Trail Mix takes a look at classic movie trailers from years past to explore their relationship (however sometimes tenuous) to the films themselves and to the movie promotion of today.
With apologies to This Is Spinal Tap, and possibly Deathgasm (and obviously disqualifying documentaries like The Decline Of Western Civilization 2 and Until The Light Takes Us), 1994’s Airheads might just be the most metal movie of all time.
A product of the “Die Hard on a…” subgenre that sprung to life in that masterpiece’s wake, which mostly resulted in passable to entertaining dreck like Speed (Die Hard on a Bus), Under Siege (Die Hard on a Train) and Air Force One (Die Hard on a Plane), Airheads was Die Hard in a Radio Station right down to the fact that both films exteriors were shot at the same 20th Century Fox owned downtown L.A. High Rise.
The important difference though, was that Airheads didn’t ask us to root for a lone freedom fighter set against terroristic oppression (here played to maximum Kramer-ish-ness by none other than TV’s Kramer himself, Michael Richards) but for the unlikely terrorists themselves, an up in coming L.A. groove metal three piece hard up for radio airplay and a record contract, with the ridiculous moniker of “The Lone Rangers”.
The early to mid-90’s were a weird time for metal, stuck between the grunge boom (and resulting glam fallout) and the JNCOs and dreadlocks clad rise of nu metal (not to mention all weird the gothy outliers that emerged in Trent Reznor’s shadow), it’s not hard to believe that a no frills, working class crew like The Lone Rangers would have a tough time getting noticed.
And even if Clinton era metal politics are of no interest to you, the hilarious exploits of our toy-gun-full-of-hot-sauce brandishing would be rock gods turned armed assailants definitely deserves better than the paltry 21% freshness that the film currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes. Adam Sandler is never better than here as dimwitted drummer Pip, and audiences that were only familiar with his blood soaked star turn in Reservoir Dogs got to see a whole different comedic side of Steve Buscemi that has continued to serve him well for decades to come.
It’s the film’s metal bonafides though that make it hold up better than its contemporaries in both SNL tie ins and films that tried to mine and co-opt rock n’ roll slackerism for laughs (cough, Wayne’s World, cough). Motörhead’s immortal metal titan Lemmy Kilmeister shows up both on the soundtrack and in one of the film’s funniest scenes. White Zombie also pulls double duty, filling in for Cannibal Corpse in a club scene after they chose to cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective instead. Seriously, note to Hollywood: if you need to cast a metal band in your movie, cast a metal band in your movie. I don’t know what the hell that band in last year’s (otherwise decent) Ghostbusters reboot was supposed to be, but they sure as hell weren’t Cannibal Corpse.
And most importantly, Brendan Fraser didn’t just look the part as Lone Rangers frontman Chazz but actually sang on their in-universe demo song “Degenerated”, covering 80’s anarcho-punks Reagan Youth, and was backed up by White Zombie’s Sean Yseult and Jay Yuenger. That’s pretty fucking metal.
I could go on about Airheads all day, the fact that Buscemi’s character Rex is an intentional dead ringer for Rex from Pantera, or how the in-movie KPPX Radio Station’s plight echoed the real life hardships of now defunct L.A metal institution KNAC. In the end though, authenticity is the most important factor here. Not just one production designer slapping a Ghost poster on a wall or a Skeletonwitch shirt on the hero in the otherwise unremarkable Lights Out and Limitless, respectively, but an entire, overall production that set out to immerse viewers in a world they might not have seen up close before, and absolutely nailed it.
If you’re going to try to glom onto a counter culture, at least do it right. People really care about this shit, and if you care about it, they’ll care about your movie too, even 22 years later.