Heavy Metal Movies: Interview with author Mike McPadden

I blame every sobering statistic regarding global literacy on the fact that until now the world didn’t have Heavy Metal Movies, the twisted tome cataloging Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s infatuation with extremely extreme music and film. With 666+ reviews of headbang-friendly films, McBeardo is your personal Virgil leading you into the underworld of metallic cinema treasures.
What was your first distinct memory of metal and cinema colliding in your own life?

In 1976, when I was eight, the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine ran a feature on an emerging crop of freaks in the Village who were repeatedly returning to the Waverly Theater and dressing up as characters from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This, I needed to know more about.

Moms McBeardo reports I emerged from the womb loving horror movies and all the classic monsters. Rock-and-roll came to me quickly enough, largely through repeated spins of my cousin Mary Snow’s Sweet 45s—“Little Willy” and “Fox on the Run”, to be specific—and when I stayed up late and got simultaneously terrified, transfixed, and transformed by Kiss on NBC’s concert series, The MidnightSpecial. And then the real apocalypse hit when I struck gold in an old hamper and discovered Pops McBeardo’s Playboy stash. I invoke all these things because Rocky Horror seemed to combine each of these elements into some living, thriving new thing.

The following year, I secured a copy of the Rocky Horror soundtrack album and I’d spend days staring at the back cover with Susan Sarandon in a bra under the words “Lots of Larfs and Sex!”

And then, monumentally, the newspaper ran a misprint that labeled Rocky Horror as being rated PG, and I conned Moms into allowing some hippie aunts and an uncle to take me into Manhattan to see it for my tenth birthday. It was the ’70s, everybody—people did this. And there it all was: monsters, rock-and-roll, a spooky castle, leather jackets, motorcycles, cannibalism, polymorphous perversion, and, as promised, “lots of larfs and sex!” The girl who played Janet in the live cast even took off her bra. Hers were the first boobs I ever saw not attached to someone to whom I was related.

From Stuart Gordon’s underrated Dagon to French stomach-churner Inside, you cover hundreds of hidden gems. What are a few of the films you recommend, no matter the person’s taste?

It’s impossible for me to imagine anyone not being launched into a sphere of pure joy while watching the fifteen-minute 1986 documentary, Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

I feel similar affection for This Is Spinal Tap, but in the course of the writing the book, I’ve stumbled across some folks who don’t find it funny. We don’t hang out anymore. Some people hear the words “Spinal Tap” and automatically bark how the NWOBHM spoof Bad News is better. You can love both, you know. I do.

Don Argott’s recent documentary As the Palaces Burn, about Randy Blythe’s manslaughter trial after a fan’s death at a Lamb of God concert, is a gripping, moving film that would work even if the heavy metal elements were removed.

One nice aspect of writing about the bumper crop of heavy metal horror movies from the ’80s is that I didn’t come across one that I didn’t enjoy—even Monster Dog with Alice Cooper, which is horrendously incompetent, but still a knee-slapping good time. Of those movies, The Gate from 1987 feels like a real buried treasure, even though it was the only title in that subgenre to actually be a theatrical hit. Somehow, it’s fallen through the cracks since then, and I’m kind of hoping the book can help bring it back.

The Gate is about a couple of kids who play a heavy metal record backwards and thereby open a portal to Hell in their backyard lawn. All kinds of cool creatures come out, the greatest of which is an army of amazingly real-looking foot-high demon-men. The movie is extremely well crafted and, as it’s just scary and funny enough for a PG-13 audience, it’s a great introduction for kids to both horror and metal.

Heavy Metal Movies Cover edited

When did you start writing the book, and at what point did you realize all the work it would take?

After coming up with the initial list of titles to review and getting the go-ahead from Bazillion Points in early 2011, I just started writing the movies up, willy-nilly. About six months in, I imagined I had to be nearing the halfway mark, so I took stock and totaled up the amount of finished reviews, and the tally barely scraped one hundred. I freaked. Right on the spot, I had a vision of all these zombies and slashers and DVD bonus features and Swedish TV documentaries bombarding me—hundreds of them, thousands of them—and I wanted to crawl into a corner of my office and melt into a puddle. But I didn’t. I am occasionally taunted by seeing initial book announcement materials that proclaim “Coming in 2012!” Remember that year—2012? I kind of don’t.

If you could watch a film based on any heavy metal concept album, which would you choose?

Music From the Elder by Kiss, which actually did go in to production as a movie starring Chris Makepeace, who was Wudy da Wabbit da Winna in Meatballs and who co-starred with Tom Hanks in the hilarious anti-RPG TV movie Mazes and Monsters. That would have been awesomely terrible.

2112 by Rush is one my all-time favorite albums and side one has always seemed to be screaming to turned into a film. It still could be, I just hope not by whoever churned out those cheapo Atlas Shrugged boondoggles.

I’d really love to see Mastodon’s Blood Mountain in movie form, but only if they did it without CGI effects. The Cysquatch—a one-eyed psychic Sasquatch—would have to be played by a guy in a full-body Cysquatch suit.

What would be your early vote for Decibel’s album of the year for 2014?

The Oath by the Oath. The Devil’s Blood has been my favorite band of the twenty-first century, so I am delirious over the onslaught of witchy, druggy, female-fronted occult rock going on—Gold, Blood Ceremony, Christian Mistress, Witch Mountain, Jex Thoth, Jess and the Ancient Ones, and so on.

I thought the first singles released by the Oath were just spectacular. When the full-length album finally came out and I thought it was very good, but not great. But then this band that had a great in-born theatrical gimmick—two ludicrously sexy Nordic sirens wailing up top—pulled the pin and set off the greatest of all gimmicks: they broke up! One and done. Boom. Seeya!

Bolstered by that context, The Oath now sounds to me like an instant classic.

Between your work with Mr. Skin and Hustler your career may be perpetually connected to nudity. What’s your favorite metal album cover featuring nudity?

Let us immediately rule out Virgin Killer by Scorpions and Led Zep’s Houses of the Holy.

Discovering Coven’s proto-metal milestone Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls in my stoner uncle’s record collection was definitely a before-and-after moment. Lead singer-cum-sorceress Jinx Dawson is complete nude in the gatefold, splayed out on a sacrificial altar while the other band members loom over her black magic sacrifice.

Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix certainly set a standard to which all other album covers—and maybe all other everything else, too—should aspire.

I love Death Penalty by Witchfinder General. On the cover, that poor bare-bosomed witch they found sure is enchanting. She really got MY stake burning—nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

While it’s only metal adjacent, Cristina Martinez practically launched me into a second puberty in 1989 by nakedly posing as the Playboy Femlin on the bluesy noise-punk Boss Hog EP, Drinkin’, Lechin’, and Lyin’. I was always hoping Julia Cafritz from Pussy Galore would do an answer cover. So far, it hasn’t happened.

I’ve also had an image of the Dwarves’ Blood, Guts, and Pussy album cover posted somewhere in all my various residences since 1991. Right now, it’s in sticker form on a file cabinet.

Once and for all, what’s more metal: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Star Wars opened when I was eight and I loved it like religion. But just a few years before that I loved Sesame Street like religion too. And for all the same reasons. Eventually I saw a naked woman and a slasher movie and I heard Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols and the baby scales fell from my eyes and ears, among other organs.

This whole present-day reality of grown adults not just clinging to but proudly championing their most infantile passions from kindergarten—meaning superhero blockbusters being the only movies in theaters now and the Internet’s maniacal preoccupation with playground concepts like “bullying” and “their fair share”—all that comes from Star Wars.

Star Trek tackles the big ideas and cosmic questions that come up when you’re in high school—stuff like ethics, race, politics, globalism, liberty, responsibility, the dominance of certain cultures over other cultures, humanity’s role in the universe versus the individual’s role within humanity, and so on.

I’ve long said that by the time I turned fifteen, I was essentially done forming in terms of taste and mentality and perceptions of the world. Layers have been added but, really, by sophomore year of high school, the core McBeardo package rocked complete. As a result, I get to congratulate myself via feelings of superiority, due to my teenage Star Trek degree of development, over the swarms of contemporary conversation-cloggers stuck, by way of Star Wars, in kindergarten.

More metal, then: Star Trek.

***Order Heavy Metal Movies over on the Bazillion Points site, and check them out for more extreme books. Author photograph by Chris Roo.