tagReviews & EssaysReview: Heavy Metal

Review: Heavy Metal


Heavy Metal – Rated R – Columbia Pictures

Animated movie starring the vocal talents of John Candy, Roger Bumpass, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Richard Romanus, Harold Ramis, John Vernon, Alice Playten and a host of others.

A universe of mystery. A universe of magic. A universe of awesome good ... and terrifying evil.

* * * * *


Released in 1981, Heavy Metal (also called Heavy Metal: The Movie) was based on a French adult sci-fi/fantasy comic book called Metal Hurlant that appeared in the United States in 1977. It was almost immediately classified as a cult favorite, joining The Rocky Horror Picture Show in an animated romp in bawdiness, backed by great music. The voice talents, especially those of members the Second City TV, are well-voiced and perfectly matched with the characters.

The soundtrack, anchored by such rock luminaries as Stevie Nicks, Journey and Sammy Hagar, to name a few, also catapulted to the top of the charts and Devo's version of Allen Toussaint's Workin' In A Coal Mine, Don Felder's All of You (a Cole Porter classic), Black Sabbath's The Mob Rules (with Dio's vocals) and Donald Fagan's (of Steely Dan) True Companion remain fan favorites.

Problems with music license issues kept the movie from being released on cable and home video for a long time but it now exists as a beautifully digitally re-mastered collector's edition with deleted scenes, cel portfolios, production notes and much more including Carl Macek reading his book, Heavy Metal: The Movie.

Heavy Metal. Songs played in this sequence: Radar Rider by Riggs.

Heavy Metal begins with a sequence known as Soft Landing. A space shuttle hovering high above the planet. The flight doors open and disgorge astronaut Grimaldi in a sports car and he has a fiery re-entry, landing and arrives at his home. Once at the house, his daughter comes running down the stairs to see what he'd brought her. He clicks a button on the pneumatic briefcase and uncovers a glowing, glittering green orb. Unfortunately, the treasure that he sought for his daughter turns into an orb of death. He is melted to the floor, his bones turned to dust and the orb corners her, introducing itself as Loc-Nar.

What follows is a series of stories in which Loc-Nar plays a pivotal role, all threaded together by his re-telling of the tales to the captive girl.

Songs played in this sequence: Veteran of the Psychic Wars by Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Lamp by Stevie Nicks, True Companion by Donald Fagen, Open Arms by Journey and Heartbeat by Riggs.

The first story is entitled Harry Canyon. Harry Canyon is a taxi driver in a future world. His day consists of handling fares and using his death ray vaporizer, conveniently located in the back seat, to rid himself of those who seek to rob him. It's quite effective, believe me.

The Loc-Nar is uncovered by an archeologist and the evil of the orb is immediately evinced in the melting death of one of the workers. Later, at a museum, shots ring out, the archeologist is killed and his daughter escapes in Canyon's cab. When she passes out, he takes her to his home and she tells him the story of how an evil man called Rudnick killed her father because he wants the Loc-Nar. Harry goes to bed and is soon joined by the daughter, completely naked and offers him her body. Of course, Harry is no fool and takes her up on the offer.

Harry returns to his job in the morning, gets a forced meeting with Rudnick and receives a vocal telegram from the archeologist's daughter that she wants him to meet her at the museum. On the way there, he narrowly escapes death from two assassins on flying cycles. She tells Harry that she's agreed to exchange the Loc-Nar for cash from Rudnick and promises to share the dough with him if he'll accompany her to the meeting. He's skeptical, but he agrees.

The exchange takes place. Harry is excited that they are now rich but she's had a change of heart and decides to cut him out of the money, pulling a gun. Reluctantly, he utilizes the vaporizer, which renders her naked before vaporization and goes on his way, a wealthy hack driver.

Songs played in this sequence: Queen Bee by Grand Funk Railroad.

The second story is Den, notably vocalized by John Candy as Den. Den starts out as a nerdy bookworm-type who digs up Loc-Nar and thinking he's found a treasure, takes it in his house. That night, while observing an experiment involving lightning, a reaction between the lightning and Loc-Nar catapults him into an alternate universe and changes him from a skinny stripling into a well-muscled he-man.

He finds himself naked in this alien world and witness to a ritual complete with a sacrifice, run by the Queen. Loc-Nar is central to the ceremony as it's used as a sacred orb in the ritual wand. He rescues the well-endowed woman named Katherine and they end up by a waterfall. She informs him that she is also from Earth and invites him to take advantage of her body for rescuing her, but before he can consummate the deal, soldiers take them captive. He is taken to Ard, an immortal who also wants to be ruler and makes a deal with Den to kill the Queen.

Den takes some soldiers and goes to kill the Queen, but she has other ideas. She uses his spectacular body to get herself off and Den is betrayed when Ard begins the ritual while he's with her. She orders Den killed but he escapes. Once again, Katherine is thrown into the sacrificial pool and Den again saves her. Ard and the Queen fight over the ritual wand and a bolt of lightning vaporizes them both.

Katherine suggests to Den that he could use the Loc-Nar to be the leader but he declines, instead choosing a life with her over being a king.

Songs played in this sequence: Reach Out by Cheap Trick

Captain Sternn is the next story. Sternn is a narcissistic bastard of a man who engages in terrible crimes, hiding behind his charisma. On trial, Hanover Fiste is called to the stand as a witness for Sternn and begins to answer questions while playing with a small green marble (Loc-Nar). At first, his answers are simple lies. Then Loc-Nar's evil affects him and he not only begins to tell the truth about Sternn's crimes but he also transforms into huge, muscle-bound oaf who is hell-bent on killing Sternn.

After a chase through the facility, Sternn offers Fiste the money that he promised for his testimony and then ejects the man into space.

Songs played in this sequence: Taking A Ride (On Heavy Metal) by Don Felder

The next story is B-17 which takes place during World War II. A bomber is taking hits while dropping bombs. Loc-Nar enters the plane as a meteorite that lodges itself into the underbelly and its green glow imbues the dead, reanimating and turning them into skeletons. The remainder of the crew is killed, except for the pilot who manages to bail out. He lands on an island populated by more planes and many more skeletons. He is surrounded and killed.

Songs played in this sequence: I Must Be Dreamin' by Cheap Trick, Crazy? (A Suitable Case For Treatment) by Nazareth, All of You by Don Felder, Heavy Metal by Sammy Hagar and Prefabricated by Trust.

The fifth story is So Dangerous & So Beautiful and Loc-Nar has returned to being a small object, this time, a bauble around the throat of a busty secretary. An android, which has been placed in the government arrives to tell everyone that there isn't a problem with UFOs. While speaking to the officials, a UFO (with a huge smiley face on it) sucks the android and the hapless secretary into it and sails off into space.

The android is broken upon retrieval but the secretary is okay. The ship is populated by two alien monsters and a robot (voiced by John Candy). The robot is a horny little devil and uses his technical expertise to show her a good time. Meanwhile, the two aliens trot out a huge bag of a white substance called niborg and spend a good amount of time inhaling it. Stoned, they try to land the ship and cause a bit of damage to the space station.

Songs played in this sequence: Through Bein' Cool by Devo and The Mob Rules by Black Sabbath.

The last story tells of the legend of Taarna, the last of the Tarakians, a race of warriors who can be contacted by telepathy. Loc-Nar arrives and buries itself into a volcano, causing it to erupt in a wave of green water. Everyone who falls victim to the water becomes filled with evil and those who do not are killed. The leader of the barbarians sets his sights on the governing council who manage to contact Taarna before they are slaughtered.

Taarna arrives after flying her pigeon to pick up her sword and outfit (nice naked scene here!) and tracks down the barbarians. She is captured, whipped and left for dead in a pit. Her pigeon, who escapes death, comes to get her and together, they fly towards the green glow, using her power and sacrificing herself to kill Loc-Nar.

In the connecting thread, Loc-Nar begins to blow apart and the girl escapes, the house exploding before her. The transference of power has turned her into a Tarakian and a pigeon drops from the sky. They take off, ensuring the world of a warrior to call upon the next time protection is needed.

Working In A Coal Mine by Devo plays over part of the closing credits.


I've read a lot of opinions where this movie has been mercilessly skewered and I don't agree. For fans of original artistry, for those who enjoy cartoons and appreciate the time that artists take to draw and create these cartoons, this is something that is a collector's item. This movie is 25 years old and CGI, as we know it, did not exist. I myself appreciate the original older cartoons. Popeye, Spiderman, Hulk, etc., from the 60s so this is an easy romance for me.

While the nude scenes are few and far between, the storyline isn't too bad. Taarna is the best of the stories with the epic quality and the beauty of the heroine. The two aliens and the niborg and the scary atmosphere of B-17 are great.

Because I like Bakshi's work and older cartoons, I give this a 3 out of 4 stars and I would definitely recommend this as a piece for your collection. The soundtrack is also great, if you are into rock and roll. Devo is a bit lightweight and Journey's contribution, while being a huge seller, is syrupy enough to make your cavities ache. However, The Mob Rules is tight and gritty, Heavy Metal has Sammy's soaring vocals and Don Felder and Donald Fagen's pieces are great.

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