Dark Sky Films // 1971 // 85 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // February 23rd, 2006
Born to be wild.
"Okay, man, you know that feeling you get when you don your colors, strap on your boots, and just hit the open road, not a care in the world? Hell, you got that full moon beatin' down on you, and the wind is making the hair on the back of your hands stand up straight, and suddenly it's more than just a ride, you know? It's a time and a place where you become at one with the primal beast inside, scouring the countryside like a wild bloodthirsty killer -- a tuned-up chopper between your legs and nothing in front of you but the rapidly growing hair in front of your eyes. Now that's freedom, man -- freedom werewolf style."
The Devil's Advocates, an outlaw biker gang led by Adam (Stephen Oliver, Motor Psycho) and his mama Helen (D.J. Anderson, Count Yorga), breeze into town, announced by rumbling mufflers and lingering clouds of illicit smoke. While they're waiting to get their choppers gassed up at a tiny service station, Helen has her fortune read by Tarot (Duece Berry), a superstitious biker convinced the Advocates are headed toward a bad end. Things definitely seem to be going gravely when the gang stumbles upon some kind of Satanic monastery, and are offered drugged wine and bread by a group of hooded cultists led by the enigmatic One (Severn Darden, Vanishing Point). On awakening that night, Adam discovers Helen has been taken to the temple to perform some weird "Bride of Satan" rite, and is forced to rescue her with the help of his cronies Scarf (folkie Barry McGuire) and Pill (Billy Gray, Father Knows Best). The damage, however, is done -- Helen has been cursed with the hirsute hex of the werewolf, and it starts to look like Tarot was right after all.
In the asphalt-ripping wake of Roger Corman's 1966 classic The Wild Angels, drive-ins across North America were suddenly inundated with rough and tough biker films bent on cashing in on the Hell's Angels' real life seedy reputation. Despite their brief success as Hollywood's ultimate anti-heroes, the fictional biker gangs never really managed to break out of the B-film ghetto, however, and aside from Dennis Hopper's surprise counter-culture hit, Easy Rider, they seemed doomed to populate increasingly sleazy trash at the end of the decade, everything from Al Adamson's overly-cynical Satan's Sadists to The Pink Angels, a swishy, decidedly over-the-top tale of a gay biker gang. Perhaps the ultimate exploitation biker film, 1971's Werewolves on Wheels was the Altamont of the genre, an eleventh-hour attempt to crossbreed the Hell's Angel biker flick with horror to resurrect the fading freak flag of chopper cinema. Though the final result probably isn't as successful as it should be in merging these two genres, the quality of the film is almost completely besides the point -- on title and concept alone, Werewolves on Wheels has become an undeniable cult film artifact.
As a biker flick, Werewolves on Wheels even works pretty well -- the Devil's Advocates appear tougher than in most films, dutifully doling out lewd and crude behavior as they bash some poor sucker's face, tease a gas station attendant with their half-naked biker babes, and bloody up a traitorous member for disobeying Adam's orders. As was standard for the genre, there are clean-cut young Hollywood hopefuls underneath all that facial hair, grime, and ratty denim, but director Michel Levesque offers enough meandering scenes of bad biker behavior -- pointless vandalism, drugs, and sex -- that the gang's frustration and wanderlust is almost tangible.
It's only when the film tries to cross over to horror that Werewolves on Wheels begins to test audience patience. The film's touted satanic subplot is more silly than spooky, with a mob of faceless disciples burning black candles and chanting in Latin. In fact, the entire evil rite seems more geared around getting star D.J. Anderson to perform an extended topless dance while fondling a particularly phallic snake, as it's not even clear when or how the werewolf curse even enters into the picture. These scenes, which are more than a little overindulgent at the time, end up being much scarier in flashback, as dead biker pals begin piling up and Tarot gazes off into the campfire, worrying about the fate of the gang in the harrowing days that follow the mysterious ceremony. When the werewolves finally show up in the last few minutes of the final reel, the hairy make-up also looks far better than expected, Jack Pierce-inspired designs that give the final scene some creepy weight even as the plot becomes permanently unraveled.
It should be no surprise that director Levesque later became an art director, working on Russ Meyer's most visually outlandish films like Supervixens and Up!, because his directorial debut looks just great, chock full of artistically considered images of the open road, burning junker cars, and breathtaking vistas. Even still, Levesque does have some difficulty maintaining viewer interest in this go-nowhere narrative, a problem made even more exasperating with a couple of trippy twists that I'm still scratching my head over. Regardless of any psychedelic directorial choices, Werewolves on Wheels is still shot with more care than you might expect, and features a solid, hard-hitting rock-funk score by Don Gere -- a couple of unexpected surprises that go a long way toward edging this exploitation timewaster towards legitimacy.
Get ready to toss away those sorry VHS copies and bootlegs -- Dark Sky Films has given these werewolves a presentation that's worth howling about. While still a little dirty around the edges, this is an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that suffers from just a few scratches and flaws during night scenes. The restoration work is readily apparent, and I doubt the film ever looked this good, even in its original run, with bold, crisp-looking scenes and nice detail. The mono soundtrack is noticeably hampered by a wall of hiss, and the fidelity is often quite limited, but I think you can chalk any audio weakness up to source flaws. Blue Underground's David Gregory moderates the disc's most interesting special feature, a commentary with director Michel Levesque and his co-screenwriter David M. Kaufman. They dish several anecdotes about the production, talk about improvising on set, and relate the film's resulting trouble with the MPAA. Definitely worth a listen for those interested in low budget filmmaking. Also along for the ride is an image gallery, a pair of radio spots, and theatrical trailers for both this film (in extremely rough shape) and Dark Sky's other motorcycle film on DVD, The Losers.
Long before "high concept" became the golden rule for B-film, Werewolves on Wheels matched up two of the lowbrow cinema's most exploitable genres and created an infamous cult outing. Though it's far too uneven to be considered any sort of "lost classic," it's still a solid B-film curio that biker flick fans should blow a gasket over.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Radio Spots
* Image Gallery