My favorite episode of the film (having finally seen it years later as a teenager, once it hit the midnight movie circuit) is B-17, a chilling segment based on an original story by sci-fi screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (Dark Star, Alien, etc.) that could have come right out of an E.C. comic.
B-17 opens with several of the WWII-era bombers receiving and returning fire from an unseen enemy in a starry night sky. The animation of the planes (which appears rotoscoped) is striking and surreal.
Only one plane, the Pacific Pearl, survives the attack, and co-pilot Holden leaves the cockpit to check the damage.
All is quiet except for an eerie, howling wind. The entire crew has been killed, and the audience is not spared the gruesome horrors of war.
But an alien force that has stowed away on the craft transforms their corpses into lumbering zombies. They kill Holden, then force their way into the cockpit to take out the pilot, Skip.
Skip is able to eject, and parachutes safely to the jungle below.
But he appears to have set down in an airplane graveyard, littered with the wreckage of planes from various eras.
Skip soon finds himself surrounded by the ravenous pilots of the various ruined aircraft, who close in for the kill.
Apparently an earlier concept for B-17 had the plane being terrorized by monstrous versions of the legendary plane-sabotaging gremlins instead of undead zombies.
Disney had previously planned to do a cartoon on these same mythic creatures, using a story by Roald Dahl (of course, their version of the gremlins leaned toward the cute side).
When I said that B-17 was my favorite segment of the film, I should have qualified that by confiding that Heavy Metal, overall, really isn't my thing. While I thought the animation style was unique and sometimes quite beautiful, I found its shallow attempts at being "adult" (gratuitous nudity, sophomoric sex jokes, fetishistic costumes and violence) to be about as edgy as a pair of stripper-silhouetted mudflaps, and I just never went in for the whole macho strand of pulp fantasy that the bulk of the stories wallow in.
Stephen King, once commenting on low-brow sword and sorcery fiction, put it perfectly:
Mediocre fantasy fiction generally appeals to people who feel a decided shortage of power in their own lives and obtain a vicarious shot of it by reading stories of strong-thewed barbarians whose extraordinary prowess at fighting is only excelled by their extraordinary prowess at f---ing; in these stories we are apt to encounter a seven-foot-tall hero fighting his way up the alabaster stairs of some ruined temple, a flashing sword in one hand and a scantily clad beauty lolling over his free arm.
Still, B-17 got to me, and I'd recommend checking the film out for that segment alone.
-Danse Macabre, pg.345