Photo via Moviestore Collection/Rex
“Death to false metal!” That phrase is as intertwined with headbanger culture as drop-tuned guitars, devil-horn finger salutes, and debates as to what actually constitutes “true” and “false” metal in the first place. Still, some false metal artists—false in the literal sense, that is, in that they’re fake—don’t just get a pass on the traditional death-wishing, they’re admired, honored, and even cherished for the truths they bring to the metal universe by virtue of their illuminating bogusness.
From a distance, heavy metal can come off as utterly dire and humorless. It’s no accident, then, that the most beloved fake metal artists are either straight up comedy-based or they so seriously embody headbanger stereotypes that they become funny. Either way, the best fake metal serves to prove that the melting of faces and banging of heads are in no way antithetical to the tickling of ribs and the busting of guts. And that’s the truth.
The 1984 mock-rockumentary masterpiece This Is Spinal Tap chronicles the misadventures of a legendary, long-running British heavy metal group, and according to every major musician who has ever spoken publicly about the film, it’s so funny, it hurts. Christopher Guest stars as guitar ace Nigel Tufnel. Michael McKean plays frontman David St. Hubbins. Harry Shearer sports one of cinema’s most glorious mustaches in the role of bassist Derek Smalls. Together, they crafted a deep background mythology for 'Tap, tracing them through their acoustic beginnings as the Folksmen, on up through the band’s Mersey Beat years and into flower power before they finally hit platinum by going pure metal.
From the richness, exactitude, and deep understanding inherent those details, the movie pumps out nonstop classic moments that one metal band after another swears was taken from their own backstories. Such “how did they know?” nuggets include Spinal Tap getting lost on the way to the stage, essential props spectacularly misfiring at the exact wrong moment, infighting between the singer and the guitar player when one’s girlfriend wants to contribute creative ideas, and so on, right on up to the series of mysteriously, sometimes explosively, vanishing drummers.This Is Spinal Tap, of course, also introduced the quintessentially metal concept of shredding so hard up and over the top that standard units of measurement no longer apply. Showing off his custom amps that go beyond the traditional 10 on the volume dial, Nigel Tufnel, with equal bravado and brainlessness, proudly beams, “These go to eleven!” So, too, does every aspect of Spinal Tap.
The 2001 Mark Wahlberg vehicle Rock Star is the story of how Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford left the group in 1996 and was replaced, for a while, by Tim “Ripper Owens,” the lead singer of a Judas Priest tribute band—only not exactly. Although Rock Star was initially developed to retell the Ripper-Priest story directly, producers opted instead to go the “inspired by” route. Therefore, Wahlberg plays Chris “Izzy” Cole, and the group he joins is called Steel Dragon, whose members are portrayed by real-life metal mavens Zakk Wylde, Jason Bonham, and Jeff Pilson.
A box office bomb upon initial release (opening four days before the 9/11 attacks certainly didn’t help it), Rock Star has since developed a cult following and is generally well liked and affectionately quoted in heavy metal circles. One significant voice of descent (and what a voice it is) belongs to none other than Rob Halford. When asked about the movie on The Metal Show, Halford put in no uncertain terms: “I think it sucks!”
Before Wayne and Garth and Beavis and Butthead, William “Bill” S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan, aka Bill and Ted, ruled as humanity’s most beloved metal-obsessed teenage goofballs and proud progenitors of the hard-and-heavy rock-and-roll dream group, Wyld Stallyns. Introduced on the big screen in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (originally titled Bill and Ted Go to Hell), our hapless heros went on to rock a Saturday morning cartoon, a live-action Fox TV show, and a series of video games. They even got their own action figures and an “Excellent” sugary breakfast cereal.
At various points in their celestial plane-hopping, Bill and Ted’s Wyld Stallyns ruled the universe, even delivering them, in Bogus Journey, to the steps of the Stairway to Heaven itself. Through it all, the duo’s signature Wyld Stallyns salute remained unchanged: one quick air guitar noodle, accompanied by a shred on the soundtrack, always gets greeted by another.
The Love Boat ruled the 1970s as TV’s premiere seafaring showcase for celebrities who, to put it kindly, were not quite cresting at their peak of popularity. One case in point is Sonny Bono who, after splitting from his music and television partner (and, oh yeah, his wife) Cher, frequently boarded The Love Boat for multiple guest shots. Sonny’s most memorable voyage cast him as Deacon Dark, a rising shock-rock star in full facepaint modeled after Alice Cooper and Kiss. Upon being introduced in the titular ship’s Acapulco Lounge as “demented, dangerous, and disgusting,” Deacon Dark storms the floor show and belts out, “Smash it! Smash it! Hit it with a hammer and bash it!” Deacon Dark’s act is intentionally lame, but his make-up, along with that of his backing band, has since proven eerily prescient. While the musicians’ faces are adorned in what looks like an early version of black metal’s corpse paint, the Deacon’s makeup is uncannily close to that sported two years later by Danish metal marauder King Diamond upon the debut of his legendary band, Mercyful Fate. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. Either way, would anyone ever be brave enough to bring up Deacon Dark to King Diamond?
The Lone Rangers
The very definition of a “cable classic,” 1994’s crazed, cartoonish hesher farce Airheads casts Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, and Brendan Fraser as a heavy metal power trio so dumb they don’t even understand what’s technically wrong with calling themselves the Lone Rangers. In a harebrained scheme to get their music heard, the Rangers storm a radio station bearing water guns loaded with hot sauce, take a disc jockey hostage, and issue demands like wanting to see naked pictures of Golden Girls star Bea Arthur. The expected slapstick mayhem ensues. Many a headbanger determined to scowl through Airheads has succumbed to its sheer stupid fun and caved in while watching it, unable to not just crack up. The leads are hilarious, as are, in supporting roles, Chris Farley, Michael McKean, Michael Richards, Ernie Hudson, Joe Mantegna, and Judd Nelson. For those who are still yet to enjoy Airheads, we won’t spoil it by revealing whether or not they get those naked shots of Dorothy Zbornak.
While America experienced a nonsensical “Satanic Panic” over heavy metal music in the 1980s, many of those imaginary fears came true in Norway, as black metal devotees took to torching churches, blowing their heads off, eating human brains, and murdering one another. When the Fox crime procedural Bones did a “ripped from the headlines” episode about those Norwegian black metal crimes, the show was called “Mayhem on a Cross” and it supplied all the ridiculousness and entertaining misunderstanding of the music and its culture one could hope to snarkily guffaw at. While a band called Mayhem was at the center of Norwegian black metal’s explosion of violence, on Bones, Mayhem is the name of a musician who was in a band called Spew before he suddenly disappeared. He later makes it back into the black metal scene the hard way: as a crucified skeleton being used as a stage prop. Bones’s heroes subsequently investigate the “evil” world of black metal, which is depicted as a sweat-pit of Hot Topic goths grinding to industrial dance rhythms. Mayhem turns out be a victim of a corpse-painted turf war between Spew and rival band that goes by the terrifying moniker, Brennan. The good guys win, and some black metal guys go to jail while the rest of the black metal guys get to remain scary. Sorry: spoiler alert.
Wyckyd Sceptre are a party-hearty Sunset Strip hair metal outfit who debuted in 1998 on the great Bob Odenkirk-David Cross HBO sketch series, Mr. Show. The boys of Wyckyd Sceptre love nothing more than jamming tunes, chugging booze, smoking doobs, tooting rails, and ravaging one another’s naked bodies in raw, passionate homosexual intercourse that they film and pass around as “party tapes.” Just don’t ever suggest they’re gay. After one Wyckyd Sceptre party tape becomes a pass-along rage, the group’s manager explains that he’s gay and that he uses the tape to get himself off, as it resembles what happens when he and his gay friends get together. “Because,” he reiterates, “we’re gay.” Wyckyd Sceptre just hurls a series of gay slurs at him and, hilariously, continues to not get it—except for when they do, as in a final concert scene where, live from Fire Island, the group wails: “Gettin’ the shaft again/gettin’ it in the end!...”
In 1985, Senator’s wife Tipper Gore and her PMRC organization petitioned Washington to legally mandate the labeling of records in order to protect American youth against the mind-controlling, soul-destroying evils of heavy metal music. Three years later, the gloriously cheeseball heavy metal horror opus Black Roses brought all of Tipper’s worst nightmares to vivid life in a VHS release that was so cool, it came in a box with a raised plastic demon face and electric guitar on its cover. Tipper couldn’t even have put a sticker on that thing if she tried! Black Roses themselves are a glam metal ensemble who each tour in the own Lamborghini sports car. One day, they roll into the quaint hamlet of Mill Basin and, in short order, possess the town’s youth, raise demons that devour local parents, and unleash all manner of heavy metal hell by way of their Headbanger’s Ball-ready hard rock anthems. The only disappointing aspect of Black Roses is that, since none of that stuff ever actually happened in real life, it turned out Tipper Gore was just an uptight square all along. Think about how cool things would be if she’d been right.Moloch
In 1979, The Love Boat drew first red-dyed corn-syrup blood with Sonny Bono as Deacon Dark. Three TV seasons later, and shortly after Ozzy Osbourne freaked out everybody’s mom by biting the head off a bat, the NBC motorcycle cop show CHiPs returned false metal hellfire by debuting Donny Most, best known for playing Ralph Malph on Happy Days, as an Alice/Ozzy clone named Moloch. Resplendent in a red body suit, red cape, curly red wig, and red-and-white scary face-paint, Moloch opens the show by rocking an outdoor crowd with his pledge-your-soul-to-Satan barnburner, “Devil Take Me.” After hopping into his custom hearse, , Moloch’s sound system ushers a death threat, the car’s brakes fail, and he turns for protection to CHiPs heroes Ponch (Erik Estrada) and Jon (the guy who isn’t Erik Estrada). It turns out to all be a publicity stunt. Whoops again: spoiler alert.
The 1986 Halloween hair-raiser Trick or Treat is a calculated commercial combination of the heavy metal and horror movie crazes of its era. Fortunately, it pays off in a manner as heaping and grand as the mousse-imbued hair-do of its hard-rock anti-hero, Sammi Curr (Tony Fields). Marc Price (Skippy Henderson from the sitcom Family Ties) portrays Eddie Weinbauer, a nerdy headbanger who idolized Curr up until the singer’s dying day. In mourning, Eddie visits late-night rock DJ Nuke, played by Gene Simmons of KISS. Nuke gives Eddie a Sammi Curr rarities cassette that, once played, unleashes the vocalist’s unholy ghost to bombard terror down over all within earshot. Earning its metal cred where it can, Trick or Treat features Ozzy Osbourne in a cameo as a televangelist, and Fastway, a supergroup featuring by “Fast” Eddie Clarke of Motörhead and bassist Pete Way of UFO, provides the soundtrack. Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. had negotiated to play Sammi Curr, but that went the way of Chris Holmes’ dignity in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Gene Simmons also passed on the part. Producers then, somehow, turned to Solid Gold dancer Tony Fields. He does well in the role and, like the entirety of Trick or Treat itself, Sammi Curr is stupid, Sammi Curr is awesome, and Sammi Curr is stupidly awesome.
Mike McPadden is trick-or-treating on Twitter.