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Jeff Krulik is the only guy at the off-track-betting parlor in Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton neighborhood whose eyes aren’t glued to a TV. Yes, there’s a horse race on. And yes, Krulik has bet on it. But the D.C.-area filmmaker, who has made a career out of documenting the mundane vulgarities of life, is riveted by a foul-mouthed, gray-haired midget in baggy jean shorts.
As Krulik watches, the man scurries between bettors, snatching up discarded slips from the floor, muttering obscenities, and wagging his brows when he finds that a bettor’s horse came close to placing first. The midget looks our way and wags his eyebrows at Krulik. But it’s clear that he sees him as nothing more than a fellow gambler.
Even in his heyday, Krulik—the auteur behind Heavy Metal Parking Lot—didn’t exactly get recognized on the street. And now, nearly a quarter century after his legendary camera-wielding foray into the crowd outside a 1986 Judas Priest concert at the now-demolished Capital Centre in Prince George’s County, diminishing returns from subsequent exercises in parking-lot verite mean Krulik’s been having a hard time even gaining traction among the documentary-geek types who once adored him.
Heavy Metal Picnic, Krulik’s latest effort at wringing cinematic magic from mulleted Marylanders, has been rejected from every film festival he’s applied to. Few of his friends have taken the time to watch it. And though it’s supposed to premiere next month at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, the movie isn’t even finished. For a while, it looked like it might never make it to completion.
Which is what brings Krulik to New York, if not to this seedy betting parlor: With a month to go before the film screens in Silver Spring, he’s finally found an editor to turn his ill-fated rough cut into something approximating a quality movie. So he’s high-tailed it northward to watch a 23-year-old hockey-obsessed man named Greg DeLiso resurrect some found footage of a 1985 Montgomery County field concert featuring a bunch of metal bands he’s never heard of.
The venture—and Krulik’s career as a chronicler of pop-culture fanhood—suddenly doesn’t seem so different from racetrack gambling.
The midget disappears in a sea of hips, and Krulik’s eyes move to a TV. He points to a horse with 3-to-1 odds. “That one’s supposed to be a sure thing, but I don’t really know what I’m doing,” he says. “And, you know, there are no sure things.”
Music and film nerds revere Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Years before Jersey Shore, the film turned the unintelligible ravings of drunken fans into a documentary for the ages. A 2006 DVD reissue features endorsements to that effect from Cameron Crowe, who called it “one of the greatest rock movies ever.”
Even before the establishmentarian acclaim began to pile up, Heavy Metal Parking Lot had achieved a sort of cult status, traded around in VHS form. The Backstreet Boys referenced it in a music video. Lady GaGa’s DJ commemorated the starlet’s Fameball tour with a video called Lady GaGa’s Pop Culture Parking Lot in 2009 .
Krulik followed the masterpiece with more efforts to wrest gems from fan culture including Neil Diamond Parking Lot in 1996 , which gave way to Harry Potter Parking Lot in 2000 . The brand seemed so bankable that Trio, the late pop-culture cable channel, contracted Krulik to create an 8-part mini series based on the Parking Lot theme. This led to Parking Lot docs about a Cher concert, a tattoo convention, Michael Jackson’s trial, a pro wrestling show, and a meet-up of sci-fi nerds.
But the derivatives failed to capture the zeitgeist as effectively as patient zero. The Trio gig lasted just a single season. And, as much as Krulik resented being typecast as the man in the parking lot, the disappointments highlighted a bleaker truth: His non-parking lot films—more than 40, many of which premiered at respectable film festivals or earned DVD releases—were even less commercially successful than the HMPL reduxes.
“I don’t want to be the Heavy Metal guy. I don’t want to be the Parking Lot guy. That was my thinking for a long time,” Krulik says. “I’ve since changed my thinking. I now realize this is an opportunity. Don Ho had Tiny Bubbles until the day he died.”
Which meant that Krulik was in a mood to listen when an old friend called up in 2006 with an intriguing offer.
L ong-time metalhead Rudy Childs wanted to show Krulik a video he shot of a 1985 outdoor concert where a bunch of formerly up-and-coming bands—Forcer, Asylum, the Blue Rockers—played in a Potomac field. “He told me about this footage shot with his home video camera,” Krulik says. “I was blown away—it was a whole new mid-’80s video document that I felt right at home with.”
Krulik edited the 45 minutes of drinking, fighting, and jamming down to 30 minutes, dubbing it Rudy Childs’ Heavy Metal Picnic 1985. It played the Underground Film Festival tour in 2006. It wasn’t until he submitted it to that year’s Maryland Film Festival, where he felt it would be a shoo-in, that it occurred to him to do more.
“They said something to the effect of ‘we want to see more of a documentary with this footage’ which, at the time, was something I had no interest in doing. I thought the edited version of the footage spoke for itself, and was entertaining enough,” Krulik says.
Unbeknownst to Krulik, Childs—who stars in the original tape as the interviewer and cameraman—had taken it upon himself to interview the various attendees, starting with a Florida reunion of the band Forcer. Something clicked when Childs told Krulik what he was up to. “I got to looking at that footage and hearing the stories. I started percolating with the idea from the Maryland Film Festival programming board that ‘hey, maybe this could become a documentary.’”
“If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve never shut the camera off,” Krulik says. “I would’ve filmed the entire ’80s.”
And just like that, reviving the Heavy Metal franchise didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Perhaps it should have.