dir. Michel Levesque
"You dudes just don't want to see the reality, do you? That was no accident; it was heavy. Somebody's controlling the vibes."
Of all the phases that a movie genre goes through, perhaps the saddest/most entertaining is the decline/self parody stage. As with music and fashion, everything goes in cycles. What was once hot can turn ever so quickly into the object of derision and satire. Although this can occasionally result in legitimately awesome fare such as the comedy horror picture Abbott and Costello Meet Frankestein, it can also result in unintentionally funny pictures such as Werewolves on Wheels. Director Michel Levesque's early seventies genre mashup represents the decline of two separate phenomena, the werewolf movie (which hadn't experienced a success since the forties) and the biker movie, now in its death throes despite the recent success of Easy Rider. Oh how fickle the movie going public can be.
Although Easy Rider is the biker movie that has defined the genre for most people, the Hell's Angels inspired pictures of the sixties (The Wild Angels, Hells Angels on Wheels, Hells Angels '69), frequently produced by AIP, were better representations of the form. Unapologetically violent and cynical, these films worked to stoke fears about this fearsome sub-culture, while simultaneously letting viewers vicariously experience the thrills that this lawless lifestyle promised. It is no surprise that many up and coming counterculture actors of the revisionist New Hollywood (Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson) were attracted to these stories. These movies were, if nothing else, celebrations/critiques of freedom in its rawest beautifully ugly form. In its depiction of the violent biker gang The Devil's Advocates, Werewolves on Wheels, despite its horror film trappings, is one of a piece with these pictures.
Although Werewolves on Wheels lacks the high wattage star power of other biker flicks, such as C.C. and Company, it does have some recognizable faces, including veteran character actor Severn Darden (Vanishing Point, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes) and singer Barry McGuire. Although most people remember Barry's hit "Eve of Destruction" as a Dylan-esque protest song, railing against man's continued suicidal fetish to wage war on itself; few people realize that the P.F. Sloan penned tune was actually an elaborate allegory for the danger that satanic werewolf cults posed for the biker community. McGuire, hip to the song's true message, naturally jumped at the opportunity to act in Levesque's important picture, which dealt with the same subject matter.
"Michel, I just read the script, baby. It's outtasight. It's about time someone said it like it was."
"Right on. I'm glad you get this. David and I've been shopping this script around for half a decade. No one got it man, no one."
"Half a decade, seems like such a long time ago now. I haven't had a hit in half a decade."
"'Eve of Destruction', man--blew me away. How do you think I was inspired to write this movie? It opened my eyes, man. I had no idea this problem existed. Satanic cults are destroying our bikers by turning them into werewolves and no one's fucking doing anything about it, man."
"I can't believe you fucking got it. No one understands what that song is really about. When I sang, 'Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'/I'm sitting here just contemplatin'/I can't twist the truth it knows no regulation./Handful of Senators don't pass legislation', I was talkin' 'bout the mental transformation a biker goes through when he turns into a werewolf, and 'bout how the government works in league with the Satanists to keep them down. It's all in there, man."
"Preaching to the choir, man. I've been layin' down that shit for years. People just can't dig that trip, man."
"Speakin' of which, you flyin' yet?"
"My sugar cube kicked in long ago. I'd need a pilot's license to get any higher."
It is perhaps not surprising that a movie so important/controversial in theme and subject matter would experience its fair share of tribulations during filming. With everyone concerned about getting the subject just right, egos raged over the proper direction that this film should take. The biggest source of strife: keeping the bikers in line, especially character actor/honorary Hell's Angel Steve Oliver.
"You just don't get it. I'm method to the bone. I put this jacket on and I'm no longer Steve Oliver - Hell's Angel, I'm Adam - Devil's Advocate. I can't turn that off."
"We've been chased out of every town we've been to. You've gotta stop robbing and killing. The fuzz can't dig it, man. If we want the squares to see this movie, we gotta play by their rules while filming. We'll never finish it, otherwise."
"You want reality or some sissied up fancy boy shit. This shit is real."
"I'm hip to it, baby, but you gotta cool your jets. You're a renegade, a loose cannon."
"How's this for a loose cannon?"
Steve shot Michel in the leg. Then he fucked the director's girlfriend.
Despite the setbacks, filming eventually completed on Levesque's epic. The few drive-ins with the cajones to exhibit this picture, as we all know, inspired a generation to lobby congress to act swiftly and outlaw the werewolf cults. Were it not for this picture and the activism it inspired, bikers would still live in constant fear that their livelihoods could quickly vanish after one chance encounter with a satanic cult and participation in its black mass.
Despite the awesomeness of the film's premise, Levesque's picture falls just short of greatness. As we all know, I can forgive pretty much anything in a movie so long as it lives up to its title, thus my slight disappointment with Werewolves on Wheels. Although it has plenty of wheels, this movie does not contain nearly enough werewolves. It is not until the film's finale that we actually see one of the bikers transform into one of these beasts. Yes it was awesome to see a werewolf set ablaze and jump a cliff on a motorcycle, but it was too little, too late. Still, the film does score points for the fake biker gang name "The Devil's Advocates". It also succeeds in its deliriously insane plot shifts. It is quite telling of the period's exploitation fare that a scene in which our biker gang happens upon a satanic cult and accidentally takes part in its werewolf creation ceremony, although coming from left field, still manages to feel organic. Such shifts work in this picture because, by and large, it stays true to the spirit of the biker movie. Never once does the film blink at the audience. Sure Levesque may have been a werewolf tease, but he knew how to make a biker movie.