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The Nostalgic Attic: The Top Ten Heavy Metal films from the '80's.

13 September 2013

The Top Ten Heavy Metal films from the '80's.

Heavy metal has always been the musical underdog, constantly struggling for mainstream acceptability and radio play. It's no major surprise when you see a film soundtrack stuffed full of chart music and radio-friendly tunes; it makes sense that the producers want to shift as many copies of these things as they can, and appeal to all bases. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as every film needs to have music that suits it tonally. It's just sometimes, you really wanna rock out with a film, know what I mean? Thank fuck for the 80's then, when not only could we get big rock artists giving tracks to some great soundtracks, but sometimes the entire film became about the spectacle that is heavy metal it self. I've compiled my favourite films that not only have some rockin' soundtracks, but also take on the ethos that make metal such a fun genre to feature on film. No doubt there will be some disagreements over the placing on this list, but hey! It's my list, deal with it!

10. Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

I'll make no bones about it; Hard Rock Zombies is a fairly terrible film. It commits many crimes against comedy, horror, music and hair throughout its running time. Despite that, it does have a few things going for it. A hard rock band stop off in a hicksville hole called Grand Guignol, and just before they get murdered by the locals, front man Jessie discovers a riff that can resurrect the dead. After they return as KISS-ish zombies, they set about wrecking revenge on the town, which turns out to be run by Hitler. Eve Braun also features as a werewolf. No, I'm not making it up. Worth watching for the eyebrows and moustaches, which probably had their own trailers on set.

9. Rocktober Blood (1984)

Failing in nearly every possible way as a credible film, Rocktober Blood still manages to entertain for its 90 minute running time. Billy is a mad killer who also happens to be a rock star. After his would-be victim and fellow band mate Lynn escapes to tell the tale, Billy is executed for his crimes, and the band decide to reform 2 years later. Is Lynn going mental, or is she really seeing Billy lurking in the shadows? Is he back for revenge? Porn-grade acting mixes with all round inept film making, resulting in a fairly hilarious mess. You get classic lines of dialogue such as, "I want your hot steaming pussy blood all over my face", some bloody kills, plenty of laboured stalk-and-slash sequences and a questionable amount of tan-lined arses. The music is pretty rockin', and is supplied by Sorcery, so it does have that going for it. Watch at your own risk, but you might actually have a good time with it.

8. Black Roses (1988)

The first film on this list that is well shot and made, Black Roses plays out like Footloose, but with heavy metal and demons instead of dancing. Some small town in America is our setting, and the young innocent teens (who happen to look like 40-year-olds) are about to be corrupted by up-and-coming rock act, Black Roses. The parents and teachers have issues with them playing, and probably with good cause, as they are hypnotising the youngsters and turning them into drones and demons. The first half hour of the film is really odd; it's almost like they wanted it to be a musical like West Side Story, (check out the guy swinging from lamp posts as he courts a girl) but after that it's all about the big hair, boobs and monsters. Oh yeah, let's not forget about the hair rock. It is a bit sluggish in the middle but it's a fun film with reasonable effects and reasonable rockage, despite the lead singer looking like Michael Bolton.

7. Rock N Roll Nightmare (1987)

From the same director as Black Roses comes another exercise in ropey horror metal. Ten years after a family disappears in a farmhouse (i.e, they got eaten by the oven), hard rockin' band The Tritons head on out to record their new album there. After performing in the barn, they unleash a host of monsters that begin picking them off one-by-one. Featuring bad performances and bad gore, the film is still good fun, if you are in the mood to laugh constantly at what you see on screen. Not surprising on the acting front, considering the lead 'actor' is Jon Mikl Thor. The music is solid enough throughout, and there is enough nudity, bad hair and silly looking monsters to keep you entertained. One even looks like a weird rubber cock. Really. Worth watching if you think Manowar should have been in some low budget horror films.

6. Stunt Rock (1980)

Brian Trenchard-Smith's gloriously silly genre mix-up of stunt footage, rock concert and whimsical comedy doesn't exactly have much going for it story wise, but it is a fun film nonetheless. Following a cute journalist as she tries to write an article on real life stunt dude Grant Page, the film is little more than a cobbled together bunch of behind-the-scenes footage of stunts and tricks, thrown together with a rock concert from Sorcery (their second film on this list, I'm sure they're thrilled) doing their heavy metal thing. The music is great for the most part, and the stunts are pretty entertaining. You also get some tomfoolery involving the band doing magic tricks and dressing as wizards complete with flame-shooting staffs. They truly do not make them like this anymore.

5. Rivers Edge (1986)

You might not have expected to see such a serious film on this list, but Rivers Edge deserves its spot, even if it's a far greater film than I can do just to in such a short paragraph. Focusing on a group of heavy metal -loving slacker friends who have to suddenly deal with the fact that their friend Samson committed a cold-hearted murder, the film tapped into a sub culture of music, apathy and disillusionment that didn't surface in the mainstream until the grunge era was upon us. None of the kids are in a rush to go to the cops about the killing, and seem to try and carry on with their lives and stick up for their disturbed friend. Featuring break-out performances from Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves and Ione Skye, and a soundtrack that is made up of heavy tunes from Slayer, Fates Warning, Hallows Eve and Agent Orange, check this one out if you get a chance. The polar opposite of coming-of-age classic, Stand by Me.

4. The Gate (1987)

Second only to The Monster Squad as one of the finest 'kids versus evil' films, The Gate walks that fine line of comedy and horror and pulls it off pretty well. Young Glen believes a gateway to hell is below the old tree in his backyard, and with the aid of his nerdy heavy metal pal Terry they unleash an army of monsters on his home over the course of a weekend. You see, Terrys dad sends him metal records from Europe, and one of them contains elements from 'The Dark Book', which tells you how to summon demons. Probably not the smartest thing to feature as sleeve art, but apparently the band died under mysterious circumstances. We also get scenes of Terry trying to play records backwards, a little trick he probably picked up from Judas Priest. Overall The Gate is a blast, featuring good performances and excellent special effects.It's also great to see Stephen Dorff as the young lead.

3. Trick Or Treat (1986)

Probably the best of the horror/metal films from the 80's, Trick or Treat centres around misfit teen and heavy metal fan Eddie, who is having a tough time in school from the usual jock brigade. Luckily for him he has his rock idol Sammi Curr to worship and keep him sane... until Sammi dies in an accident. Eddie manages to get his hands on the last record Sammi recorded, and soon discovers Sammi may have left some demonic messages on it, giving Eddie the power to wreck revenge on the bullies who haunt his miserable life. We all know that playing your records backwards is the path to the devil. What sets Trick or Treat apart from similar films is that not only is it competently made and acted, but it has plenty of heart for its central character. If it wasn't for the horror aspects, it could almost pass as a sub-John Hughes-ish look at tough teenage life. Don't let that put you off, though, as the film is a blast. All the tunes are performed by Fastway, and really stick out in terms of production. We also get cameos by both Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons, who manage to put in reasonable performances.

2. Demons (1985)

Ok, so this one doesn't feature any resurrected rock stars or people playing their records backwards and doing evil things, but what it does do is really sum up all that makes a heavy metal movie great. After a possessed film unleashes a hoard of blood thirsty demons on the cinema audience, it's up to the few remaining survivors to last through the night and escape the nightmare for good. What we get is the Italian equivalent of The Evil Dead, featuring some great gore and effects, all set to a pounding score by rock legends, Goblin. Apart from the score, the soundtrack features Saxon, Accept and Motley Crue. Its high placing on the list is for one scene alone, in which our hero hops on a motor bike, grabs a samurai sword and begins hacking lumps out of demons, all to the sound of Fast as a Shark. Now that's heavy metal.

1. This is Spinal Tap (1984) 

It might seem like this was the obvious choice for the number one spot, but, it deserves it. In an age where faux documentaries are all but burnt out, it is surprising to see how fresh This is Spinal Tap still feels. Following the once legendary Spinal Tap on their relaunch tour of the USA, the film is an hilarious look at the pomp and silliness that makes rock and heavy metal so much fun. As things go from bad to worse on the tour, tensions start to mount between the band members, and it looks like it might finally be the end for the group... Satirizing nearly all aspects of being a stadium rock band, it's not hard to see where the real-life influences lie. Some of the funniest moments include the band getting lost while trying to go on stage, the misogynistic art work ("It's such a fine line between, uh, clever and stupid?"), amps that go up to 11, and of course, exploding drummers. What makes the film work so well is that not only are the performances spot on and very funny, but the music is actually great. All the leads performed the soundtrack too, making it a rarity among music films. What else can be said about it? I'll leave you with the final legendary words of;

"As long as there's, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll."

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At 13 September 2013 at 08:43 , Blogger Grimm said...

This is seriously an awesome post! This now has me wanting to rewatch Rocktober, Black Roses and Hard Rock Zombies. I would have put Trick or Treat at #1, but great post nonetheless.

And I'm glad you included Demons! A lot of people don't consider that one sometimes.

At 13 September 2013 at 08:49 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks man! I really do like Trick or Treat, but I think This is Spinal Tap is just a better film. If it was just horror films, then it would have been even higher on the list.

I think Demons is just a perfect mix rock and horror; two things that make it a great beer film.

At 29 November 2013 at 06:03 , Blogger Wes M said...

Fantastic list JP, I’m a bit of a list junkie so I really enjoyed this one. Some great selections, and I must admit, I’ve only seen a handful of the 10, which reminds me that I need to unwrap my Code Red Stunt Rock and give it a spin. So many films to see, and so little time to watch ‘em. I think Ozzy Osbourne paid Spinal Tap the highest compliment when he thought it was a straight documentary. One documentary that has eluded me over the years was Penelope Spheeris’ 1988 film The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which is jammed packed with some of the worst metal bands of the 80’s… Excellent wildcard there with River’s Edge, a truly great teenage wasteland drama, and a tremendous film about the soul-sucking banality of small-town life. I think the film is part of a lineage that includes Dennis Hopper’s brilliant 1980 film Out of the Blue, and River’s Edge in turn is a sort of spiritual forefather of Harmony Korine’s strangely beautiful Gummo (which features a pretty eclectic mix of heavy metal and stoner rock)… Demons, great choice, I wouldn’t have thought of that one, but that film is a metal-fest. I think Argento is a metal fan (?) which would explain the rather inappropriate presence of Motorhead and Iron Maiden on the soundtrack for Phenomena… Not a heavy metal per se but a film I was really impressed with was 1975's Slade in Flame, a rags to riches biopic of a bunch of working class heroes who belt out a noise remarkably similar to Slade and get picked up by A Major Label before the stresses of fame and success take their toll. Less pretentious than The Doors and more kitchen sinky than Almost Famous, this is a smart confident film, well directed by Richard Loncraine, who has a great eye for locations and steals a memorable De Palma style tracking shot for the film's opening. Slade themselves are not half bad, and the rest of the cast is fitted out with a young Tom Conti doing a prototype Hugh Grant, as well as three actors from Performance including the great Johnny Shannon ('allo Chas!) as a small time cabaret agent-cum-gangster. Well worth seeking out...

At 2 December 2013 at 06:32 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Agreed with you on Rivers Edge, I too look at it relating very closely with Gummo, and the likes of Paradise Lost, too. Just for how the small town mentality works. I have Out of the Blue here, but yet to see it,so thanks for the reminder on that one.

Funnily enough, I had read about the Slade film whilst researching this list, and I had forgotten about it. Sounds fantastic! I'll have ot get my hands on that one. And you've just made me wanna stick in Performance again... it must be at least a decade since I last watched it.

At 6 December 2013 at 04:30 , Blogger Wes M said...

JP, thanks, if it wasn't for your post, I might not have watched The Gate a few nights ago on TV (on the Horror Channel) because I thoroughly enjoyed it, ironic considering I didn't like the film at all when I first saw it, which must have been when I was...11, 12. Hugely impressed with the stop motion effects, at one stage, when the little demon minions were running around, I thought I might have been watching a man in a suit, so life-like and natural were the movements. I thought the kids were pretty engaging too, especially the metal loving nerdy kid - I had a bedroom just like his covered in Death Metal posters, although I was way too much of a anorak to play my precious vinyl backwards. There's a good US DVD of The Gate and y'know what, it's a film I think I could check in with every few years...

At 5 February 2014 at 04:44 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

I actually thought some of the shots in The Gate WERE men in suits mixed with stop motion. Must look into it. The US DVD is great, well worth picking up. You won't regret it.

At 29 May 2014 at 12:04 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

What a great list! You make me want to head out to the video store immediately. Wish they were still around for me to go to....

At 29 May 2014 at 12:31 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

I feel your pain...


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