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Why Heavy Trip is the funniest metal movie since This Is Spinal Tap

A scene from the movie Heavy Trip
(Image credit: Making MoviesOy/FilmCamp/Umedia/Mutant Koala Pictures)

“The scene where they’re all digging up the corpse in the middle of the night was actually shot on the longest day of the year – Midsummer’s Eve. Poor choice of scheduling that day!” 

We’re speaking with Juuso Laatio who, along with Jukka Vidgren, co-wrote and directed 2018’s Heavy Trip — the most unerringly-authentic metal comedy since This is Spinal Tap. Juuso is discussing the challenges of filming night scenes in his native Finland during the summer, when the sun simply doesn’t set. 

“For variety, it’s good to have night and day scenes, so the night stuff is all done in post,” he explains.

But grave-robbing is actually one of the film’s more minor plot points. Drawing inspiration from The Blues Brothers and other vintage American comedies, Heavy Trip tells the story of a lovable extreme metal band from a small town in Finland, whose simple quest for a gig catapults them into a sprawling and disastrous odyssey involving local bullies, wild animals, grave robbing, terrorists, Vikings, a crucifixion, a love story, an international standoff, buckets of vomit and a steady onslaught of brutal, neck-snapping metal. Their goal: make it to the Northern Damnation festival in Norway so they can play their bludgeoning new song in the parking lot.

Describing the film’s origins, Juuso explains, “Jukka and I were both raised on Hollywood cinema and Hollywood comedies. We wanted to make a feel-good film about a subject that isn’t typically seen as a feel-good subject.” 

The subject, of course, is heavy metal, which tends to get a very short shrift in most movies, with metalheads coming across as thuggish or dim-witted scenery for the main characters to avoid or to overcome (although, of course, there are some movies that get metal absolutely right). The band in Heavy Trip — who adopt the suitably-appalling name of 'Impaled Rektum' — are the movie’s sweet but hapless protagonists. Portraying them in a realistic and positive way was one of Juuso’s primary objectives. 

“There’s something about metal guys,” he says. “Metal people know that they’re generally really nice and gentle and funny; or sometimes quiet, nerdy people and in contrast they do the most sonically violent stuff you can imagine. There’s a great contrast between the people and the music that they play. Also, usually metal people are the butt of the joke and we wanted to tell the side of the metal people.” 

One of Heavy Trip’s many refreshing qualities is the clever ways in which it acknowledges the many cliches that it taps into — road trip movies, bands looking for their big break, romantic comedies, small towns, etc. — while turning them on their heads. For example, the film’s principal antagonist is the town’s slimy, womanising lounge singer. 

“I don’t know how well his jokes translate into English,” Juuso says, “but the lines that I wrote for him are so dirty in Finnish that I was embarrassed for my parents to see the film. It was really great to write such an asshole character.” 

The lead singer’s crush is not a leathery metal vixen but the girl in the flower shop who likes coffee and sticky buns. It’s very easy to relate to the characters because they seem like real friends in a real band dealing with the kind of stuff that most people — metalheads or otherwise — have experienced. And the way that the band’s vocalist (played by Johannes Holopainen), ultimately deals with the town’s homophobic bullies is deeply-satisfying.

From a metal perspective, the authenticity is off the charts. The actors sport t-shirts from the likes of Death, Kreator, Slayer, and Cannibal Corpse and their rehearsal room is decked out in painstakingly-curated extreme metal regalia. Also, the band’s first hit, Flooding Secrations (sic), is an absolute firestorm of pummeling blastbeats and grinding riffs, composed by Mika Lammassaari (Mors Subita). A longtime metaller himself, Juuso knew that the metal references had to pass muster with the scene’s most committed disciples — a caricature in and of themselves — who appear in the composite form of the band’s bassist, Pasi (masterfully played by Max Ovaska). 

“I think that if you’re in the metal scene,” Juuso says, “you know somebody who’s like that. An absolutist or a purist. I don’t want to admit this, but have you seen the show Community? There’s a lot of Abed in Pasi.” 

In one of the film’s recurring jokes, Pasi describes their subgenre as, “symphonic, post-apocalyptic, reindeer-grinding, Christ-abusing, extreme, war, pagan, Fennoscandic metal.”

One finds more than a few similarities between Dave Mustaine and Impaled Rektum’s guitarist Lotvonen (played by Samuli Jaskio). 

Juuso explains, “Pretty much the whole appearance of the guitar player is the old school Mustaine look. I tried to pack as many Megadeth references as I could into the film. He works in the slaughterhouse and he has the Killing Is My Business shirt and his guitar is the Mustaine guitar from the early 90s. Also, one inside joke is where the drummer (played by Antti Heikkinen), is sneaking into the police station, the chords playing in the background are another Megadeth reference — Hangar 18.”

The film begs for multiple viewings. With a coveted 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Heavy Trip has found a wide and enthusiastic global audience that continues to grow exponentially now that it’s available on streaming platforms. Weirdly, although Finland is acknowledged as the metal capital of the world, Heavy Trip initially bombed there. 

“Nobody went to see it in the Finnish cinemas,” Juuso says. “It was marketed very poorly and to the wrong audience; it was marketed to 15 year-olds but it’s not a film for them. They don’t know the metal references and they don’t listen to metal anyway. After the failed opening, it was pretty much, ‘Well, there goes our career. Nobody’s going to work with us again.’” 

But the sense of failure was short-lived. At its South By Southwest premiere, the audience got it immediately, responding with thundering laughter and standing ovations. 

“We were really surprised, wondering if people would like a Finnish film with subtitles, but they loved it. Since then we’ve been to a lot of festivals and I’ve actually seen mosh pits at the theatre! We have the craziest fans in Japan. They have cosplay over there and one guy cosplayed as the speed camera! And they had special screenings where the music is turned up extra loud. There’s a crazy Heavy Trip scene over there.”

Which leads us to the inevitable question — will there be a Heavy Trip 2? 

“It's in the works," he says. "We’ve written a really good script and we were supposed to film it this summer. We’re aiming to film it next year. You never know. The last film took six years so I hope this one doesn’t take so long!”. 

There’s no need to worry — in the immortal words of Pasi: “We’re on a mission from Satan.”

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Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.