Sometimes, it’s impossible to convey in words how truly awful a piece of cinema is.
Welcome to Heavy Metal Massacre.
Released in 1989, Heavy Metal Massacre is an incredibly shitty slasher flick starring former professional wrestler and movie director David DeFalco. I came across the film thanks to the Pink Flamingo theatre in Sydney’s Inner West, an art gallery and screening space that airs “niche, genre, avant-garde and trash cinema” every Friday night.
Update 19/01/2021: This post has been updated with new details following a conversation with one of the crew members. I’ve put it at the bottom so you can enjoy the initial impression first, and then get the ‘behind the scenes’ context afterwards.
And when they mean “trash cinema”, they really mean it. Here’s the trailer — make sure you watch with sound, and stick with it. The title card is absolutely worth it.
Unsurprisingly, Heavy Metal Massacre was a direct-to-video flick. The world of film was probably better off without it, but Bleeding Skull! Video did everyone a solid by bringing it back to life with a VHS release a couple of years ago.
Bleeding Skull, which specialises in “ultra-obscure, no-budget horror and exploitation movies” from the ’80s and ’90s, never released or distributed the film in Australia. And that’s how the niche cinema was able to showcase the film as part of a Satanic-themed flick night, although the only demonic influences here were transitions like this:
The whole premise of the film is that David DeFalco — starring as Bobbi Brown here — plays a serial killer who hangs around metal bars, preying on women who have some apparent attraction to his flowing hair.
But that isn’t established from the off. Instead, the actual opening is literally just still frames of this bloke set to metal music:
After that, the movie pans around the outside of a building, before slowly panning inside what looks like someone’s living room. Everything starts flashing and spinning about halfway, like someone just discovered a filter in Windows Movie Maker.
After about eight minutes, we’re finally introduced to the police. There’s been a couple of homicides, and with no leads to go on the cops opt to shake up some bloke called “Rico”. He’s more or less the bloke who waits outside The Dungeon, a metal club that’s in a dank alley somewhere.
Rico’s having a conversation with a young lass, although since the people making the film couldn’t afford a boom mic, you can barely hear anyone on screen. The two cops show up, and go to ask Rico some questions. They don’t have a warrant, and Rico tells them to bugger off.
So, naturally, the cops just handcuff him anyway. After which point Rico immediately starts talking — but they take him back to the station anyway.
We then get a scene where Bobbi — I shit you not — walks into a room, turns, and stares at the camera.
Imagine being on set for this kind of galaxy-level genius.
This film goes for 83 minutes, by the way.
Things become a bit clearer after that: Bobbi buys drugs in a dark alley; the cops continue to rough up Rico while the white balance shifts from one shot to the next. We then get to see The Dungeon, the brick ladened metal bar where Bobbi preys on his victims.
There’s just one problem: Bobbi isn’t exactly Ted Bundy. His method of “picking up” involves standing by a wall and waiting for someone to get bored enough to walk by. It’s also one of the first main scenes — after that weird slow pan through Metal Lounge Room, we get a shot of Bobbi standing by a wall, staring into the distance. The opening credits play. The camera pans in. Rico walks up, says something, then buggers off.
Nobody says a word.
This scene runs for nearly three minutes.
Later on, when the movie decides it wants to actually try and be a slasher film, we get to see more poorly shot footage from the bar. The ladies’ faces are almost completely obscured, because the director obviously only had the budget for one camera. The three ladies sit and chat, and eventually someone gets bored enough to strut up to Captain Serial Killer.
He remarks that her hair is cool. Her response, mid-conversation, is to do a spin in front of him.
Dating was so much simpler in the ’80s.
The next several minutes are mostly just a chance for some crappy metal in the background, and some highly questionable effects. The bar gets a screen door effect, which possibly is meant to indicate how shitfaced everyone is.
And because this happens to be Slasher’s First Video Project, an owl shows up:
I have not slowed or sped this up in any way.
If you’re … experienced enough to understand what’s going on here, and why it’s on screen for so bloody long, please get in touch.
Heavy Metal Massacre starts to drag from this point. A couple of people die — slowly, not because of torture but just because every scene is about four times longer than necessary. And the VHS quality, botchy filming and constant metal make it hard to take it anything seriously.
There’s also a scene where a metalhead walks to work, and the camera switches to a long shot from behind. Not in a provocative or sexual way, but more like someone left the camera on the ground.
It’s such a terrible film, in so many ways, that it should almost be educational. When shots and effects are used poorly, it shows the value of good cinema. And when you’ve only paid a dollar or two for the experience, it’s hard not to laugh if off. Plus, most people were already buzzed from one of the excellent breweries in the area — honestly, it’s the closest Sydney has got to Melbourne’s much better night life.
There’s no closure at the end, of course. Nothing else in the film was structured or shot properly, beyond Bobbi’s hair and the one pose that he opens and closes the film with.
There’s a good reason why Heavy Metal Massacre never saw a wide release. It’s an atrocious creation on all counts, although you can have an awful lot of fun laughing at the stupidity of it all. It’s not exactly something you can load up on Netflix, so I’m eternally grateful for the Pink Flamingo for bringing such trash into my life.
And it’s a great confidence tool. Think you suck at something? Then imagine being the person who cut this together.
It’s actually amazing how Heavy Metal Massacre got 3.0 on IMDB. It’s so much worse.
Update: 19/01/2021A couple of years after the publication of this story, one of Heavy Metal Massacre‘s crew members reached out over email. Ed Miley — credited as Audio by Anvil in the movie — worked on Heavy Metal Massacre‘s audio.
If you’ve watched Heavy Metal Massacre, you’ll know that the audio is god-awful. Miley explained it was so bad because, unsurprisingly, there was no budget for like a boom operator, boom mics or the basics you need for filming on set.
Everything was shot and worked on across November and December in 1989, and they even provided a couple of shots of the abandoned factory and exteriors where they filmed.
I asked for Miley for their permission to share some of their experiences working on the film, and they agreed.
“The script was literally being made up/written on the spot which explains the long lasting shots in the editing,” Miley said. “Since they had no idea how to write they would come up with scenes on the spot with no regards to editing. The entirety of the movie was shot in 2-3 days over a few week span.”
“They pissed right through the budget with no organisation on the remote set days and then used what they had left for editing. They also had no concept of multi-camera production which is what we gave them plus isolated recordings of every camera which was typically 3 and in some cases 4 camera angles per scene to cut down on editing … but since almost none of them had any kind of acting experience it was a total waste of money but in the end made for one magnificent shitty production.”
I asked if they had any particular memories of such a spectacularly atrocious project, and they recalled two instances. One of them was an accident on set from a scene early on, and the other related to a scene towards the end when first responders and police show up to a crime scene.
Towards the beginning of the film, Heavy Metal Massacre shows off one of Bobbi’s murders. The victim’s tied up and is eventually attacked with a sledgehammer, although you don’t see direct contact. (You can see the scene from the movie in this video review from Worst Movies On below at 17 minutes 20 seconds — there’s no blood or any gore.)
“To avoid injuries a styrofoam piece was cut to look exactly like the head of a sledgehammer, same dimensions and spray painted black, the handle was real wood,” Miley explained.
The actors rehearsed the scene and marked the floor where Bobbi should target his swing.
“So we go to shoot it and the most Spinal Tappish thing happens,” Miley said. “She’s tied to the board, and Bobbi misses the mark on the floor by about 5 inches. He goes into the hammer swing and cracks her right on the top of the head with the wooden shaft of the hammer which is rock hard.”
“She was knocked out cold on the spot. Bobby is looking at the fake hammer head and says something to the effect, ‘I don’t understand the head … it’s just styrofoam’. It took us at least 3 attempts to get him to understand that the head was fake and the handle wasn’t and the mark on the floor was exactly where you needed to be to avoid exactly what had happened. She came back about 4 hours later and we blocked and shot the scene again.”
That was bad enough, but perhaps the worst element was a scene at the end of the movie. After one of Bobbi’s murders, the police and emergency services are called. But the way the scene is shot makes it apparent that the camera is being hidden to a degree. It’s obvious that actual first responders and police have appeared on set, but rather than shut down filming, the camera keeps rolling but at this awkward low angle that kind of indicates that this probably isn’t supposed to be happening.
According to Miley, real police and first responders actually showed up on set. And the only way for that to happen when you’re so poor that you can’t afford a boom mic?
“What actually happened is that they (film writers) needed footage of police arriving at the crime scene (chainsaw scene) but did not have enough money to rent a police / fire detail or hire extras to portray,” Miley said.
The writers didn’t call 911 directly — that would be filing a false police report. So they found someone else to do it for them.
“They called from a pay phone (pre cell era) to a local TV news station and reported a woman had been run over by a car in a fatal hit & run accident,” Miley said. “The TV station called 911 but apparently gave the caller a load of shit for calling the TV station first and not 911. The TV station then sent a crew to check out the story and arrived at about the same time of the first responders.”
“The tech crew (my crew) did not know they placed the call so our camera guys are getting all this footage of the rescue and police and media showing up and we have no idea why,” Miley said. “[Police] begin to question us and meanwhile Bobbi and the rest of the cast have kind of disappeared from sight. Cops ask us what we are doing and we tell them we are shooting scenes for a movie.”
I’m not surprised the TV station were shitty at the time — and you can even hear some exasperation in Heavy Metal Massacre in the background audio when police start asking questions. It’s complete chaos, which suits Heavy Metal Massacre perfectly since so little of it was planned or thought out.
“In all there were probably 3-5 location shooting days … all of which were shambolic,” Miley said. “The editing process with them was also a shambles because the writers and directors had no concept of how even a shitbox like this should be edited together! I’m pretty sure the intent of the video was to look low budget. But because I don’t think they really had a firm grasp of what they were doing with regards to writing, scripting, shooting and editing and the money needed to even make a shitty movie they arrived at this ultra low budget by pure accident … they were shooting for something more polished but when they got into the editing they realised they didn’t really have enough of anything.”
Despite all of it, Miley says the experience provided plenty of entertainment. I can understand why: Heavy Metal Massacre is a true tragedy. A horrific piece of cinema, but one that is so genuinely terrible that it’s impossible not to laugh. So it’s good to know that Miley and the crew enjoyed the experience, too.
I asked them whether they kept in touch with other members of the crew, and whether anyone from Heavy Metal Massacre went on to better things. While Miley said they are still in contact with a few people, he had doubts about people’s aspirations beyond Heavy Metal Massacre.
“I’d be shocked if anyone on the cast was ever in another movie!”