A History of the Motor-sickle Flick
EASY RIDER IS NOT A BIKER FILM! That needs to be said before this discussion gets underway. The biker flick genre is made up of those movies which portray the cyclists as degenerate outcasts from society. They are depicted indulging in their every foul impulse for our voyeuristic pleasure.
Some of the early producers framed their showings of anti-social shenanigans in the context of a portrayal of outcasts from society who are victims of its intolerance, (or at least they pretended to.) Eventually, the need for this phony moralizing gave way to simple vehicles for showing the exploitation ticket buyers of the late sixties/early seventies the sex, violence, and hooliganism that they wanted to see.
The paradigm for the cycle movie basically consisted of a gang of scum bags rolling into Smalltown USA, some innocent young local yokel high school girl maybe getting aroused and interested and then they do/don't molest/have voluntary sex with her, and the hometown rednecks or the fuzz getting riled up and going after the gang. This results in a big rumble in which the filth is wiped out, or the town is leveled.
Now this, of course, sounds pretty meager and uninteresting. It is the need for the filmmakers to make the basic sex and violence chrome opera a little more interesting that allows us to get perverse kicks from the films today. Some of the creative twists put into these epics involved bikers on drugs, bikers in 'Nam, women bikers, black bikers, gay bikers, and even monster bikers.
Motorcycle films featured such later notables as Russ Tamblyn, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Nancy Sinatra, Harry Dean Stanton, Diane Ladd, Casey Kasem, John Cassavetes, the first appearance of Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, and the REAL Hells Angels (San Berdoo chapter in THE WILD ANGELS, and Oakland chapter in HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS and HELLS ANGELS '69.)
The starting point for this contemporarily ubiquitous celluloid series was Roger Corman's classic for AIP, THE WILD ANGELS (1966). After the rising notoriety of The Hell's Angels and other outlaw cyclists in the mid-sixties, through the publication of the famous Life magazine article and Hunter S. Thompson's best selling Hell's Angles: A Strange and Terrible Saga, the always exploitation conscious Corman saw some ripe material for a film.
He and screenwriter Charles Griffith set up an interview with some of the local boys, and while Corman poured brews down their throats, Griffith absorbed their tales of misbehavior and used them as the basis for many of the events that would be acted out in the movie. This flick is more than just the best movie of the genre, it is in fact a great movie in its own right.
Peter Fonda is Heavenly Blues, the leader of the gang, and Nancy Sinatra is his ol' lady Mike. Bruce Dern plays the whacked out role of The Loser, while real life wife Diane Ladd is his main squeeze. The Loser role was initially to be played by Fonda, but when Corman found that original star George Chikaris couldn't ride a motorcycle, Fonda took over the lead on the condition that the character's name be changed from Jack Black to the above mentioned morning glory seed reference.
In the course of the movie the gang heads south of the border to take on a Mexican gang who has stolen a bike. In the cop chase after the brawl, The Loser is seriously injured in an incident in which a lawman is killed. He is laid up in the hospital, healing and awaiting trial, when the Angels decide on a break out. In the middle of the night they bust him loose, stopping only for the brief molestation of a nurse. Under Angel care, back at their crash pad, The Loser kicks from his injuries. It is decided to return him to that from which he came for his burial, and the gang thus brings his body to his small home town in the mountains.
The most bizarre section of the movie then occurs, in which the Angels invade a tiny church and force the pastor to perform the service under the threat of violence. After that, it's party time in the chapel! The pastor is tied up, beers are busted out, and some of the scoundrels drop acid and even slip some to the widow. In the boisterousness that follows, The Loser is replaced in his casket with the conked out preacher. He is propped up with sunglasses on and a joint in his mouth, causing his tripping and freaked out wife to think that he's alive. She starts groping him, until she is attacked by the others in an (offscreen) gang rape.
The local hicks eventually show, and the result is a melee in the graveyard outside. As the film closes, with the cyclers heading off on their iron horses fleeing the arriving police, Blues hangs back, pensively muttering that, "There's nowhere to go." The confused leader has come to terms with the futility of it all.
Also seen in this film are Dick Miller, assistant director Peter Bogdanovich, and The San Bernadino Hell's Angels. Many amusing stories have been told surrounding the reactions of distributors to this movie at the Venice Film Festival, the feelings of the public and critics at the premier, the treatment of the Hell's Angel containing crew by the local lawmen while filming, and the lawsuit and death threats against Corman by those real life bikers who felt that they had been defamed in the final product.
Amongst the books with details are "How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime" by Roger Corman (1990, Delta, ISBN: 0-385-30489-7), "The Films of Roger Corman" by Ed Naha (1982, Arco, ISBN: 0-668-05312-7), "Fast and Furious: The Story of American International Pictures" by Mark Thomas McGee (1984, McFarland, ISBN: 0-89950-091-9), and "Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants" by Sam Arkoff (1992, Birch Lane, ISBN: 1-55972-107-3).
The fuzz guitar title track instrumental, "Blue's Theme" by Davie .Allan and the Arrows, was a minor hit. Davie Allan's music would serve as the backdrop for many other biker and youth exploitation films throughout the late sixties.
THE WILD ANGELS was much better than most of its imitators which followed, and due to its huge boxoffice success there were many. AIP themselves were a major producer of cycle-delic cinema over the next five or so years, and their first follow up was Daniel Haller's THE DEVIL'S ANGELS (1967).
Executive produced by Corman with Burt Topper producing, and again written by Griffith, this time John Cassavetes is Cody, the leader of The Skulls. In this one the boys ramble through a small desert town and draw the attentions of some local teenaged girls. After a false accusation of rape by the town rednecks, the gang is rescued by a fellow group of outlaws. In the course of trashing the place, the hoods get the locals to admit that there were false accusations. The gang's response is, "It looks like we got one coming!," after which a sexual attack is initiated.
In a plot move similar to its predecessor's, Cody is disturbed by the savagery and abandons his followers. Cassavetes acted in this and other low budget fair against his desires, but out of necessity to finance his own film projects. Davie Allan again did the soundtrack, and again it was released on the Capitol Records owned Tower label. Future Euro-trash (and RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP) star Mimsy Farmer can also be seen.
Also from the studio that year was THE BORN LOSERS (1967), which has the distinction of being the first Billy Jack story. Tom Laughlin directed under the pseudonym "T. C. Frank," and also produced and co-wrote under still different names. Co-writer, co-star, and stewardess Elizabeth James plays a neglected rich girl, who's off on her motorcycle for spring break after being blown off by her father. Riding down the road in a white bikini and go-go boots, she is an obvious target for the biker scum.
Laughlin plays the expected role of a half breed coming to her rescue, who due to prejudice becomes a target for both the dirtbags and the sadistic cops. Biker movie regular Jeremy Slate is the leader of a gang with members named Crabs and Gangrene. Also look for Jonathan Haze (star of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and Russ Meyer regular Stu Lancaster. Laughlin was rather nonplused, and attempted to sue, when AIP brought this back after the success of BILLY JACK (1971), a project he was originally to have done for them. This one is a cut above most.
Also of interest from AIP that year is THE GLORY STOMPERS (1967). In a tale of rival gangs from director Anthony M. Lanza and producer John Lawrence, Dennis Hopper is the leader of the evil Black Souls, while Jody McCrea is a member of the not quite so evil Stompers. When Hopper's gang snatches McCrea's girl, with plans to sell her into slavery in Mexico, McCrea teams up with an old non-biker pal to go after the Hopper group. It's is a little thinner in story than the above efforts, however Hopper as an amazing psycho and a great party/orgy scene make it interesting. Casey Kasem is a member of Hopper's Black Souls. Both THE BORN LOSERS and THE GLORY STOMPERS also feature Arrows music.
AIP wasn't done with that. The next year THE MINI-SKIRT MOB (1968), from director Maury Dexter, again had Jeremy Slate along with Harry Dean Stanton as sleazeballs terrorizing an ex-member who now wishes to settle down with his new, straight wife. Dexter also produced.
THE SAVAGE SEVEN (1968) is another of the better efforts, and is from the team of producer Dick Clark and director Richard Rush (who also collaborated on PSYCH-OUT with Jack Nicholoson, Bruce Dern, Dean Stockwell, and Susan Strasberg that year.) In this movie Adam Roarke is a biker who, along with his Indian girlfriend, brings the cyclists and natives together against bigoted evil.
Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholoson continued along with HELL'S ANGELS '69 (1969), in which director Lee Madden gives us Tom Stern, who also was the producer, and Jeremy Slate playing two rich kids rather than the outlaws that they usually were. The lowlifes in this story are played by the real Oakland Hell's Angels, including Sonny Barger and Terry the Tramp (most recently spotted on Morton Downey Jr.'s last shoutshow) made (in)famous from Hunter Thompson's book. This pair hoodwink the Angels into taking the fall for a Las Vegas casino rip-off that they pull for kicks, and then suffer the gang's revenge.
HELL'S BELLES (aka GIRL IN THE LEATHER SUIT, 1969) depicts gang leader Adam Roarke doing battle with good guy rancher Jeremy Slate in the desert over a stolen bike. It also was directed and produced by Maury Dexter.
Director Bill Brame, also responsible for the incredible FREE GRASS with Russ Tamblyn, made THE CYCLE SAVAGES (1969). Bruce Dern is Keeg, a whacked out psychopath who heads up a gang of sicko two-wheelers who are in the business of kidnapping and dosing up young girls before selling them into slavery. A guy who often plays one of the grubs in these films, Scott Brady, is instead a cop. Producer Casey Kasem can again be seen as one of the gang.
American International would carry on into the next decade by making ANGEL UNCHAINED (1970), with producer/director Lee Madden. In a unique plot twist Don Stroud is Angel from the club The Nomads, who is a cycler taking a break from gang life by way of a solo road trip. He encounters hippie pacifist Tyne Daly, and hangs out with her and the other flower children at their commune. When the local rednecks start up trouble with the peace loving freaks, the biker hero calls in his buddies for a confrontation. It's hippies and outlaws verses the hicks.
In Burt Topper's THE HARD RIDE (1971), Robert Fuller returns from 'Nam with the body of his buddy, whose last request was to be buried with full biker honors. A run in with a rival gang leads to the need for a funeral for Fuller as well. Topper is completely responsible as producer, director, and writer.
Noted sleazemeisters, producer Wes Bishop and director Lee Frost, weighed in with CHROME AND HOT LEATHER (1971). The story has a gang, led by William Smith, being tracked down by a troupe of Rambo-like green beret vets, in retaliation for the scumbag's brutal attack and murder of one of the vet's girlfriend.
Of the original post-WILD ANGELS product, probably the best of the lot not made by AIP is HELL'S ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967). Producer Joe Soloman put this one together for US Films, and it was directed by the above mentioned Richard Rush. Laszlo Kovacs was behind the camera. Jack Nicholoson stars as Poet, an introspective gas station attendant who starts hanging around some Hell's Angels after they roll through for fuel one day. After a confrontation between Poet, Angel leader Adam Roarke, and a couple of other members of the gang with some sailors at an amusement park in which one of the sailors is killed, Poet takes it on the lam with the gang. He rolls with them, not ready to join but enjoying his position as an accepted hanger-on. All hell breaks loose however when Poet moves in on the boss' abused and neglected woman. Things come to a head at a party in which Roarke winds up going down in flames from a cycle crash during the showdown with Nicholoson's character. We're left with Poet contemplating what he's to do next with his life. Sonny Barger and his Oakland Angels are featured in a cycle cavalcade, and Barger is credited as "technical advisor." Everybody's favorite actor Bruno Ve Sota can be seen, as can Jack Starrett who would later direct biker product for Soloman. The movie is made better than most by Nicholson's greater than one dimensional performance, which is unusual for the hog jockeys in most of these pics. This film was the most successful of the genre released that year, and exploitation veteran Soloman didn't hesitate to continue making product.
Next up for Soloman was ANGELS FROM HELL (1968), which was actually made in conjunction with American International Pictures and producer Kurt Neumann, and was directed by Bruce Kessler. Tom Stern is a hardassed biker back from 'Nam who wants to funnel the warrior mentality he's acquired over there into organizing a huge gang of outlaw bikers, headed by him, to take on "the establishment." This is pretty shoddy in comparison with its predecessor, suffering not only from poorer acting and direction, but also from a much greater general cheapness. Soloman has a cameo as a movie producer who discusses a film deal around his backyard pool with Stern and the gang.
In RUN ANGEL RUN (1969), Jack Starret directs for producer Soloman and Fanfare the story of ex-Devil's Advocates leader William Smith. When he leaves behind his old cronies, he sells out to "Like" magazine, who put his face on their cover and tell his story as an inside expose. When his former cohorts find out what he's said, and more importantly how much he was paid to say it, they set out after him. Smith shaves and cuts his hair, shacks up with his girlfriend, and takes a job as a farm hand in an attempt to lead the straight life. But when the farm boss' young son exposes the new hand to the biker scum when they roll through town, it sets up a confrontation with bad results along the way for both the girlfriend and the boss' grown daughter. The best sections are the effective multiple framing shots, which show the various bikers rolling out simultaneously, in different actions and from differing perspectives. The Vietnam fixation shown in several of these movies reached its nadir in the next offering from the Soloman/Starrett/Fanfare team.
In THE LOSERS (1970), a CIA operative recruits his biker gang leader brother and four of his fellow hooligans for a special operation behind enemy lines in Cambodia. William Smith and Adam Roarke are back as two of the recruits. The group is set up with dirt bikes fitted with armor and weapons, and are turned loose in the jungle on a rescue mission. Before meeting their demise due to the traitorous pseudo-captive, one of the gang, an apparent vet, stops in on the whorehouse he's left behind to see how things are being managed.
Many independent producers attempted to cash in on the new trend as well. Probably the first one out of the gate following Corman's ground breaker was Florida producer/director William Greffe's THE WILD REBELS (1967). Greffe, who was to bring us THE HOOKED GENERATION next, delivered the cheap and shoddy movie that you should expect from him. Here a car racer infiltrates The Satan's Angels, at the behest of the police, as their driver in a bank robbery. This film was used for parody on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
Future pornographer, and former co-star as Boo Boo in Ray Dennis Steckler's RAT PFINK A BOO BOO, Titus Moody produced and directed OUTLAW MOTORCYCLES (1967) for Gillman. Titus has claimed that he suggested the idea for a motorcycle film to Roger Corman, and that this film was in production before THE WILD ANGELS - I doubt it.
OUTLAW MOTORCYCLES has been described as a mondo styled feature, and footage from it was recycled in the Moody produced and David Hewitt directed (for Thunderbird International) HELL'S CHOSEN FEW (1968). The latter is another returning 'Nam vet drama, this time with Joey Daniels as a guy coming back to free his falsely imprisoned brother with the aid of the brother's cycle gang buddies.
Hewitt's previous foray into these waters was with THE GIRLS FROM THUNDER STRIP (1966). This American General obscurity features Casey Kasem and Jody McCrea in a tale of a motorcycle gang's involvement with moonshine running and hillbilly battles.
The team of Florida producer K. Gordon Murray and director Joseph Prieto made SAVAGES FROM HELL (aka BIG ENOUGH AND OLD ENOUGH, 1968), in which a naive young migrant farm worker girl falls prey to gang leader High Test, played by William P. Kelley. After the girl gets turned on when they go to the swamp buggy races together, the bad guy abducts her and shoots her father, and her brother and his buddy are forced to come to the rescue in a pursuit which includes air boats. Murray and Prieto made the much better SHANTY TRAMP the previous year.
The most amazing entry of the early independent releases is Martin B. Cohen's THE REBEL ROUSERS (1967) from Four Star Excelsior. Cameron Mitchell (as a good guy!) and pregnant wife Diane Ladd (does this mean that Laura Dern also deserves a screen credit?) run into trouble when they encounter a gang of biker scum on a beach. The leader of the gang is Bruce Dern, who turns out to be an old high school buddy of Mitchell's. This, at first, appears as if it will spare the couple from terror, until sadistic number two Jack Nicholson shows up and has other ideas. Harry Dean Stanton is also amongst the chopper riders. Dern attempts to secretly steer his old buddy's wife away from harm, but is foiled when he loses a drag with Nicholson on the sand where the winner's prize is Diane Ladd. The day is saved when a gang of Mexican farmers with pitchforks arrive to the rescue. For some reason this star studded spectacle wasn't given a theatrical release until 1970. Cohen both produced and directed.
Eventually, the straight format of biker hoodlums and their antisocial lifestyles became a little old hat, and producers found it necessary to introduce new wrinkles and gimmicks to maintain the genre. Some of these are so outrageous that they produce wonderfully hysterical film watching experiences, while others appear to be intentionally mocking themselves. The first logical step was to tell stories of roving bands of female marauders. The value of including that sense of perverse sexuality present when women are lashing out against Middle America wasn't lost on exploitation filmmakers.
Producer Anthony Cardoza, who was previously responsible for possibly the worst film ever made in THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, created THE HELLCATS (1968) with director Robert F. Slatzer for Crown International. This movie, which actually isn't all that bad, shows Dee Duffy as an infiltrator into a gang who are involved in drug trafficking, and are suspects in the murder of Duffy's policeman boyfriend. Tough girls rolling on mattresses with their studs out in the forest, and another soundtrack with the great Davie Allan and the Arrows, are high points.
THE MINI-SKIRT MOB featured both men and women gang members and was discussed previously.
The most far out example of chopper chicks is The Maneaters gang in The Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis' sleaze classic SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS (1968). H.G. produced and directed for his Mayflower company, and this was made in Florida coincidentally, and with largely the same cast, as his JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT. If you've seen an H.G. Lewis classic (BLOOD FEAST, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, SOMETHING WEIRD, SUBURBAN ROULETTE, BLAST-OFF GIRLS, THIS STUFF'LL KILL YA and many more,) you'll know what to expect.
If you haven't, I don't know if I can do justice to the experience with my description. I'll just say that you get to see Harley riding women select drooling slobs from a "stud-line," initiate a new member with motor oil and lesbianism, force one member to drag her boyfriend on the ground behind her bike until he's a bloody pulp, and decapitate a guy by stringing a piece of wire across the road in the path of his motorcycle. The theme song, "Get Off the Road," is hysterical, and can be heard in a cover version by The Cramps on the back of their "Kizmiaz" 12" single.
SISTERS IN LEATHER (1969) follows a similar theme, but that's all I know of it. Shlockmaster Al Adamson (R.I.P.- his genre efforts are discussed below) also contributed with the late in the cycle ANGELS' WILD WOMEN (1972). The movie shows four tough chicks terrorizing any obnoxious males who dare to get in their way. Adamson also served as producer on all of his projects as director.
If they could put woman into the biker mold why not blacks? The result is THE BLACK ANGELS (1970) by producer Leo Rivers and director Lawrence Merrick for Merrick International. A black gang, The Choppers (played by a real biker gang of that name,) are rivals with the white Serpents. A light skinned Choppers member infiltrates The Serpents for reasons of espionage, and the movie concludes with the expected rumble.
Director Lawrence Brown even went so far as to make THE PINK ANGELS (1971), in which the bikers are transvestites on a run to LA. Dan Haggerty is in the cast.
Things eventually went to the level of horror/biker crossovers. Joe Soloman and Fanfare's last cycle epic was WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS (1971), directed by Michel Levesque and produced by Paul Lewis. The gang in this one bust in on a satanic service in progress, and the result is members changing into beasts and killing each other.
The much slower British release PSYCHOMANIA (aka THE DEATH WHEELERS, 1972) is Don Sharp's story of a leader into the occult, who directs his followers into suicide and an eventual rising from the grave.
All time worst director candidate Al Adamson was always willing to try his hand at any form of exploitation which was currently selling. Al's first attempt for his Independent International was HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS (aka OPERATION M, aka THE FAKERS, 1967.) Not released until 1970, Adamson regulars Robert Dix and John Carradine are joined by Scott Brady, Broderick Crawford, and Col. Sanders. The typically confusing plot has something to do with the cycle maniacs teaming up with an ex-Nazi and The Mafia, in a battle with The FBI and Israeli intelligence. It's another feature shot by the hard working Laszlo Kovacs.
There are not very many things which the evil Medved boys were correct about in their snide, condescending little books, but one of them was the declaration of SATAN'S SADISTS (1969) as The Worst All Time Biker Film.
The Rugged Russ Tamblyn fleshes out his roll as a biker, which would be repeated in Adamson's more widely seen next film DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. This movie is the first actual release from Adamson's Independent International. Tamblyn is Anchor, the leader of a gang which also has Scott Brady and Robert Dix as members. They spend their time roaming the desert, tripping on acid, and kidnapping, dosing, raping, and killing young women. With them is the unforgettable Regina (rhymes with vagina) Adamson Carroll as "The Freak Out Girl." They meet their match in a loner Vietnam vet, after killing a cop and raping his wife. Tamblyn's speech to the camera, in which he pleads for understanding for being a misunderstood outcast, is memorable, but what really sets this one apart is an ad campaign designed to exploit the then current Manson murders by pointing out the similarities between the real and celluloid tales of LSD obsessed killers cruising the desert. The soundtrack song of "Satan (Theme)" features the lines, "I was born mean. By the time I was twelve I was killing, killing for Satan." Al wasn't done yet, with ANGELS WILD WOMEN, discussed above, still to come.
There were plenty more attempts to prolong the format. WILD WHEELS (1969) was another Fanfare release, this time produced by Budd Dell and directed by Kent Osborne. Robert Dix is the leader of The Roadrunners, who are the rivals of a dune buggy gang, and who take part in the usual mayhem in this cheapie which also features Casey Kasem.
Roger Corman returned to the creation of biker fare with NAKED ANGELS (1969). Produced by David R. Dawdy and directed by Bruce Clark, it tells the story of Michael Green as Mother (who looks like a young Lemmy from Motorhead,) the leader of The Angels, who are on a revenge mission against The Hotdoggers. It has quite competent and extravagant direction for a cycle film, one of the better non-Arrows guitar soundtracks, tons of biker lingo, a cool hallucination sequence, and a guy named Cockroach who eats bugs. Unfortunately there's not really much of a story - just a trek across the desert, led by the obsessed Mother, in search of the other gang. As per the title, women are naked here a lot more than in most entries in this genre.
One of my favorites of the later period projects is director Richard Compton's ANGELS DIE HARD! (aka THE VIOLENT ANGELS, 1970,) with old Corman actor Beach Dickerson producing for New World. The story has Tom Baker as the leader of The Angels, and William Smith is again one of the riders. It would be hard for me to believe that this wasn't at least a veiled attempt at a parody of the genre. The thin story revolves around tensions with the local cops, and the funeral which follows a comrade's fatal fall in a road accident. He is killed when he accidentally runs into a sign while turning around to flip the bird at a driver. The high jinx involve the molesting of a woman in a bar which involves the dumping of spaghetti on her, an effeminate undertaker who comes to ride with the boys on the back of one of the hogs while wearing an old leather aviators helmet, and the ceremonial pissing into the open grave of their dead friend as a method of paying last respects before burial. Much comic dialog abounds as well.
Avco-Embassy gave us Joe Namath and Ann Margret doing battle with William Smith's hoods in C.C. AND COMPANY (aka CHROME HEARTS, 1970). Joe rescues Ann from Moon and his goons, who also have Sid "Spider Baby" Haig as a member, and is rewarded for his efforts with a romp. It was directed by Seymour Robbie, and produced by Allan Carr and Roger Smith.
New World also released producer Joel Michaels' and and director Daniel Schwartz's THE PEACEKILLERS (1971). Again it's bikers vs. hippies, this time with Clint Ritchie as Rebel, the leader of the Death Row club, who wants his ol' lady back from the commune she's joined so he can get his revenge on her for splitting. Michael Ontkean is the victim's brother, who wants to fight back against the thugs against the wishes of the pacifist guru. The bikers look more like hippies than do the hippies! Highlights are a crucifixion on a giant peace sign, and Lavelle Roby (also seen in Russ Meyer's FINDERS KEEPERS, LOVERS WEEPERS) as Black Widow, the leader of the multi-racial Branded Banshees, who side with Ontkean and company against their old rivals. It's less fun and more brutal than most.
Director Jerry Jameson's THE DIRT GANG (1971) stars Paul Carr. In it a motorcycle gang terrorizes the members of a film crew on location in the desert.
In THE JESUS TRIP (1971) Robert Porter is the leader of a gang of bikers framed for drug smuggling who are being chased by an evil cop. They take refuge in a convent before kidnapping the Sister who hid them. The plot of this Eve Meyer(?!) production sounds like it has some vicious potential, but Steve Puchalski describes it as "tame, lame and strictly PG level."
Corman's New World took two final stabs at the genre with ANGELS, H.ARD AS THEY COME (aka THE SAVAGE ANGELS, 1972), and BURY ME AN ANGEL (1973). The former was produced by Jonathan Demme, and co-written by him and director Joe Viola. It's actually pretty well made for one of these films from the seventies period, and its action scenes sometimes approach exciting. However, the story is a bit of a retread, as there weren't a whole lot of original ideas left for the genre by this time (unless you throw in a werewolf or two!) Scott Glenn leads a contingent of three Angels, who hook up with The Dragons, for a little partying with some hippies in a desert ghost town.
The head of the commune is played by Gary Busey, and Charles Dierkop is the maniacal General who leads the Dragons. The Dragons eventually turn against the three Angels, and the film mainly concerns these guy's escaping with the help of the flower children. Demme tries to develop the script by analyzing the relationships between the various groups. When Glenn and one of the hippie chicks debate the outlaw's attitude, she tries to lay Altamont on him. His comeback is to ask her if she was with Manson. The latter is the only known bike feature directed by a woman. Barbara Peters, who later did HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, delivers the story of Dixie Peabody as the shotgun toting leader a gang out to avenge her brother's death. Beach Dickerson is seen in front of the camera. Peters was also the writer on this Paul Nobert production.
Fanfare also tried again that year with THE LONERS (1972). In this Sutton Roley directed effort Dean Stockwell is the leader of a hippie/biker gang that also has Scott Brady as a member. They are on the run through the desert after accidentally offing a cop, during which they spout hippie platitudes.
SAVAGE ATTRACTION (aka NUMBERED DAYS aka CYCLE PSYCHO, 1973) was produced and directed by John Lawrence. Stephen Oliver leads a gang of sickos bent on capturing young girls for their own evil purposes. Joseph Turkel stands out as a lunatic member who molests a mannequin, and Stafford Repp (the Irish cop from TV's Batman) has a cameo role. The swan song for the genre is a film which has a conclusion depicting the graphic murder of a whole platoon of cycle riders at the hands of dirty cops and rural dweebs.
THE NORTHVILLE CEMETARY MASSACRE (1974) was directed by William Dear, and in it we are treated to his story of a grubby group called The Spirits, who get hassled, locked up, and framed for rape by the crooked law in the town of Northville. This gets the bumpkins riled, and the result is a vigilante massacre of the gang, which takes place in the local boneyard (hence the title). Monkee Mike Nesmith did the soundtrack. The snuffing of the characters here can be looked upon as the symbolic end of the cycle cycle.
Many later movies would, of course, be made featuring nasty bike gangs, but these are either parodies, lame attempts at using the visual image to immediately connote hooliganism, or just sorry attempts to capture a style from a cinematic era which no longer existed. With today's mega budgets and narrow demographic focus, as well as the near disappearance of drive-in fare, there isn't much place for the pure exploitation of the biker film.
Its gratuitous depiction of rudeness, grubbiness, and violence, along with the occasional attempt to deliver a message of rugged individualism and of being misunderstood for a desire to live the free life, aren't in style. Defining exactly what is called a "biker" film is a bit of a fuzzy proposition.
I chose to begin to categorize the genre with Corman's THE WILD ANGELS, as this film pioneered the format, and displays the bikers in the outlaw style which I believe defines the form. Its success was, additionally, largely responsible for a flood of mostly inferior product. Before this release movies were made which featured motorcycle gangs, but they weren't of the Hell's Angels/living on the fringes of society mentality, which I believe is necessary for inclusion.
The most obvious example of this is Marlon Brando as THE WILD ONE (1953). MOTORCYCLE GANG (1957) was a typical period teensploitation effort from AIP, focusing mainly on illegal street racing. The same studio released DRAGSTRIP RIOT the next year, which is closer to the format which would come. An evil gang of cycle riders chase after a young, upstanding couple after a highway altercation.
The best of the pre-genre fare is Russ Meyer's lesser known prequel to his popular FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL! KILL! In MOTOR PSYCHO (1965), three lunatics, led by a flipped out 'Nam vet, go on a rape and terror spree. Again Russ was ahead of his time, however while the gang is sufficiently sadistic, they are pretty clean cut and actually ride mopeds. Look for a cameo by Russ, under the billing of "E.E. Meyer," as a insensitive and chauvinistic sheriff.
Likewise, there were films which fell in the 1966-1974 boundaries which depicted some of the ugliest and meanest leather clad chopper jockeys imaginable, but in which they weren't the primary focus of the story.
Timely's MONDO MOD (1967) includes bikers in its mondo-style depiction of exploitable sixties trends. Murray and Preieto had motorcycle riding bad dudes in their SHANTY TRAMP (1967), made just before their more traditional biker movie SAVAGES FROM HELL.
THE ANGRY BREED (1968) is a great exploitation entry, which depicts a war hero battling an evil Hollywood agent, whose top star is also the acid eating leader of a gang of two-wheelers. Additionally, it has a Davie Allan and the Arrows soundtrack.
MONDO DAYTONA (1968), later re-worked into WEEKEND REBELLION (1970) by Barry Mahon through the inclusion of some live footage of The Grand Funk Railroad, includes bikers in its "documentary" footage of wild goings on in spring break Florida.
THE SWEET RIDE (1968) depicts the vices of the idol rich in late-sixties Malibu, which include interactions with a gang led by a bald guy named Mr. Clean.
The H.G. Lewis inspired THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS (1968) attempts gore humor. The evil undertaker of the title uses a pair of biker degenerates to hunt down victims for his business, some of who become dinner.
Fresh from his role as an outlaw in Al Adamson's DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1969) and SATAN'S SADISTS (1969), Russ Tamblyn leads a gang who smuggle dope across the border with Mexico in FREE GRASS (aka SCREAM FREE aka STREET DRUGS, 1969.)
Scott Brady and Robert Dix are seen in CAIN'S WAY (aka CAIN'S CUTTHROATS aka THE BLOOD SEEKERS, 1970), which also features John Carradine, in a violent revenge story set in the civil war. The action is intercut with modern day bikers on a rampage to prove some point.
A film which just barely qualifies for a mention is HEX (1973). It's set in 1919, and shows a motorcycle gang going up against a witch who gets the better of them.
Anyone who has researched any crevice of low budget exploitation cinema knows that frequently titles are come across which may take years to track down. Often no one who has actually experienced them .has bothered to write about them, and so they remain mysteries. Therefore, for absolute completists, I'll mention that I've come across the titles ROAD OF DEATH, THE TAKERS, and THE PLAYPEN GIRLS, which may warrant inclusion in this article.
More recent attempts at portraying roving gangs of two-wheeled maniacs, such as the credible starring vehicle for The Boz, aren't mentioned here as they are out of this article's scope. One ridiculous effort that is worth mentioning is a made for TV joke that comes tagged onto some tapes of DEVIL'S ANGELS. In RETURN OF THE REBELS (1981), Jamie Farr, Barbara Eden, and some other recognizable television has beens are amongst the members of an old gang of outlaws who return to action in order to chase out souped-up van driving young punk troublemakers from Barbara's campsite business - it's laughable. And if you'd like a taste of the real thing, don't forget the late-eighties documentary HELL'S ANGELS FOREVER, produced by the club themselves.
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