MGM has not re-visited the biker genre on DVD since they released Roger Corman's prototype, THE WILD ANGELS, in a beautiful widescreen edition two years ago. Thankfully, the studio has just put another small DVD dent in the cycle genre made popular by AIP with another cleverly-paired duo.
ANGEL UNCHAINED features balding, stringy-haired Don Stroud as Angel, a biker who leaves his gang behind to ride across the country. He joins a hippie commune that's having trouble with the local white trash rednecks who don't take kindly to longhairs. There, he falls in love with a flower child (future "Cagney & Lacey" and "Judging Amy" star Tyne Daly) and easily adapts to their ways of working in the fields all day to keep food on the table. The rednecks not only hate the hippies, but they frequently trash their land by ripping it up with their dune buggies! The leader of the commune (Luke Askew from EASY RIDER) asks Angel to recruit his old biker "club" to stay on the commune for a few days and protect them from the outer threats they've been plaqued with. And in exchange, all the beer they can drink, which if we learned anything from The Rolling Stones and the Hell's Angels at Altamont, does not work all that well.
The uncouth gang is lead by Larry Bishop, the son of Rat-Packer Joey Bishop who played similar roles in several other biker films. The bikers do their best to protect the peace folks, but the lack of red meat and their penchant for an old Indian medicine man's "funny" chocolate chip cookies cause them to get a bit rowdy. Of course, any film with bikers against rednecks on dune buggies has to have an exciting climax, and this AIP cheapie certainly does.
Rather unexploitive and harmless, ANGEL UNCHAINED is a decent time waster that like many biker flicks, employs elements from EASY RIDER (peace communes, misunderstood youth, etc.), with an underlying plot lifted from THE SEVENTH SAMURAI. Aldo Ray is wasted in a small but humorous bit that has him as a calm spectator to a brawl between bikers and rednecks. Stroud was more effective in his other AlP film of 1970, Roger Corman's BLOODY MAMA. Director Madden also helmed the more interesting HELL'S ANGELS '69 the year before.
The other film on this set is THE CYCLE SAVAGES, which was released by AIP under its "Trans American Films" label, often reserved for mondo films, sexy imports, and trashier output such as this. More an enticing exercise in pure sleaze and bad taste, THE CYCLE SAVAGES nonetheless lives up to its name and features a wonderfully over the top lead performance by Bruce Dern, who has plenty of practice as a nasty biker in THE WILD ANGELS and THE REBEL ROUSERS. Here, his wild-wheeling character takes decadence to the extreme.
Dern plays Keeg, a fierce, drugged out, shade wearing rider who supplies young ladies for his brother's (Casey Kasem) white slavery racket. He and his gang get in a tiff with an artist named Romko (Chris Robinson of STANLEY and TV soap opera fame) who follows the bikers around to sketch their unworthy mugs. When Keeg and his gang track him down, they slit open his stomach. The tortured artist then falls into the hands of his lovely neighbor Lea (Melody Patterson, remember "F-Troop") who poses nude for him to keep him distracted while the bikers raid his apartment. It seems that she's in some kind of strange accordance with Keeg since he sold her sister to his brother, who happens to be the host of "America's Top 40" and the voice of Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo." As Romko and Lea fall in love, Keeg and company pick up a teenager sucking on an ice-cream cone. They drug her, gang rape her, and release her the next morning to pass out in the local park so that the police can come running. It seems that the fuzz arrive just before Romko can have his skillful fingers crushed in a vice (ouch!).
For trash fans, THE CYCLE SAVAGES is easily the more indulging effort on this set and also one of the sleazier biker films of the period. Casem (whose appearance in the film is nothing more than a poolside cameo) also produced the film with future Lt. Governor of California Mike Curb, who did music for and produced a number of films. Dern and Patterson were not yet through with AlP though; he appeared in the incredible THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT (also with Kasem), and she showed up in the mega sleaze classic, BLOOD AND LACE. Look for an unbilled Scott Brady in a brief bit as a cop.
MGM has done a nice job releasing these two wild wheels titles on DVD. Both are presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios with Anamorphic enhancement. ANGEL UNCHAINED is the better-looking of the two, with CYCLE SAVAGES exhibiting some grain in an otherwise beautiful transfer. Audio on both are fine, and optional subtitles are available in French and Spanish, and SAVAGES also includes a Spanish language track. I also observed that THE CYCLE SAVAGES is missing some tame footage of Dern getting hot and heavy with his girl on a jukebox while Robinson sketches them. This footage appeared in some bootleg VHS versions, but was never in MGM's VHS edition or in recent cable-TV airings, so perhaps AIP never intended it to be in the actual released version.
No extras are included aside from the theatrical trailers. Let's hope that MGM adds more biker flicks to future "Midnite Movies" promotions, especially THE SAVAGE SEVEN and widescreen versions of THE DEVIL'S ANGELS and THE GLORY STOMPERS! (George R. Reis)
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