By Sam Ashurst
Sleazy masterpiece The El Duce Tapes vomits onto Arrow Video on February 1st (you know, in a good way), and to celebrate, we thought we’d gather together a supergroup of the best metal movies to ever swagger out onto the cinematic stage.
Comedies, animations, documentaries and horror movies await you – but the one thing they all have in common? They ROCK.
To be clear, we’re focusing on metal because The El Duce Tapes is edited from hours and hours of VHS footage of the Shock Rock band The Mentors, with the fuzzy lens mostly aimed at their infamous lead singer ‘El Duce,’ the greatest (worst? Let’s just say ‘most notorious’) metal icon you’ve never heard of.
So, grab your nearest bottle of Jack, pull on your studded leather jacket, and get ready to crank up the volume on the following…
Heavy Metal (1981)
You can’t power-scream a list of great heavy metal movies without including Heavy Metal, and not because the title makes it obligatory (even the original title, Métal hurlant – Howling Metal – would make it worthy of inclusion).
No, the movie is basically a metal album cover come to life, mixing fantasy and sci-fi iconography to create a violent anthology flick that travels through time and space to create a mind-melting experience that’s been enjoyed under the influence of various substances since its ‘80s debut.
Add in a fistful of soundtrack tunes by metal pioneers – Black Sabbath, Nazareth, and Blue Öyster Cult – and this is an essential watch (and listen!)
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
If you’re a hair-metal head, then you should sell your favourite hair dryer so you can afford the import of Penelope Spheeris’ relatively underseen documentary masterpiece. It’s the definitive exploration of the glam metal genre, and it’s so unforgivingly funny it’s been argued that Spheeris’ killed the scene she investigated.
Even die-hard fans will admit glam metal is as ridiculous as it is preposterous, and The Metal Years approaches some of its most famous interview subjects with the tongue-in-cheek seriousness of a Louis Theroux documentary.
The result is enough mic cable for the worst egomaniacs and narcissists to hang themselves out to dry (after they’ve drunkenly clambered out of their biggest swimming pool). As funny as it is fascinating, The Metal Years’ targets include W.A.S.P, Kiss, and a freshly sober Ozzy Osbourne. Lemmy’s also there to provide insight into ‘the pretty rock and roll stars’ and he’s the only one to come out completely unscathed. But more of him in a moment.
If you’re reading this, you’ve got an interest in metal. Which means that, if you haven’t done so already, you have to watch this film; this isn’t a suggestion, it’s an instruction. Lemmy is the greatest front man, from the most influential metal band, of all time. If you didn’t have Motorhead, you wouldn’t have Metallica, it’s as simple as that.
Metallica’s Lars Ulrich told Rolling Stone after Lemmy’s death: “I got introduced to Motörhead’s music in 1979, when Overkill came out. I’d never heard anything like that in my life. The subsequent ride that this music took me on was to a place I’d never been. So when I say that Lemmy is the primary reason I’m in a band, and that Metallica exists because of him, it’s no cheap exaggeration.”
The documentary dives deep into Lemmy’s life, following him like a stalker as he goes about his daily duties (which includes going on the radio, playing video games, and buying rare Beatles albums), to emerge with a portrait of a sensitive, thoughtful, and totally bad-ass dude.
Lords Of Chaos (2018)
This super stylish tale of mayhem and murder in the ‘90s Norwegian black metal scene is inspired by actual events (even if some of the facts are disputed), proving that truth really is stranger than fiction.
It follows the progress of real-life band Mayhem, from the perspective of co-founder Euronymous (a never-better Rory Culkin), as the group form, fall-out, and threaten each other – leading to some truly tragic (and bizarre) events.
That’s all we’ll say about that, as the less you know about the compelling plot, the better – though we will point out that director Jonus Akerland shot several Metallica music videos before making the movie (as well as the notorious Prodigy ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ video), if you’d like to do some further head-banging research.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)
If you prefer your facts a little lighter, then add Anvil! to your movie playlist. It’s another documentary, this time following Canadian heavy metal band Anvil. Basically, imagine a real-life This Is Spinal Tap, and you’re almost there with this one.
Anvil seemed destined to be forgotten as also-rans – the film opens with a list of the Super Rock festival’s headlining acts: Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and… Anvil. We’re willing to bet that before you saw this movie, there was only one band on that list you’d never heard of. But thanks to the power of cinema (as well as the power of metal), Anvil’s legend is secured – with the film following them as they strive to keep going in an industry that’s ignored them for decades. We won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say if you need to be uplifted higher than an Axl Rose key change, this is the movie for you.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Speaking of Spinal Tap, you didn’t really think we’d get to the end of this list without mentioning the movie that’s as influential on your favourite metal band as the invention of the electric guitar, did you? Make no mistake, if your rock and roll heroes have a tour bus, this movie plays on it on repeat.
It’s been name-checked in interviews by everyone from Jimmy Page, to Dee Snider, to Ozzy Osbourne, to Lars Ulrich, and Dave Grohl, with no signs of its relevance slowing, even in 2021. It’s so spot on, Dokken’s George Lynch shouted after seeing it for the first time: “That’s us! How’d they make a movie about us?”
The mockmentary follows the fictional band of the title, and has contributed as many catchphrases to culture as The Simpsons (appropriately, as both feature Harry Shearer). If you haven’t already seen it, you’re in for a treat. If you have, time to stick it on for the tenth (or eleventh) time.
If you want a movie that combines all of the moods of the above (including some very Lords Of Chaos face-paint), then look no further than this hugely entertaining horror comedy.
Basically taking the energy of Evil Dead II and putting a new soundtrack over the top, Deathgasm sees loveable metal-obsessed loser Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) summoning a demon in the search for success, leading to all-out chaos in the small town he’s just moved to.
Combining heart with (a lot of) blood, this splatter flick is soaked in gore, but a lot of soul too. You’ll be moved and disgusted in equal measure, and if that isn’t the true (evil) spirit of metal, we don’t know what is.
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