When the hell did stoner movies get so damn complicated? The best of the recent crop of “let’s get high” films, the Seth Rogen-James Franco opuses Pineapple Express and This Is the End, are brilliant in their balance of scatological humor and smarts, the former a dissection of action cinema and the latter a commentary on celebrity selfishness.

But damned if they don't require you to think. Whether it's Rogen and Franco lampooning their celebrity personas, Harold and Kumar questing for White Castle, or Method Man and Redman attending Harvard, stoner flicks of the past 15 years are so rife with wordplay and pop-culture references that viewing them requires you to actually process information and pay attention. That's pretty hard after a long session with a gravity bong.

Which makes 1981's animated freak show Heavy Metal (playing Friday to Sunday at Portland State's 5th Avenue Cinema) all the more essential as 4/20 rolls around.

Make no mistake: Heavy Metal is a terrible, terrible film. With its buxom warrior women, Jimmy Carter sex-time rock soundtrack (with contributions from Devo, Black Sabbath and Cheap Trick), space truckers and muscle-bound sexual demigods, Gerald Potterton's film looks as if it were masturbated into existence by a 12-year-old who got a hold of his dad's stash and went to town on the doodles on the back of his notebook.

But the hand-drawn animation of the anthology flick, which is linked together by an evil space orb or some shit, is gorgeous. The voice cast—populated by SCTV alums like John Candy, Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis—is spot-on, and the onslaught of zombies, astronauts, flying bird thingies and impossibly gigantic boobs is nonsensically incredible. And incredibly stupid.

Most importantly, it doesn't require a single brain cell to enjoy. It's an antiquated, batshit crazy fantasy film in which nerdy kids are transformed into sexually charged warriors, humping a space nympho is essential to saving the world, and butt-rock anthems blare with the power of 1,000 subwoofers installed in 1,000 windowless vans with unicorn decals. As such, it just might be the purest stoner flick of all. Portland State's 5th Avenue Cinema. 7 and 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, April 18-20.

Also Showing: 

  • In terms of charisma, Ferris Bueller ranks at the top of the movie-character totem. He’s also a manipulative, self-serving prick, which makes me wonder why nobody has made a sequel in which Ferris rises to power as the dictator of a small nation, with Cameron as his bodyguard/sex gimp. This screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off includes free beer samples, plus a pre-movie set by comedian Amy Miller, who can totally steal that sex gimp joke. Mission Theater. 7 pm Wednesday, April 16.
  • Former WW columnist and perennial gadfly Byron Beck takes the stage at the Hollywood for Lost Oregon, a presentation of old home movies and government films peering into the state’s history. The Beck-led “celebrity” panel (which, for some reason, doesn’t include me) will attempt to identify locations. All of you in the audience, meanwhile, get to provide the soundtrack. Sing loud and proud, people. Hollywood Theatre. 7:15 pm Thursday, April 17.
  • When Reservoir Dogs hit theaters in 1992, nobody could have guessed the impact it would have on cinema, the endless knockoffs it would inspire, or how it would cause shortages of skinny black ties in thrift shops across the land. Laurelhurst Theater. April 18-24.
  • If avant-garde film is your thing, 5th Avenue Cinema is ready to blow your mind with a free program of works by masters Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren. If it’s not your thing, this might prove a living hell, and you should stay home and watch Road House, which is definitely showing on some channel or other and is definitely awesome. 5th Avenue Cinema. 7:30 pm Friday, April 18.
  • A pioneering indie flick shot on a shoestring budget, 1978’s Northern Lights tells the story of a 1915 anti-trust campaign in North Dakota, with local North Dakotans—and their accents—populating the cast in lieu of professional actors. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Friday and Sunday, April 18 and 20.
  • Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is also a great stoner movie, but for all the wrong reasons: It’s a bugfuck trip into the heart of darkness. Halfway through the movie, it makes you feel high as hell totally on its own. And that’s before Dennis Hopper shows up. This digital restoration is of the original cut, not the “redux” version that included extra French people talking. Hollywood Theatre. 2:30 and 7:30 pm Saturday-Sunday, April 19-20.