Hysteria : The Def Leppard Story

I love documentaries about rock bands or rockumentaries as they are called. I love movies where heavy metal bands or rock bands are involved or is about. Adding to my small but valuable list of such movies is Hysteria : The Def Leppard Story a 2001 VH1 tv movie about the band’s humble beginnings, Rick Allen’s near fatal car accident that caused him his left arm and the late guitarist Steve Clark’s battle with alcoholism. The movie shows events from 1978 leading all the way upto their triumphant “comeback” post Allen’s accident and amputation in 1987. Starring in the movie are Orlando Seale as Joe Elliott, Tat Whalley as Rick Allen, Karl Geary  as  Steve Clark, Adam MacDonald as Rick Savage, Esteban Powell as Phil Collen, Nick Bagnall as Pete Willis, Anthony Michael Hall as recording producer and unofficial 6th member John Mutt Lange & Dean McDermott as Peter Mensch (band manager).

The movie starts off in 1978 with factory worker Joe Elliot who meets up with guitarist Pete Willis and auditions to be the second guitar player for his band. Joining them at the house is bassist Rick Savage and then drummer Tony Kenning. While Joe’s guitar playing doesn’t impress the other 3 that much, his singing does. Hired on the spot Joe also shows them the artwork he has done for a prospective band name – Deaf Leopard which is then changed at the table to Del Leppard. The band works on their music and add guitarist Steven Clark who auditions for the second guitarist position. They then get their first gig and impress the audience. However Tony proves to be a problem; his demanding girlfriend seems to restrict the practising hours. The band then get a deal to record their EP in a studio, with monetary help from Joe’s parents but after a tiff about the time he spends away from the band, Tony leaves. Running short of time the remaining 4 members hold auditions and select a young 15 year old drummer Rick Allen as the replacement. They record their album and go on tour. Along the way they met and sign Peter Mensch as their manager. Throughout 1979 they hit the road and develop a steady following and Mensch gets them a gig supporting AC/DC.

Their second album High N Dry gives them a hit and more fans and they set their sights on America. They approached noted producer Robert Mutt Lange who agrees to record their album, fine tuning and polishing their sound. Initially the band have a hard time as Mutt pushes them hard to make the sound perfect but they are impressed when Joe’s voice sounded better at a higher range at the producer’s suggestion. Also by this point both Steve & Pete start drinking heaving but Steve is able to not let it affect his performance. After an incident at a concert where Pete walks off during Steve’s solo to get a drink at the side of the stage and Joe pulls him back to the stage, the band have an argument. Pete who started the band has lost his role as leader to Joe and he is fired by the rest of the band. They see glam rocker Phil Collen perform at a club and ask him to join them as Pete’s replacement. The film shows Steve’s lack of confidence and insecurity as he feels that Phil is more technically gifted than him but Phil manages to win Steve over by confessing to admire his feel and soul in his playing. The third album Pyromania comes out in 1983 and is a huge hit making the band stars in the US as well and they go on a large tour in support of the album. At the end of the tour the band decides to take a break and Allen is most vocal about going on an extended leave as they haven’t take much time off in 3 years and now they have some money to relax with.

In 1984 drummer Rick Allen has an accident while driving his Corvette; he lost control while going at high speeds trying to overtake another car. Allen loses his arm in the accident and although the doctors initially reattach it, the infection spreads meaning that they have to amputate it. Without his left arm Allen feels his time as a drummer is over and goes into a depression. While the other 4 members rally around their comrade, it becomes apparent that Steve’s drinking is another accident waiting to happen. While his drinking buddy Phil manages to sober up after an incident, Steve goes on a downward spiral causing concern for his girlfriend. While Allen learns to drum with one arm, playing an electronic kit and arranging foot pedals to duplicate the drumming he usually does with his left hand, Steve falls ill and is admitted to a rehab center where the doctors warm that he might die if he does not quit drinking this heavily. The band on an extended hiatus must now wait for Steve to recover. He however walks out of the rehab at one point and it’s a talk with Allen that brings him back. After months of preparation, Def Leppard finally hit the stage with Allen back on the drums  at the 1986 Monsters of Rock festival in England. After Joe introduces him, Allen gets an emotionally charged extended ovation. Finally the band can get back together and in 1987 release their 4 album, the super hit singles packed Hysteria.

The movie ends at this stage after stating the reaction to the album and then mention that in 1990 Steve would be found dead after even more fights with alcoholism. Recording sessions suffered from this distraction, and in mid-1990, Steve was granted a six-month leave of absence from the band. Clark died from an accidental mix of prescription drugs and alcohol on 8 January 1991, in his London home. After the band release their next album Adrenalize without a second guitarist they do hire Irish musician Vivian Campbell to become the 5th member of their band. The movie can be seen as a tribute to the comeback and fighting spirit of Allen and a fond memory for Steve. I thought that the movie really takes off around the mid way mark. The actors (mostly unknowns at the time and still I only know of Adam McDonald who I have seen in a few tv series) do a good job of imitating the musical mannerisms of the actual members and dress like them. The movie does suffer from some production issues and not having a bigger budget but still I as impressed. Rock on! 7 outta 10!

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