“Heavy Metal Movies”

Mike “McBeardo” McPadden

Bazillion Points, 560 pp., $34.95

Rock critics usually define “heavy metal” music as guitar-based, riff-heavy rock and roll. Most music critics, this one included, would argue that heavy metal music is best personified by Led Zeppelin, Metallica or Black Sabbath, though the genre includes specific individual substyles from “speed metal” to “death metal.” But could there be such a thing as a “heavy metal” movie?

Mike McPadden thinks so and this book puts forth that thesis. “Heavy Metal Movies” contains McPadden’s capsule reviews of 666 “true headbanger classics,” everything from slasher movies like “Night of the Living Dead” to “Phantom of the Opera.” It also reviews documentaries about Jimi Hendrix, Mudhoney and the Seattle grunge scene.

McPadden’s numerical choice (666 is the sign of the devil) gives you an idea of his approach, which is heavy on the use of Gothic typeface, boldface and gore-like graphics dripping down the sides of the pages. Even the look of the book plays into those stereotypes.

McPadden’s writing, though, is self-effacing and he lets you know it’s all played as a bit of a gag. He says he was born “craving the larger-than-life film experience that erupts off the screen.” Given the amount of blood in these films, “erupt” is the appropriate verb.

As with most best-of “list” books, readers will find most enjoyment arguing in their heads with the selections the author makes (or doesn’t make). “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” as a heavy metal movie? Well, yes, because of a brief appearance by Twisted Sister. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is also listed, because the members of Black Sabbath (then in a band called Earth) liked the film. That, of course, is a bit of a stretch to me, but it is exactly that kind of trivia that makes McPadden salivate.

Would it surprise you that “The Exorcist” is invoked in dozens of songs by heavy metal bands? Or that the special-effects artist who worked on “The Omen” was in a car accident, and his female passenger was beheaded almost exactly as a character is in the movie, and this happened on Friday the 13th?

I was also unaware that Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee had released their own “official” version of their bootlegged sex tape, and it was the best-selling adult video of all time. McPadden says the “airhead dialogue” compromises the eroticism and makes it impossible to maintain “tumescent intractability” while watching it. Yes, that language, and this book, is made for teenage boys.

But heavy metal — music or movies — has never been obsessed with words: It is a genre about attitude, riffs and style. This book has all that and more.

Charles R. Cross: therocketmagazinelives@gmail.com; on Twitter @charlesrcross