Slap that DVD into the player and throw those devil horns in the air: It’s time for the Metal Edition of the Seven Best Music Movies!
This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Let’s put the inevitable first. If you don’t know why it’s on here, get thee to a Netflix queue, stat. People are getting tired of that blank look on your face every time they say “it goes up to 11.”
Lemmy (2010). No one is more badass than Lemmy Kilmister. The leader of the mighty, mighty Motörhead has been playing heavy metal since before it had a name and is still “the Ace of Spades” at age 69. Musicians in bands such as Black Sabbath, The Clash, New Order and Guns N’ Roses discuss his influence, both as a musician and as an icon somewhere between Captain Hook and Jesus. Lemmy himself plays bass, tells dirty jokes, drinks at L.A.’s Rainbow Bar and displays a surprisingly tender relationship with his son. Still, as one fan ecstatically slurs, “Rock ’n’ roll is Lemmy. Lemmy is rock ’n’ roll.”
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008). In a way, Anvil! is the flipside of Lemmy: It’s what happens when your heavy metal career leads not to legendary status, but to driving a delivery truck. The documentary follows the influential yet obscure band as they pull it together for one more European tour and one last album. Things don’t exactly go as planned, but Anvil! turns into a weirdly touching story about artistic passion, lifelong friendship and not giving up on dreams.
KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1979). The opening sequence of a giant-size KISS jamming to “Rock and Roll All Nite” superimposed over roller coasters and Tilt-A-Whirls is rad, but things soon fall apart in this meeting of heavy metal and Hanna-Barbera. Gene Simmons says he was told that the TV movie would be “a cross between Star Wars and A Hard Day’s Night,” but it’s more like live-action Scooby-Doo. Still, for fans of cult, schlock and KISS, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is an amusing ride.
Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005). For an in-depth take on the genre, anthropologist and fan Sam Dunn went around the world to study the culture and history of heavy metal: From Norway to California, from Steppenwolf to Rage Against the Machine, from Ronnie James Dio to Rob Zombie. Interviews with musicians, managers and even ministers tell the story of how, as Zombie says, “You just somehow end up being the weird kid and can’t figure out how you got there. And metal is like that, except it’s all the weird kids in one place.”
Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986). For the fans, by the fans, starring the fans, Heavy Metal Parking Lot documents the tailgating scene outside a Judas Priest concert. It’s a cavalcade of shirtless dudes drinking tallboys next to muscle cars, chicks in leopard-print catsuits flashing devil horns, boom boxes and big hair. Dialogue includes “Let’s make a joint so big it stretches across America and everyone can smoke it!” and “See my scab?” Weirdly endearing, Heavy Metal Parking Lot has inspired music videos, trading cards and even a brief TV series.
Conan the Barbarian (1982). What’s more metal than getting drunk and swordfighting? Or launching an assault on the Snake God’s palace with your wisecracking surfer buddy and breastplated, broadsword-swinging girlfriend in tow? Or “seeing your enemies crushed before you and hearing the lamentation of their women?” Nothing, that’s what!