As metal rose to prominence in the ‘80s, so did the metal movie. The decade saw the emergence of glam metal which remains the best sub-genre ever in this writer’s humble opinion (and I’m damn well proud of it), while hard rock was a huge phenomenon with an appetite for destruction led by the likes of Guns n’ Roses. It was also the decade of the Satanic panic epidemic, which saw metal and the horror movie both deemed Satan’s agents on Earth created for the sole purpose of corrupting minds and stealing souls. It was only natural that they’d both collide at some point, and they did so in grand, unholy fashion. But it wasn’t all Satan during the ‘80s, though his devilish essence did possess the heavy metal horror movie.
But before we get to heavy metal, we gotta talk about punk rock. In 1981, one of the most and popular documentaries related to the genre and its subculture was released: The Decline of Western Civilization. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, the film focused on the punk scene in L.A. at the time and featured bands like Black Flag and Circle Jerks. The film, now considered so important that it was preserved by the United States National Film Registry, shone a spotlight on a subculture many felt was unfairly ignored at the time – or perhaps even just misunderstood. That said, it did attract some negative press due to fights breaking out between fans on the streets of the city during filming, though thankfully, the film was critically acclaimed and well-received overall. Spheeris would follow it up in 1988 with The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which focused on the heavy metal subculture in the city during the mid-80s, and concluded the trilogy in 1998 with The Decline of Western Civilization, which focused the lives of homeless punks.
Another documentary to emerge from the ‘80s was Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986). The film focuses on a group of drunken metal heads hanging out in the parking before a Judas Priest concert during their Fuel for Life tour, and while quite entertaining due to iconic quotes like, “Madonna can go to Hell as far as I’m concerned. She’s a dick.’’ or “All of that punk shit sucks. It doesn’t belong in this world. It belongs on fucking Mars,’’ it hardly paints metal fans in the most positive light, which was quite emblematic of the period unfortunately. Now considered a cult classic, the documentary was parodied in the music video for American Hi-Fi’s “Flavor of the Weak’’ and and Backstreet Boys’ “I Just Want You to Know.’’ Take from that what you will.
Now let’s move on to what many consider to be the definitive heavy metal film. Rob Reiner’s 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap is arguably the most famous film ever made about the genre. Set in 1982, the film follows the titular band as they attempt an American comeback tour accompanied by a filmmaking fan who documents their exploits. The resulting documentary showcases a band on a downward spiral, culminating in one of the most hilarious events in the history of motion pictures. All in all, it’s as good as satire can get, and it embraces every rock n’ roll meltdown cliche in the book and more. Who am I kidding? You’ve all probably seen it countless times and have it sitting at an altar of worship in your house somewhere.
The ‘80s is considered the golden years of horror by many, and when it intersected with metal, we were treated to some outstanding genre fare. Hard Rock Zombies (1984) sees a metal band come back from the dead to save a small town from evil Nazi sex perverts and there’s even a scene where a midget eats himself. Call it crappy if you will, but they don’t make them like this anymore and that’s a damn shame. However, as we discussed earlier, some of these films were a product of the Satanic panic epidemic gripping America at the time, and heavy metal was often used as a tool for summoning and unleashing evil. For example, 1986s Trick or Treat, although one of the most enjoyable cult horror films to ever grace celluloid, plays into the whole idea that the heavy metal was “evil.’’ The plot sees a teenager, devastated by the death of his favourite devil-worshipping rock star, communicate with him through a possessed record and finds the motivation to stick up to his bullies as a result. However, it turns out the dead rocker has his own evil agenda in mind… The Gate (1987), on the other hand, sees two young metal loving kids release a horde of pint-sized demons in their backyard, while Black Roses (1988) is about demons who hypnotise people by posing as a kick ass metal band with some awesome tunes worth losing your soul for.
What most of these movies had in common was that metal was somehow responsible for some type chaos, and the films which feature rock stars often showcased them as idiotic, wicked or demonic. Overall, they were merely a way to tap into a real fear within some parts of hysterically religious Western culture and use it for their own commercial gain. The movies might not have been sincere celebrations of metal, but they did have some wicked tunes and remain a hell of a lot of fun to this day. When it comes to the metal movie, however, there was no better era for quality and enjoyable gems than the ’80s, but as we’ll explore in the next edition of Heavy Movies, there was more brilliance to come in subsequent years.