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I Was a Teenage Grindhouse Guru

'Heavy Metal Movies' author Mike McPadden discusses a life of sleaze and degeneracy.

Conan the Barbarian. Galaxy of Terror. The River’s Edge. I Spit On Your Grave. They don’t all have metal on the soundtrack or heshers onscreen, but like author Mike “McBeardo” McPadden says: You know a heavy metal movie when you see one. From horror, sci-fi and swords n’ sorcery to rock docs, z-movie trash, and full-on porno, McPadden’s exhaustive and highly entertaining book Heavy Metal Movies revels in the blood, boobs, and beasts of the most lurid flicks in the history of forever. McPadden’s personal history is just as fascinating: What began as an abiding interest in the celluloid sleaze smeared across the screens of greasy 42nd Street movie palaces and jack shacks turned into a career in the porno industry, a detour through drug and alcohol abuse, and a lifelong obsession with everything that is loud, naked, and violent. Here’s how it all went down.

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Noisey: Genre-wise, you cover all kinds of flicks in Heavy Metal Movies—horror, sci-fi, action, concert films, documentaries, animation, and even a few movies that were never released. So what makes a “heavy metal movie?"
Mike McPadden: This is the big question. You hate to fall back on, “I know one when I see one,” but there it is. The best analogy I can think of is the way you look at a Chihuahua and then look at a Great Dane. Even though they’re very different, you know they’re both dogs. Or the way you hear Slipknot and then Bathory and then Poison—you know somehow they’re all heavy metal. So my job is to isolate that gene and call it out in each review. And then do that 666 times, even though I ended up doing more than twice that number.

So the initial plan was to review 666 movies?
Yeah, that was whole gimmick. But then I just kept going. I don’t know the exact number that made it into the book, but it was like 900-something. And there’s another 400 or so that got cut.

In the book’s introduction, you explain that you’ve been actively seeking out these movies since you were a little kid. Given that you’re in your forties now, it seems like you could’ve written this book a long time ago. Why now?
What a great question. You know, I’ve been trying to write a movie book forever. Even when I wasn’t really trying to do it, it was always in the back of my mind. The biblical texts of my youth were these books called Cult Movies by Danny Peary. The first one came out in ’82, and the spinoffs came out throughout the 80s. They really launched me into thinking like a writer and putting some effort into communicating that way, because I was so naturally drawn to movies—and in particular the offbeat stuff that had fallen through the cracks. At the same time, I’m a rock fanatic—in particular the more extreme forms of it. I used to write a lot of music stuff for the New York Press, which was a weekly paper in the 90s.

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So, OK, why now? I’m 45, and I’m an ex-punk who’s also always loved metal. In The Sound Of The Beast, [Bazillion Points founder] Ian Christe wrote that “metal swallowed punk and moved forward.” That swallowing seems to keep happening and metal keeps changing. With this explosion of metal in the 21st century, I’ve become more metal-focused than ever in terms of my taste because there’s just so much more of it and so many weird variations. I was always interested in writing about that, too. The two kind of coalesced for me when I read an incredible book called Destroy All Movies, which is the complete history of punks in film that Fantagraphics put out at the end of 2010. It was edited by a great guy by the name of Zack Carlson. That book is now out of print and goes for hundreds of dollars online. But it’s different than my book in that it was a team of people who actually wrote it—I think it was seven reviewers who wrote it over seven years and tried to find every single instance of punk rock in any form physically appearing in a movie or on the soundtrack. I found it at Quimby’s Bookstore here in Chicago, which is a major hangout of mine, and I thought, “I gotta write the metal answer book to this.” So that’s how it happened.

As you said, Destroy All Movies had a team of people behind it—the chances of overlooking a particular movie were a lot less. You wrote Heavy Metal Movies by yourself. Weren’t you afraid you’d forget something?
Oh, yeah! I still am. Even up to the last minute, as Bazillion Points was sending the book to the printer, I was like, “Oh, fuck! I didn’t do Fantomas!” But by then it was too late. So volume two will contain a review of Fantomas. But if I do another book of this scope after that, it’ll be with a team of people. I won’t put myself, my wife, or my sanity through this again. [Laughs] I’m actually working on a book about teen sex comedies from the 70s and 80s. Zack Carlson, the Destroy All Movies editor, was originally working on it with a bunch of other guys. They came up with the perfect title, which is Bonerz!, but they were so overwhelmed by it that they abandoned the project, gave me the title and said, “Go with god.”

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As a kid, your system for deciding which movies to go see was based on circling the ones that Leonard Maltin would denote as “bombs” in his Movie Guide. How did you figure out that if Leonard Maltin hated it, you’d probably like it?
[Laughs] Yeah, it said “BOMB!” in all caps. It’s not a knock against Len, because he’s the only guy out there keeping the Little Rascals alive, so I appreciate him for that. But as a very young kid, I was just drawn to monster movies and that whole weird world. My grandparents had one of those Leonard Maltin books just lying around, so I’d start looking stuff up, like anything with “Frankenstein” in the title. And I started seeing that he’d marked all these movies as bombs. So I inherently knew that was the greatest stuff. Of course, they all had the most interesting titles, too, like Fire Maidens From Outer Space or The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies. It was a very handy guide that Leonard and his team wrote. They provided a very valuable service that they may not have been aware of.

From the early 90s to the early 2000s, you published a zine called Happyland. Stylistically, that was the precursor to Heavy Metal Movies in a lot of ways.
I did that on and off over the course of a decade. I published seven issues in the first three years and then took a bunch of time off. Then 9/11 happened, and I really felt the world was ending, so I thought I better do something. So I put out three huge issues of Happyland. It was your standard Xerox-and-staples hate zine of the 90s. My direct inspiration was this guy Richard Sullivan, who published a zine called the Gore Gazette. It was very similar to a zine called Sleazoid Express, which was published by a guy named Bill Landis, who is now dead. Bill covered the 42nd Street theaters from 1980 to 1986. I never saw it at the time, but Sleazoid Express was truly the sub-sewer of that culture. It was not getting mainstream press, but it was fucking brilliant.

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What about tonally? Any influences to speak of?
Howard Stern was a big one for me back then. Not now—not the America’s Got Talent Howard Stern—but just the idea of communicating very directly and very obscenely but with great humor. That’s what Happyland was all about—getting fucked up, taking drugs, going to the movies on 42nd Street, going to see bands, and making fun of people.

Is that why you did it under a pen name—because you were making fun of people?
No, I just thought “Selwyn Harris” was a cool name. And those happened to be the last two theaters that stayed open—the Selwyn and the Harris. I’m a big fan of pseudonyms in general. It’s like Iggy Pop versus James Osterberg.

You’ve been the head writer for the website Mr. Skin for the last 11 years. How did you first get into porno?
Through Happyland. The tag line for the zine was, “The heartwarming adventures of a boy and his dick.” It was all about the peep shows, getting laid, fucking—it was New York obscenity, circa ’91. A friend of mine was the receptionist at the New York Press, and she brought in Happyland. The art director at the time, Michael Gentile, had worked at Hustler and he thought Happyland was fucking hilarious. So I started writing freelance for the Press, and Michael sent copies of the zine to Allan MacDonell, who was the editor of Hustler at the time—he wrote a very good book about that experience called Prisoner of X. So Allan called me up and offered me some freelance work. In ’93, I moved to LA and was the entertainment editor at Hustler for three years. But Hustler is a miserable place to work.

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You also worked at Troma, the D-movie powerhouse behind The Toxic Avenger, for two whole weeks. What happened?
After Hustler, I worked at a few other porno magazines like Genesis and High Society. I also had a five-alarm drug and alcohol problem. When I got clean, I freaked out that nobody would hire me because of my resume. I had been writing articles about Troma—and I fucking hate Troma and I hope that comes across in the book. I hated them then, and I hate them now. I did like The Toxic Avenger when I was in high school, but everything else they’ve done I can’t stand. Once they became goofy Troma, like, “We’re schlocky!” it was like, fuck that. But I’d written a couple articles about Troma for Genesis, so they gave me a shitty job. It was an entry-level job tracking film prints. It was as miserable as you’d imagine, and I walked out after two weeks. It was a jerky move, but I couldn’t take another minute of it. At one point, [Troma co-founder] Lloyd Kaufman asked me to ghostwrite his autobiography. I said okay, and I swear to god, the contract said, “for the amount of zero dollars.”

What a fucking asshole.
[Laughs] I couldn’t believe it was real. It was like a Simpsons joke. So I didn’t do it. But the guy who ended up ghostwriting the book is named James Gunn, who is now a major Hollywood director. So, whoops. But I also never got paid for the two weeks I worked at Troma. Actually, my payment was never having to talk to those people again.

J. Bennett has yet to make it all the way through The Toxic Avenger.

Heavy Metal Movies is available for pre-order via Bazillion Points.