Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gymkata (1985)

dir. Robert Clouse


"Direct military action is out of style, my friend. Finesse. But there is one chance for one man. Anyone who enters Parmistan must play the game. If he wins, he's allowed his life and one request."

When Television's Talking Heads got themselves in a tizzy over Michael Phelps' bong photo non-troversy a few weeks back, the grandstanding on display was downright laughable. Seeing as weed is the complete opposite of a performance enhancing drug, it is astounding that no one stated the obvious, "A pot-head won eight Olympic gold medals? That shit is amazing." Instead, news outlets treated the public to a whole mess o' phony moral hand-wringing and false concern over the future of Phelps' product endorsement deals. As any thinking person realized, the correct response to this situation was, "who gives a shit?" Although some people like to believe that the media beats such stories to death as an attempt to distract the public from real, actually important problems; the real explanation is probably less insidious. The propensity to push these non-stories, is most likely the result of a phenomenon that I am all too familiar with. Laziness. It's much easier to throw a bunch of sensational pictures on the screen than it is to probe an actually important story.

Now I'm not one of those people who likes to express concern that celebrities don't get enough privacy. People who enter that life know full well that the paparazzi will hound them and that their lives will be made public, and thus are well aware of the consequences. It nevertheless irks me when such stories dominate the news cycle. Although I'm not a pot smoker, the Phelps pseudo-controversy was especially annoying to me. When newsfolk went haywire over the Phelps photo and the extent to which it might tarnish his image, they did not have a proper sense of perspective on the whole situation. Although that picture might have hurt his standing with some of his sponsors, it was no match for the career killing awesomeness that was Olympic gold medal winning gymnast Kurt Thomas' foray into acting, Gymkata. A picture may speak a thousand words, but a whole goddamn movie; well that speaks novels.


When Kurt Thomas kicked ass in the 1984 Olympics, the American public (for the briefest moment), was under the delusion that men's gymnastics was some of the raddest badass shit that humans were capable of. Thomas, drunk on his brief celebrity, and delusions of grandeur, decided to take advantage of the situation and star in his own action picture. Thus was born the first, and only, gymnastics/karate action epic. As any regular reader of this blog may know, there is nothing greater to me than a good ol' fashioned sports star vanity movie side project (rock star movie side projects are also quite awesome). Honestly, I'm a fan of any deluded superstar whose outsized ego has warped his mind into believing that he can excel at anything that his Midas-like fingers touch (I'm looking at you, Shaq).

Defying all logic, and good taste, a movie studio actually shelled out money so that Thomas could gymnastically kick ninja ass across the globe. True to the Cold War era in which it was made, Gymkata's plot hinges on the retardation that was Reagan's Star Wars program. Thomas stars as a world class gymnast, Jonathan Cabot, who is enlisted by the U.S. Government to enter the fictional country of Parmistan where he will take part in a brutal competition to the death involving running, rope climbing, and fending off a town full of crazy folks. The government is concerned with Cabot's success here, as the country of Parmistan proves a prime location for an SDI missile defense site. Before entering the competition, however, Cabot becomes embroiled in a fair share of foreign faux intrigue and double crosses. Conveniently for him, when confronted with danger in foreign cities, he fends off the baddies using strategically placed gymnastic equipment.


The film's trailer boasts the line, "When gymnastics and karate are fused, the combustion becomes an explosion, and a new kind of martial arts superhero is born." This trailer was groundbreaking in that it was the first time in the history of human existence that anyone thought to string these particular words together, in this order, in one sentence. It was truly a remarkable feat.

In a movie chock full of mind fucking greatness, one scene has stood out as the one for which this movie stakes its claim in awesomatasticalness. Cabot has entered the crucial stage of the game in which he must navigate through a town full of bloodthirstilly crazy ex-cons. Anyone who has ever entered this city has quickly been offed by the animalistic subhumans inhabiting it. One would assume that a city filled with nothing but murderously insane criminals would have been depopulated almost as soon as it started, as the inmates would have slaughtered each other as soon as they came into contact. Such is not the case, however. Apparently, crazies follow the same law that zombies follow, in that they never attack one of their own. Luckily for Cabot, Crazy Village just happens to have a pomell horse set up in the middle of the town square. After being surrounded, Cabot lets loose with an unrelenting fury of graceful ass-kickery.

These people may be evil crazy fuckers, but at least they're polite. They extend Cabot the courtesy of talking turns to fight him. They aren't going to gang up on him all at once, because, well, that just wouldn't be sporting. Thus, everyone keeps a good distance as he picks them off, one by one.


It is a shame that no one will be able to experience this movie in its sheer undiluted greatness, as the initial three hour cut has been lost forever. After the filmmaking team worked feverishly around the clock to cut this masterpiece together, they screened it for a few choice studio execs. This event has proven to be legendary. Some of the producers were heard to have uttered:

"It's so beautiful."

"It turns your entire body into the head of a penis."

"I have seen the face of God."

Unfortunately, none of the execs present at the screening are alive to tell of what they witnessed that fateful day. Fortunately, for us, however, director Robert Clouse set up some cameras in the screening room to record the reactions of the suits. Clouse, it should be noted, had the good sense to close his eyes during the event.



Realizing the folly of constructing such a mind-blowingly transcendent film, one which this mortal world has not yet been fully equipped to witness, Clouse again worked around the clock to construct a shorter, less spectacular, albeit still beautiful, version of the film. The new cut has resulted in significantly less audience member face meltings. Gymkata went from a Yngwie Malmsteen level Code Red to an eminently more containable James Taylor level Code Fuchsia. Someday, mankind will be ready for this movie in its uncut form, but not now.

[The single greatest movie still in film history]


Every so often a movie comes along that redefines what it means to be a movie. In the realm of ludicrous, ineptly scripted, stiffly acted action fare, Gymkata is matched only by The Undefeatable. It is truly a movie for the ages. You will believe that a gymnast can act. Although claims that this film has brought eyesight to the blind have not been substantiated, would anyone doubt it? Gymkata is the be all and end all of film. It is the alpha and omega. Before this there was nothing. After this, nothing else matters. As the film's original tagline states, Gymkata will rape you with its awesomeness.

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Get Your Green On

I generally don't like to diverge from movie related blog posts, but I figure that doing it every once in a while shouldn't hurt. This seems as a good a reason for some divergence. My friend Tim Johnston recently made a video for a cool new product called a smart power strip. What is a smart power strip? Watch and find out.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Race with the Devil (1975)

dir. Jack Starrett


"We got a $36,000 motor home here. We don't need any restaurants. We don't need any showers. We got it all. We don't need anything from anybody. We are self contained, babe."
-Frank Stewart

A telling moment occurs halfway through director Jack Starrett's 70's devil/hicksploitation picture Race with the Devil. After witnessing a backwoods Satanic human sacrifice, the vacationing Frank Stewart (Warren Oates) and Roger Marsh (Peter Fonda) flee with their wives, Kelly (Lara Parker) and Alice (Loretta Swit of TV's "M.A.S.H." fame), to the nearest town and explain to the police what they have just witnessed. An incredulous Sheriff Taylor (R. G. Armstrong) takes the two men to the scene of the crime the next day to see if they can find any evidence of wrongdoing. After finding dried blood on the cult grounds, they find a slaughtered dog nailed to a tree. The sheriff tries to convince them that what they witnessed was not a human sacrifice, but rather, a good old fashioned animal sacrifice. Aint nothin' wrong with that. Taylor says that a bunch of hippies were probably just runnin' wild, as they are wont to do, got a little carried away, and killed a dog. He then says, "Well, that's the bad part of it. A bunch of hippies moved into this area, smoked their shit, stuffed garbage up their nose and into the arm, when respectful people like you come along-ah, well, it's no longer a beautiful place." Within half a decade, a cinematic symbol of the 60's counterculture (Fonda) had here become a symbol of bourgeois respectability. In Race with the Devil, Fonda was now fleeing from the sorts of outsiders (albeit more satanic and murderous) that he once so memorably personified in Easy Rider.


Indeed, although Marsh and Stewart fancy themselves dirt bike racers, their preferred method of transportation in this flick is the RV. Not just any RV, of course, but the most up to date, state of the art vehicle available. When they vacation, they do it in style. No sense in getting all mussed up with some inhospitable trees and dirt and whatnot. Sure they'll admire nature (from a distance), but they gotta do it in a place with some beds, a kitchen, and a bath. It's domesticity on wheels. Why is this group traveling across the country? Well, after so many years of working their nine to fives, they need a little relaxation every once in a while. Say it aint so, Pete. Perhaps when Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty made their yuppie road trip comedy Lost in America, the Peter Fonda movie they were seeking to emulate was not Easy Rider, as Brooks' character so often stated, but this more appropriate gem.

The scene preceding the one just mentioned is just as indicative of the film's attitude. One of the first acts of horror in this movie occurs when a few cult members chase down the group's RV and attempt to break inside. They break through the back window and start to enter the motor home, at which point, after a harrowing fight, they are beaten and pushed out by Marsh. This is less is an attack toward people, and more a violation of domestic space. Whereas Easy Rider could be seen as a celebration of public space, Race with the Devil is determinedly focused on the fight to preserve private space. Any instance in which outsiders attempt to intrude on this private space, is a violation of the grimmest sort, and results in horrifying consequences.


Although it may not have been Fonda's intent to undo his image, there is no denying the dramatic reversal he had taken. Fonda has stated that he worked on this film for two reasons: the money, and a chance to work with Warren motherfuckin' Oates again. By the time they made Race with the Devil, Fonda and Oates had already worked together on Fonda's beautiful directorial debut The Hired Hand. Fonda was so impressed with the tough actor's awesomeness that he felt he couldn't pass up a chance to work with the man again. The two had also become quite good friends, as is evident in their performances. Watching Race with the Devil, you may feel that you're watching a travelogue involving two old buddies exploring the country and having a good ol' time. It's like "Fishing with John", but with Satan worshiping rednecks.

If pure, unbridled masculinity could be bottled and then transformed into human form, it would still lose in a fistfight/drinking contest to Oates. Oates' star power has continued to rise since his untimely death in the eighties. Because of his naturalistic style and hardbitten, frequently troubled characters he has become something of a cult icon. Although he began acting in the mid fifties, it was not until the late sixties that he gained a certain amount of acclaim, particularly because of his work with Sam Peckinpah (Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) and Monte Hellman (The Shooting, Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter). It took a generation before this iconoclast came into his own and discovered his own element. With authenticity up the wazoo, the man gave it his all in any picture he acted in; and thus lent a certain air of respectability to all of his pictures, no matter how trashy or unbelievable. Race With the Devil is no exception.


With a simple plot, this film seems to exist solely as a means to showcase great car chases. After discovering and being pursued by Satanists, the vacationers in this flick flee across Texas in search of safety. Of course, they can't find solace anywhere, as it seems that everyone conspires against this group. As anyone with half a brain can figure out early on in this film, the entire town, nay the entire region, is a hotbed of Satanic cults. Fonda states in one of the dvd's extras that the great thing about this movie is that one will never know who is actually a bad guy here until the very end of the movie. It may be a mystery to anyone who has not matriculated past the second grade (or is under the influence of high grade hallucinogenics), but the true nature of the rednecks in this film is comically obvious to everyone else. Race with the Devil is filled with enough ominous closeups of various townspeople set to eerie music, that the director may as well have walked in front of the camera, pointed at these folks and yelled, "Evil". Indeed, it brought to mind the comically overstated introductions of evil characters in the movie Hot Fuzz.

The suburban vacationers are chased out of every town they visit, barely escaping with their lives, one thrilling car chase at a time. Race with the Devil does for the southwest what Deliverance did for Appalachia (just replace man on man rape with cult murders). As with Deliverance, this film focuses on a seemingly backward regional people and accentuates their otherness, until these strange people become downright horrifying. Anyone not representing middle class bourgeois respectability, is not to be trusted. All that being said, the action scenes in this picture are fucking rad as hell (not quite as thrilling as those in Fonda's earlier road movie Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, but entertaining nonetheless). Any movie in which a car falls of a bridge and spontaneously explodes mid-air is A-plus material as far as I'm concerned.


With this, my Satan flick marathon officially comes to an end. At least for a while. What a way to go out, though. Despite this film's problems, it is redeemed by the kick ass car chases and the presence of Warren Oates. Also, last minute replacement director Jack Starrett performed a competent, if workmanlike, job here. Although a director of no particular acclaim, he does have a few other cult classics under his belt: The Losers and Cleopatra Jones. He has particular command over pacing, action sequences and direction of stunt work, of which there is plenty here. All in all, Race with the Devil is a genuinely thrilling, if reactionary, action piece (is there any better kind?).

[the trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Favorite Movie Scores: Village of the Giants

dir. Bert I. Gordon


When I began my Movie Theme Song Wednesday feature, I gave myself a couple of rules: 1. I would only use a song if it was written specifically for the movie in question, and 2. I would not use intrumental theme songs (preferably the lyrics should incorporate the name of the movie or at least describe the movie). Although I like these rules, they can be constricting. Plenty of movies use already known songs in such ways that these songs henceforth become indelibly linked in our minds to the movies that use them. Also, although I likes me a theme song I can sing along with, there's no denying that the instrumental songs can be just as enjoyable. Isn't it just as fun to hum, as it is to sing, along to a theme song?

One song that I have been very tempted to break both of my rules for is Jack Nitzsche's "The Last Race", an instrumental reworking of an earlier single of his that he used when composing the score for the camp masterpiece Village of the Giants. Many people may remember this movie for its inclusion on an "MST3K" episode (Damn, I miss that show). Most people probably recognize the original version of "The Last Race" for its use during the opening credits of Tarantino's Death Proof.

Village of the Giants is another one of those movies that played on an endless loop while I worked at Movie Place. As with Danger: Diabolik, the major reason for this was the soundtrack. The use of "The Last Race" in Village of the Giants (see clip below) is downright hypnotizing. What happens in this scene? After ingesting a substance that causes them to grow a whole fuckload, scantily clad giants (including Beau Bridges and Joy Harmon) hold an impromptudance-a-thon in the town square. It makes absolutely no sense plot-wise, but that's the awesomeness of it. After much experimentation, I'm assuming, the filmmakers deduced that this would be the best possible way to showcase this repetitively catchy song, narrative logic be damned. It is the perfect melding of music and image. I could watch this scene for hours. I couldn't think of a better piece of music to set this scene to, nor a better set of imagery to use this song for.

"The Last Race" - Jack Nitzsche

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Devil's Rain (1975)

dir. Robert Fuest


"That devil's rain, that's new to me. I've never heard of that."
-Dr. Sam Richards

As any reader of my blog knows, I occasionally get obsessed with random movie sub-genres (killer animals, disco pictures, blaxploitation, etc...) for a few weeks and then quickly lose interest. Although some might say that my movie love is quite ADD, I prefer the term eclectic; it sounds more sophisticated. This is not to say that I lose interest in said genres forever. Far from it, my love goes in cycles. Indeed, my latest infatuation, seventies Satan flicks, started when I was quite young. Although this could be traced to the time I saw The Exorcist at a friend's house when I was ten, the genesis more likely came from my early love for the Joe Dante directed/Tom Hanks starring horror comedy The 'burbs [easily, the best work of either of their careers]. Along with Back to the Future and Superman, I probably saw this more than any other movie while growing up. Indeed, when I saw the Peter Fonda vehicle Race With the Devil many years later, I had a major moment of Deja Vu, as a clip from the Fonda picture was used prominently in the Dante movie.

Seventies horror was dominated by two major movements: the move towards brutal realistic horror as typified by such low budget films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, and the aforementioned Satan flicks. One explanation for the primacy of the former movement was the growing discontent with Vietnam, doubled with the fact that Americans now saw brutal footage from the war on the evening news. The rise of the latter sub-genre is most attributable to the double successes of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. Producers went with sure money makers.

My interest in these supernatural flicks has grown despite, or maybe because of, the fact that they don't scare me. Something has to actually exist for me to be scared by it in a movie. Indeed, although it is a masterfully made film that I quite like, The Exorcist contains only one scene that still freaks me out, the spinal tap sequence. What I learned from The 'burbs, however, was that most Satan movies (The Exorcist excepted) work amazingly well as comedies. It is amazing to me that anyone would find such silliness scary.

Perhaps in an attempt to provide unintended humor to future lovers of cheese, director Robert Fuest and three screenwriters produced the Satanic uber-camp masterpiece The Devil's Rain. [Wow, three screenwriters! When there are that many people behind the typewriter, it's just gotta be good.] As a concoction of fallen/up and coming movie and TV stars, The Devil's Rain is second to none. With such performers as: Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert, Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, John Travolta, Tom Skerritt, and High Priest of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey; this film's cast seems like the product of a casting agent's fever dream. I think, were a calamity to befall the set, killing off the entire cast, the resulting rip in the space time continuum would have destroyed the universe.


This film concerns Tom Preston's (Tom Skerritt) attempts to rescue his parents (Ida Lupino and George Sawaya) and brother Mark (William Shatner) after they are abducted by Satanic priest Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine). The three hundred year old Corbis has hunted the Preston clan over the centuries, as they hold a book containing the names of all the souls that Corbis has captured for Satan over the years. Although it is not explained in the movie why Corbis covets this book so; apparently, it would seem that the uptight Satan is quite a stickler for paperwork. If he does not have the ledger containing all of his souls, the year end tax paperwork can be a real bitch. Tom's search leads him to the Satanic desert ghost town where Corbis resides. Shenanigans/face meltings ensue.

With the colorful cast that this film contained, it is not surprising that egos raged and personalities clashed. Indeed, things got quite testy on one of the many nights in which LaVey and Travolta went cruising for chicks. After several attempts at numerous bars, the duo finally landed at a hopping club with plenty of available women. Travolta managed to snare a couple of gals: Susan, a flight attendant, and Tisa, a receptionist at an ad agency. While Travolta worked on Susan, LaVey would attempt to work his magic on Tisa. Although Travolta tried to play wingman for LaVey, the high priest managed to shoot himself in the foot.

(Anton LaVey (right) seen here with his faithful manservant)


Tisa attempted some small talk with LaVey. "That's a pretty cool beard you got there. I love a man with facial hair."

"This is not a beard. This is a goatee, in honor of the goat, Beelzebub's chosen form. This is my tribute to my lord and master, the ruler over all."

"Oh...That's interesting."

Travolta, sensing that LaVey was in trouble, piped in. "Mr. L. you should tell her about the other day when the grip brought you cold coffee, and you said, 'in your face, basketcase.' It was like, unbelievable."

"Silence, mortal. No such doggerel would exit these lips."

The confused Travolta replied, "that's right, I said it. I like totally forgot."

Susan let out a hearty laugh. "Oh my God, Johnny, you're so funny. I can call you Johnny, right?"

"What?"

"Johnny."

"Where?"

"Right here."

"Who?"

"You, silly."

"Oh, yeah."

Susan let out another hearty laugh and then made out with the future sweathog.


Tisa again attempted to engage the dark priest, "So what is it that you do? Anton, is it?"

"I command all the powers of hell at my fingertips. Does that frighten you?"

"Huh. So, uh like what does that involve? Are you-"

"I am a 12th level high priest in the dark church. The righteous tremble at my awesome power."

"Ok, cool. Priest, huh? Spiritual stuff. I can dig it. Yeah, I'm actually like really into like the zodiac and stuff and spiritualism. I feel like I'm really in tune with that spiritual stuff. You know what I mean?"

"I command you to go home with me."

Tisa let out a nervous laugh and then pulled Susan aside. "Alright, this is not cool. How is it that you always luck out, while I get stuck with the loser? You always go home with The Professor while I'm stuck trying to entertain Gilligan while he whines about being an inadequate man or some other such nonsense."

"First of all, if anyone's with Gilligan tonight, it's me."

"Well, he sure don't look it."

"Secondly, the professor was not a catch."

"What are you talking about? He was smart, he could fix anything and he was kinda sexy."

"On what planet? That man had dork written all over him. Listen, if you think The Professor was a catch, maybe there's a reason you attract that kind of guy."

"The professor wasn't a dork."

"He was a Professor. I think you'll have to come to terms with the fact that there weren't any decent men on that island."

"There's nothing wrong with being a professor. Smart men make more money."

"Look, Anton seems perfectly fine. Just give him a chance. Like you said, guys that dorky have to be rich."

Travolta interrupted them. "Like, oh my God, I've gone a whole minute without kissing someone." Susan went back to making out with Travolta.


Tisa let out an annoyed grunt and turned back to the over-excited Anton.

"So, uh-"

"By the power of Lucifer, I command you to remove your panties."

Tisa grabbed Susan and brought her to the bathroom.

The usually jovial Travolta was growing more annoyed. "Like, oh my God, Mr. L., these foxes are ready to go. You're gonna blow it for us."

"Satan commands you to disappear." LaVey threw a smoke bomb on the floor and was shocked when he saw that Travolta was still standing there.

"Mr. L. what are you doing? I don't think these girls are into magic tricks."

"This isn't magic. This is one of the dark arts. You have not begun to witness my power. As soon as I bed one these succubi, we will produce an army of hell-spawn to wreak havoc over the land."

"Mr. L., they're coming back. You gotta drop the dork talk."


The two women came back and pulled John aside. Tisa was blunt. "I gotta leave. I'm sick of your weird friend. King dork is getting me drier than the Mojave desert."

"Look, you gotta get to know him. He's like not that weird. I'll talk to him. Everything will be cool."

Travolta pulled Anton aside. "Mr. L. look, these girls really want-" Interrupting himself, Travolta pointed at the other end of the nightclub, "Hey, what's that over there?" The confused LaVey turned around. Travolta grabbed both girls and they fled the club to his hotel room. The three of them banged all night. LaVey later joined Borgnine and a few crew members in a circle jerk.


The Devil's Rain is one of those films that can't help but fall short of expectations. With such a cast, the movie one imagines this to be, is certain to exceed anything that any film crew could assemble. It is something best left to the imagination. Since LaVey served as the film's technical adviser, in addition to giving a small performance, The Devil's Rain also contains some unnecessary insight into the church of Satan. Apparently, Satanic black masses are just as boring as Catholic masses.

This is not to say that The Devil's Rain isn't entertaining as a whole. It produced quite a few laughs, mostly courtesy of Shatner's hamminess and Borgnine's maniacally over the top performance. The film is also full of unexpected charms. The desert sequences, for instance, are intended as obvious homages to the works of Sergio Leone. Although these scenes are certainly low rent Leone, the attempt at something grand is admirable. Honestly, though, any shortcomings the movie had were redeemed by the elaborate face melting sequence finale. It is also interesting that the film's three screenwriters/future youtube commenters could not come up with a grammatically correct tagline--"Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain". Apparently, it requires a lot of work to make crap this good.

[Side note: For those interested in watching this film for Travolta, his role here is actually quite small. I think he played one of Borgnine's possessed henchman, but to be honest, I didn't even notice him. I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to write a LaVey/Barbarino cruising for chicks story.]

[the trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Friday, February 6, 2009

Arnold the Great

Back when I was working at the video store, there were a few staples that we always played in the store. The main criteria, of course, was that the movies had to be entertaining. Perhaps my favorite was Conan the Barbarian with the John "Red 'Motherfucking' Dawn" Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger commentary on. For those who have not listened to this commentary track, it is truly a thing of beauty. Apparently, at the time, Arnold was a special needs student who had never seen the movie until he sat down to do the commentary, and thus felt the need to give a dumbed down play by play of everything that happened on screen. His thoughts consisted of such nuggets as, "And here is me with the sword. And here I am running...and I'm running...and I'm running."

Although I would love to post the entire thing here, I can not find it anywhere. I did, however, find this clip, which someone was nice enough to make, of some of Arnold's choicest pearls of wisdom. This video does not even begin to convey the awesomeness of the commentary track as a whole, but it is well worth a watch.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

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."
-Tarot

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.

[the trailer:]


Dave's Rating: