Heavy Metal (1981)

I should not have seen this movie at nine or ten years of age, nor should I have read the magazine. I should have been blissfully ignorant of the mindblowing nature of what I was about to see and waited until I was ready, but here we are, literally forty years later and not a day goes by that this movie doesn’t cross my mind.

Directed by animator Gerald Potterton and produced by Ivan Reitman and publisher Leonard Mogel, this movie takes on the near-impossible task of taking the stories of an unwieldy adult science fiction magazine and making them into a coherent story about, well, evil? Or something? Honestly, who cares, there’s animated Roger Corben and zombie bombers and half-nude warrior women riding dinosaurs and stabbing people.

Based on the comic book tale, “Soft Landing” starts the film. Created by Dan O’Bannon and Thomas Warkentin, it has a man fly a car from space to Earth. He’s an astronaut home to see his daughter, but in the next sequence, “Grimaldi,” what he has brought back kills him and his daughter soon learns of a galaxy and time-spanning evil called the Loc-Nar. That entity is present in every story throughout the film and actually works really well.

Moebius’ “The Long Tomorrow” has become “Harry Canyon,” the story of a film noir detective in a 2031 New York City that looks and feels a lot like Blade Runner, because, well, Blade Runner looked a lot like Moebius. In this installment, the Loc-Nar is a Maltese Falcon-ish McGuffin.

In “Den,” based on the Richard Corben comic of the same name, that ultimate evil is the magical element that everyone on the world of Den wants. Our hero is a nerdy kid who has been transported to another world and become a superheroic character that everyone wants to either get in their bed or put in the dirt. For me, this is the center of this movie and other than the closing section, it stands hands, shoulders and various nude parts above the other segments. Plus, that’s John Candy as Den.

Bernie Wrightson’s “Captain Sternn” follows, with Eugene Levy as the Sternn and a court trial that shows just how dirty of a future spaceman its hero can be. A section called “Neverwhere Land” was deleted from the film, which would have connected these segments and would have been a loop set to either Pink Floyd’s “Time” or Krzysztof Penderecki ‘s “Magnificat: Passacaglia.”

The zombie segment with the haunted “B-17” is next, followed by an adaption of Angus McKie’s “So Beautiful, So Dangerous,” a tale of alien pilots, Earthwomen and lines of Plutonian Nyborg.

In the last story, based on “Arzach” by Moebius, “Taarna” and her reptile bird battle mutants and the Loc-Nar itself, sacrificing herself to save the world before she is reborn in the young girl in the framing device that began the story. As she walks outside, the reptile bird returns and the adventure begins all over again.

The soundtrack to this movie — that kept it from legally being released for years — is amazing. There’s everything from Black Sabbath’s “Mob Rules” and “Prefabricated” by Trust to the theme song by Don Felder and Blue Öyster Cult’s “Veterans of Psychic Wars.” The band originally wrote the song “Vengeance (The Pact),” but the makers of the film thought it too closely told the story of the segment.  Both songs appeared on BÖC’s Fire of Unknown Origin.

For years, there had been talk of a reboot. Whatever that ended up being aired on Netflix as the series Love, Death & Robots.

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