds, sadly), and Harry Potter Parking Lot

References to Heavy Metal Parking Lot have cropped up elsewhere: the video for the Backstreet Boys' 2005 hit Just Want You To Know is a Heavy Metal Parking Lot spoof; Lady GaGa’s Pop Culture Parking Lot documentary was shot on tour in 2009; Steel Panther – of course – used Zebraman for inspiration when naming their 2019 album Heavy Metal Rules; and in 2011 Portland-based computer Craig Giffen combed through every one of the film's 30,000 frames to build a website devoted to the t-shirts that appeared in the film

The Capital Center was closed in 1999 and demolished three years later, but Krulik is still going strong. In 2010 he made a prequel of sorts, Heavy Metal Picnic, based on footage of the Full Moon Jamboree, an out-of-control weekend shindig in Potomac, Maryland held the year before the Judas Priest show. And in 2014 he released Led Zeppelin Played Here, a film about what may or may not have been the band’s first American gig, a possibly mythical community centre show attended by just 50 people.

"We were very fortunate that we ended up at a Judas Priest concert,” Krulik told Decibel in 2016. “We could’ve been shooting any other metal concert and it wouldn’t have been as powerful or significant. Sometimes you struggle for your whole career just to find something like that. It’s better to be known for something than nothing, right? 

"In some respects, it has been an albatross – but it has been a great calling card for us, too. We’re very grateful that it has continued to get ink and attention. We’ve tried to move on to other things, but Heavy Metal Parking Lot is first and foremost on the resumé."

We'll leave the final to former Judas Priest guitarist KK Downing, who referenced the film when speaking about being invited to take part in the band's inauguration at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

"I think we've probably got eight or nine minutes," Downing told Ultimate Classic Rock. "I'm not even going to be able to break a sweat. The main thing is to represent the attitude and hopefully the legend of what Judas Priest is and has become and what it means to everybody who's been on that very long journey through the decades with the band. 

"And hopefully it will just kind of remind people and bring back some cherished memories of the heavy metal parking lots all around the world."

DVD copies of Heavy Metal Parking Lot are available from the Heavy Metal Parking Lot website.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.