I have a confession to make before the populace – other than the earliest bands that were instrumental in transforming the psychedelic music of the late 1960s into what became known as heavy metal, I am not a fan of the genre. At all. I love Mountain, Steppenwolf, Uriah Heep, even some early Black Sabbath, but what came afterward sounds to me, not unlike stray cats and scrap iron rolling down a steep hill in a steel drum. Not that I object to others indulging their preference for such sonic pleasures, although it would be all right with me if they’d roll up their car windows while doing so.
Ergo, it was with some trepidation that I reviewed the topics for this season and discovered Heavy Metal on the list, for I am incapable of speaking with any authority on that musical subject, and even a polymath should recognize his limitations.
That said, the term does not apply only to musical endeavors. As regards its other uses, I do have some insight.
Being involved in science-fiction fandom in the 1970s, I occasionally received information via post on upcoming events of interest in regards to that genre. I wish I still had the mailer I received in late 1976 or early 1977, alerting me to the imminent publication of an American version of the French magazine, Métal hurlant. Heavy Metal was to be a glossy, full-color magazine featuring the best speculative fiction comics from Europe and America. And so it was. I began accumulating issues almost immediately, and devoutly wish I still had them, for it was a beautiful publication.
I will no doubt wax rhapsodic over it one of these fine days in this space, but in the current edition, I am scheduled to talk about movies rather than magazines. And while I am obliged to admit that it is true that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I really wanted to talk about the 1981 animated film that was based on some of the characters and stories and artwork from the magazine, and not the magazine, itself.
Specifically, I wanted to discuss the one segment of the film that truly is horror, for horror is what we are all gathered together in this place to consider, n’est pas? The other parts of the film are science-fiction and fantasy, for the most part. While there is some crossover between all the component genres of what we generally refer to as speculative fiction, there is only one part of Heavy Metal that is decidedly neither science-fictional nor fantastical. It is horror, pure horror, and I do love it best of all.
The film has a framing sequence that introduces a floating, green, glowing sphere called the Loc-Nar that interacts with the characters and initiates the action of each separate story. In the segment entitled, “B-17”, a World War II bomber encounters the Loc-Nar, resulting in the dead crew being animated and attacking the surviving co-pilot. The pilot parachutes away after the co-pilot is killed, but lands on an island filled with wrecked airplanes of all ages, from which more zombies emerge and surround him.
And that’s it – my entire entry for today reduced to less than seven minutes of animation. Seven minutes of horror. I hope that’s enough, because if all you’re looking for is horror, and horror alone, that’s all I got this time out.
But, if you don’t mind sitting through some killer animation, and hearing some terrific music, by all means, take in that seven-minute piece within its entire contextual ninety-minute framework. No, the movie doesn’t make much sense. Yes, it is juvenile and sexist, and there are multiple scenes that probably ought to have been reconsidered. It is, however, an artifact of its time, place, and origins. Historians, even of Horror, have a responsibility to paint the past wie es eigently gewesen war – as it actually was, as dictated by the great German historian Leopold von Ranke, and that’s not always pretty. But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s also beautiful.
Watch it, or avoid it; embrace it, or reject it, as you wish. I will make no judgments, either way. Just as the musical genre is not my cuppa tea, the movie might not be yours. And that’s okay. But please do at least consider those seven minutes of terror. I suspect you might enjoy them.
Next time, we will be looking at a lost medium, a form of entertainment that died during the Eisenhower administration, and a variety of mechanical horrors that infested it. I look forward to hosting you again for the next chapter in the History of Horror. Until then, my dear hungerers after the horrific…
Be very afraid.
I should point out that, since I submitted this piece to the powers that be for publication in this space, I have somewhat amended my opinion of heavy metal music. ‘Tain’t all bad. Thanks for setting me straight, Ro!