Mike Postalakis doesn’t have a streaming subscription account, but he does have YouTube. These are his stories.
1986. Landover, Maryland. The Capitol Centre parking lot. British metal gods Judas Priest are in town during their Fuel for Life tour, and aspiring documentarians Jeff Krulik and John Heyn have come armed with a BetaMax videocamera, four 20-minute tapes (used) and a sole microphone, all borrowed from their local public access station. For the next two hours, they will interview dozens of dazed and confused teenagers about their love of Judas Priest, Jack Daniels whiskey and the right to rock and roll all night (and party during the day in a designated public space).
And party they will. Beers are consumed. Acid is dropped. Zero fucks are given. This is big hair country, a place where the boys rarely wear shirts — unless it’s promoting a favorite band (Ozzy, Led Zep, even a Stones shirt, which feels oddly out of place) — and the girls are draped over the arms of their K.K. Downing wannabes. They are about to rock, but with Heavy Metal Parking Lot, they are forever captured in tailgating mode. The short opens with an unintended Gun Crazy homage, the camera in the backseat as a parking lot attendant informs the filmmakers where to park. The car then circles the lot and reveals an assortment of jalopies, rustbuckets and lemons (there’s more Gremlins here than both Dante films) while The Priest’s biggest hit to date, “You Got Another Thing Coming,” blasts.
Dave, a 20-year-old in aviator shades, takes a sip of beer before passionately kissing Dawn, a 13-year-old in a Zebra print v-neck. In less than two weeks, Dave will be joining the Air Force Academy, just in time to bomb Gaddafi, but right now he’s “ready to rock.” Graham, a spitting image for Freaky Styley-era Anthony Kiedis, lectures that all drugs should be legal — a pretty standard argument from somebody who’s just ingested LSD. His dream would be to see a joint so big that it stretched clear cross America, allowing, presumably, only people on the coasts and the Midwest a chance to toke. Sounds elitist. One redhead girl proclaims she would jump the bones of Rob Halford if she were face to face with the Judas Priest lead singer. Twelve years later, Halford would shatter those dreams by coming out of the closet. The camera jumps around to various groups of fans, each proclaiming that “Priest rules!” Devil horns fly as fans line up to enter the arena.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot is one of those proto-viral videos, heavily traded via dubbed VHS tapes during the late 80s and 90s, which is how it happened to come into my life. My older cousin Scott had a worn out copy that he kept hidden inside the sleeve for the Sports Illustrated Super Bowl XXIII highlight video. Every Christmas, when my family came to visit our extended family in their rural Ohio town, Scott and I would sneak away to his basement, away from cheek-kissing aunts and finger pulling uncles, pop the tape in the VCR and be right there with our heavy metal brethren.
1986 was a turning point year for The Priest. Their new album, the masterfully mediocre “Turbo,” had just been released. Aiming to rebound from the disappointing sales of their previous record, “Defenders of the Faith,” “Turbo” features a more synthesized guitar sound — heavy, but not exactly metal. Nevertheless, it worked. The album went Platinum, and a worldwide tour with Dokken was planned. But they would soon find themselves on trial for the apparent hidden messages in the song “Better By You, Better Than Me.” When played backwards, lawyers argued, the words “Do it! Do it!” could be heard, which led to at least one fan offing himself with a shotgun. They would later be exonerated, but Priest found themselves on the decline. Tastes changed. Grunge was ushered in. Big hair and spandex were replaced with long, unwashed hair and flannel. Halford left the group a few years later, replaced in a nationwide tryout by fanboy Tim “Ripper” Owens, an event depicted in the underrated Mark Wahlberg film Rock Star. A decade’s worth of terrible albums later, Halford squeezed himself back into the S&M garb to rejoin Judas Priest, and they still tour today.
Krulik and Heyn weren’t metalheads, but like all great documentary filmmakers, they knew where to find a unique anthropologic study. HMPL offers a snapshot of youth culture before the selfie made us self-conscious. Nobody is tagging themselves or checking in. There’s no safe zones or helicopter parents (surprisingly, a lot of the kids say that their parents bought them tickets). This is L-I-V-I-N in the moment at its best. HMPL is best played loud with a can of Schlitz and a doob burning in the ashtray
Mike Postalakis (@mikepostalakis) is a writer, director and comedian living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t have a Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or HBO Go account. Instead, he spends his extra money at the Gap.