Classic Movie Review: This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Posted: October 30, 2013 in Comedy


Spinal Tap, a British band formed in the 1960’s, are back for one last tour.  Immediately, the band is enmeshed in controversy.  Their album, Smell The Glove, has a cover that is too suggestive for major retailers Sears and K-Mart to sell.  They solve the controversy by selling the album in a plain black cover.  Nothing helps, no one shows to an album signing, and tensions in the band start to rise. Lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) starts to fight with manager, Ian Faith. (Tony Hendra)  Soon, concerts are being cancelled in Memphis and Boston, but that is only the beginning.  Jeanine Pettibone, (June Chadwick) girlfriend of lead singer and guitarist, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKeon) shows up in the middle of the tour.  Nigel dies not like Jeanine, and Jeanine slowly starts to take over the band, making suggestions that Spinal Tap put on face paint to reflect their signs of the horoscope and suggesting that the album wasn’t mixed properly.  Nigel suggests that they do a rock opera based on Stonehenge, but the idea goes horribly wrong.  Finally, Jeanine suggests that she wants to co-manage the band, which makes Ian storm out, and eventually Nigel quits the band.  Is Spinal Tap through for good?  Or is there a chance that Nigel will return?

Let me tell you how great a satire of heavy metal Spinal Tap is.  It’s such a great parody that Spinal Tap went on tour, and everybody thought they were a real band.  This is a satire of a genre of music, heavy metal, that is in dire need of satirizing. If Ozzy Osbourne wasn’t a self-parody already, this movie could be a parody of his life.  It does more than parody heavy metal though, it parodies the British invasion, the rock opera with Stonehenge, and The Who with the spontaneously combustible drummer.  There are a number of classic scenes, the band walking underneath the arena, shouting rock and roll, while looking for the entrance to the stage, the all black album, (which Metallica used as an album cover in 1991) and the amps going to 11, to name just a few.

What makes this movie so funny?  Funny actors like Michael McKeon, Chris Guest, and Harry Shearer, who know how to ad-lib, and do it to perfection. It seems like the questions to the band in this mockumentary may have been scripted, but the answers to those questions were definitely off the cuff, and it’s amazing that they could be so funny and even make up songs on the spur of the moment. What makes this movie so funny?  Songs like “Big Bottom” and “Sex Farm” which are funny, but they also could pass for real metal songs, which make them even funnier.  Chris Guest has written a lot of movies in this faux documentary style, Best In Show, For Your Consideration, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting For Guffman, but Spinal Tap by far is the best. There are also a number of funny cameos, Fran Dresher, Paul Schaffer and Billy Crystal, to name a few.

Rob Reiner is the director, and he makes the movie seem like an actual documentary.  Reiner cut his comedy teeth on the seminal television show, All In The Family.  He’s made some of my favorite movies, The Sure Thing, When Harry Met Sally, and A few Good Men.

This is Spinal Tap.  Tap into a funny movie.



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