Deimos Entertainment // 1967 // 175 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge John Floyd (Retired) // December 14th, 2007
Chained like animals -- treated like trash -- even the filth and sweat couldn't stop their primitive cravings!
The Welcome to the Grindhouse Double Feature series continues with two of the exploitation genre's favorite subjects, biker gangs and prison breaks.
Welcome to the Grindhouse: The Hellcats/Chain Gang Women presents two vintage low-budget thrillers and theatrical trailers for four more shlock epics, packaged with "Coming Attractions," "Feature Presentation," and "Intermission" bumpers to recreate the unique, 1970s grindhouse viewing experience.
The title of the first feature on the disc, Chain Gang Women, implies a "women in prison" movie, but that isn't the case. Instead, this slow-paced, backwater drama from the makers of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant and Dixie Dynamite is a standard jailbreak story about two men escaping from a working party and trying to get across the state line to freedom. They do enlist the aid of a couple of women (presumably the ladies indicated in the title), but neither are ever incarcerated nor part of any chain gang. The first is simply the loyal girlfriend of the "good" escaped convict; the second is a restless young housewife eager to be free of the control of her much older husband. As the charge against this DVD indicates, the tagline for the film promises all the debauchery one could possibly want (and then some) from such a tale, but the finished product is about as exciting as breaking rocks in the blazing sun. There is little violence, some lackluster sexual content (including two uncomfortably long and -- considering the R rating -- oddly tame rape scenes), and virtually no action to speak of. The only distinguishing aspects of this tedious, bargain basement Cool Hand Luke knock-off are the occasional use of a four-panel split screen technique and a rather cruel, incongruous ending. Chain Gang Women is neither good enough to appease the average filmgoer seeking modest thrills nor bad enough to satisfy the trash cinema aficionado looking for the kind of low-budget, misogynistic sleaze that the lurid ad copy promises.
The poster for The Hellcats proclaims that it's about a female biker gang, though most of the members of the titular organization are of the male persuasion. In spite of this apparent miscommunication between the filmmakers and the distributor, it is at least a true biker movie, complete with descriptive character names (like Six Pack and Cyclops), unintelligible lingo, senseless sadism, and ridiculous acid rock music. The virtually incomprehensible story revolves around Ross Hagen posing as a road-weary cycle jockey to infiltrate the gang and avenge the death of his brother, or some such nonsense. Thankfully, director Robert F. Slatzer (Bigfoot) never lets logic or narrative get in the way of the numerous fight scenes and freaked-out party sequences that comprise much of the film's running time. The Hellcats down gallons of beer, drop copious amounts of acid, smoke a lot of weed, engage in tests of manhood which involve being stretched between two bikes going in opposite directions, rut like rabbits (off-screen, of course), battle rival gangs, and terrorize anyone and everyone they encounter along the way. Occasionally, they also take a break from all of this wholesome fun to run drugs for cigar-smoking white guys in cheap suits, which (somehow) leads to a climactic battle between bikers and coke kingpins on a boat dock. Violently erratic camerawork and plenty of clumsy, spliced-in coverage close-ups complete the '60s motorcycle movie motif. Unlike Chain Gang Women, The Hellcats is a worthy companion piece to other films of its type from the period, and delivers plenty of hard-riding bang for your buck.
Of course, the disparate quality and misleading marketing campaigns of the films featured here only enhance Deimos Entertainment's earnest effort to create an authentic exploitation double bill atmosphere for the viewer. As often happened when fare like this still played theatrically, the stronger of the two movies (The Hellcats) is billed first but runs second. Each feature is preceded by two grainy trailers for other trash classics, including Chinese Hercules, Night of the Bloody Apes, Superchick, and The Sister-in-Law -- all of which look far more interesting than the movies they precede (a calculated marketing ploy dating all the way back to the Kroger Babb roadshows of the 1940s). Further, these trailers cannot be viewed independently of the films, but are part of what the menu screen calls "The Grindhouse Experience" -- bumpers, previews, and features run in the exact sequence they would have played in on 42nd Street or at a rundown drive-in circa 1971. Only the excellent transfers keep this from being a completely accurate invocation of the heyday of celluloid sleaze, though it hardly seems fair to complain about decent audio and video quality. In the end, the only things missing are a worn out theater seat, a sticky floor, and a wino passed out two rows up. Presumably, any viewer that intent on reliving "the good old days" will find these peripheral elements without the help of the distributor.
These are not, by any reasonable standard of critical analysis whatsoever, good films. Once the novelty of "The Grindhouse Experience" and the hilarious coming attractions wears off, you'll be left with nothing but a pair of obscure and rather dreadful movies only the most avid bad film fanatic will ever want to see again.
Frankly, if you're even considering buying a DVD entitled Welcome to the Grindhouse: The Hellcats/Chain Gang Women, you have very little room to complain about the quality of the featured films. In fact, you likely already have a pretty good idea of what you're in for, and therefore shouldn't be shocked by the first film's utter failure to fulfill its poster's salacious promises. Though Chain Gang Women itself is mostly bereft of low-rent thrills, the overall viewing experience here is an accurate, nostalgic stroll down the grimy back alleys of motion picture history, where violence plus titillation equals 175 minutes of dirty, degenerate fun.
While this court cannot, in good conscience, declare any film as dull as Chain Gang Women or as depraved as The Hellcats "innocent," it has no choice but to dismiss any and all charges against this Welcome to the Grindhouse release, on the grounds that it conforms wholly to the standards of the community (bad cinema lovers) for which it is intended. Court is adjourned so that the presiding judge can catch a late night double bill featuring Satan's Sadists and Black Mama, White Mama.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Deimos Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic (The Hellcats)
* Full Frame (Chain Gang Women)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 175 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* IMDb: Chain Gang Women
* IMDb: The Hellcats