Take a (SciFi Horror) Ride on Heavy Metal



I'm looking forward to watching BATTLEDREAM CHRONICLE at this year's Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival. I especially hope that I will be able to share this film experience with my niece who turns 16 years old on November 30 -- she's a girl gamer, and an aspiring artist who enjoys drawing manga style. An animated film about a young female Martinican slave who fights to regain her freedom in a video game in the year 2100 should be engaging and inspiring.

When I reflect on what my high school years were like and the films that fascinated me, I'm reminded of feeling more freedom and being closer to adulthood. I was old enough to drive -- my first car was a "muscle car", 1973 Firebird Esprit with a 8-cylinder SD455 engine -- and worked at Astroworld amusement park on the weekends, which gave me the freedom that most high school students covet.

That freedom also provided an opportunity to see movies at night with friends, especially a fuzzy memory experience at a midnight screening of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at the historic Alabama Theatre. Copious amounts of alcohol, toast, and rice were involved, and it was fun, risque entertainment.

Then came the movie HEAVY METAL in August of 1981, which completely turned me onto adult animation and reinforced my passion for science fiction, weaning me off the Disney sugar-coated formulaic animated movies. Bear in mind that I was a bit too young to have seen Ralph Bakshi's WIZARDS when it was released in 1977.  



Directed by Gerald Potterton, HEAVY METAL jumps from science fiction to fantasy to horror and back as an anthology linked by the evil sentient Loc-Nar, a green orb who has traveled across time and galaxies observing and affecting races. Contributing writers included Daniel Goldberg, Len Blum, Dan O’Bannon, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Angus McKie, and Jean "Moebius" Giraud.

HEAVY METAL incorporated the rotoscoping technique of animation made famous by Ralph Bakshi and Disney, by first filming models and actors, and then tracing and painting the shots onto cels to be used for animation. Canadian model Carole Desbiens served as the model for the warrior goddess Taarna the Taarakian.

Prior to its release, I was well-aware of the Heavy Metal magazine, but its artists' penchant for nudity and graphic violence was something better left to the high school boys. 

What originally attracted me and my best friend Ann to HEAVY METAL was actually the music and not the content. Ann was heavily influenced by her older brother's musical tastes, which included Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult, but we'd also cultivated our own musical favorites with the likes of Cheap Trick, AC/DC, and Judas Priest. I was also a huge fan of Journey, and Ann had a fascination for an odd band that went by the name "DEVO."

Dan O'Bannon's "B-17" was a frightening tale of a World War II B-17 bomber pilot downed after a bombing run. Although he survives, he finds himself on an island full of zombies raised by the Loc-Nar -- airmen who had crashed long before his unfortunate arrival.
This segment was so terrifying that my friend Ann left the theater, instructing me to notify her when the segment had ended. Bravo to O'Bannon for creating a compelling experience for audiences -- even those who had to leave the room.

While I thoroughly enjoy watching several of the stories of HEAVY METAL time and again, it's the story of Taarna inspired by Moebius' Arzach stories and written by Daniel Goldber & Len Blum that stays with me longest. The strength and beauty of this character who is the last of a warrior race known as the Taarakians is immeasurable. She goes up against barbaric foes, and makes an ultimate sacrifice that brings hope to the universe. To feel a connection for an animated character is not one I'd ever experienced, which demonstrates the strength of the storytellers and artists behind HEAVY METAL. While some critics may condemn its sexist and violent content, I embrace the strength and sexuality of this groundbreaking defiant film. As an adult I still treasure this film that meant so much to me as a young teenager -- and cherish my three vinyl album copies of the HEAVY METAL soundtrack.

BATTLEDREAM CHRONICLE screens at 11:45am on Saturday, December 3. Click here for the full schedule.