Having dominated the drive-in for decades, Roger Corman clearly knew what his audiences wanted. Highlighting a small section of the King of the B’s career, seven Corman classics have been collected in a set designed to cater to those with the need for speed. Bookended by nostalgic drive-in intermission reels and concession ads, HOT BIKES, COOL CARS & BAD BABES features four discs (two films per single sided disc save for T-BIRD GANG which is presented solo) that aim to relive and revive the good old days when cars were fast, women were faster and nobody wore a seat belts!
ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME (runtime 86 minutes): After scheduling a drug
deal and avoiding a police sting, three Hell’s Angels hit the open road
headed south. Stopping for gas, the trio run into another gang, The Dragons,
who have been camping out in a nearby ghost town as unwanted guests of a wandering
commune of hippies. Enticed by the prospect of weed, women and “Rocky
Mountain Kool-Aid”, the three bikers, lead by Long John (Scott Glenn,
THE RIGHT STUFF), follow their new friends back to the abandoned town for a
night of heavy drinking and reckless racing. As day turns to night both biker
and hippie seem to be getting along fine with one another but when a number
of the Dragons try to gang rape a fair headed hippy chick (played by Gilda Texter,
probably best known for riding her bike in the buff in VANISHING POINT), Long
John is forced to step in and defend her honor. The ensuing scuffle leaves the
poor girl stabbed and The General (Charles Dierkop, THE SWEET RIDE), leader
of The Dragons, pissed! Seems the blade that found its way into the flower child
was meant for him, and since none of his loyal men would dare to endeavor in
such a foolhardy assassination, The General has Long John and his brothers sequestered
and brought before a jury of their peers as prime suspects in the failed murder
Directed by Joe Viola (THE HOT BOX), from a script he co-written with Jonathan Demme (CAGED HEAT), ANGELS was purportedly originally patterned after Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON. I can see where the stabbing incident could be taken in such a direction, with multiple view points of the biker brawl being brought before the Dragon court in order to uncover exactly who was trying to plant a knife in The General’s skull. As it stands, ANGELS encompasses almost every element one would expect from a biker flick. Racing, rape, reprisals, random dune buggies; it’s all here and for the most part it works. Scott Glen broods with the best of them and Charles Dierkop clearly revels in chewing every scene he can get his hands on. Incredibly subdued as head hippy Henry, ANGELS also features a young Gary Busey in one of his first film roles.
THE WILD RIDE (runtime listed as 63 minutes but is actually 59 minutes): Jack Nicholson is Johnny, a juvenile delinquent who likes to live fast and drive faster. After forcing a police officer off the road, causing the copper serious bodily harm, Johnny high tails it to the local sock hop where he is shocked to learn that his best friend Dave (Robert Bean, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA) wishes to put the rebel rousing behind him. Seems his new girl Nancy (Georgianne Carter, NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST) doesn’t like him hanging around with such unruly riff raff as Johnny and his crew. Johnny however is not about to let some lame chick who doesn’t understand his scene step in and take his best bro away. No sir, as far as Johnny is concerned, if Nancy can’t see things his way then she best be hittin’ the bricks, you dig?
I don’t know if it was intentional or even noticeable upon its original drive-in run but the homoerotic tension between Johnny and Dave is palpable. Jack is visually hurt by the prospect of his BFF turning his back on his crew, and for a skirt no less. Without question the main attractions here is Nicholson and while he is clearly much older than the character he is suppose to be portraying, his performance is so spot on that it becomes the driving force of the picture. Despite running just under an hour, RIDE feels more like a stroll but an enjoyable one highlighted by an early performance from Nicholson who would continue to work for Corman, both in front of and behind the camera for several years to come.
ME AN ANGEL (runtime 85 minutes): After watching her brother's face get blown
off by a shotgun, Dag (Dixie Peabody, NIGHT CALL NURSES) decides to drop the
world and seek her revenge. Tailed by her best buds Bernie (Clyde Ventura, ‘GATOR
BAIT) and Jonsie (Terry Mace), Dag hits the open road in a desperate race to
catch up to her brother's assailant. Making their way from town to town, the
trio stops periodically to inquire about any strangers that might have passed
through ahead of them but find only trouble at every turn. Dag and the boys
eventually catch up to their prey, stumbling through a small town where the
murderous biker has found employment at the local high school. While waiting
for her brother's killer to return to work, Dag finds herself the object of
affection for local artist Ken (Dan Haggerty, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY
ADAMS). The two hit it off and get it on in record time but Dag’s emotional
baggage gets the better of her, sending her into a hallucinogenic rage that
can only be calmed with the spilling of blood.
Kicking off disc two of this four disc set, BURY ME AN ANGEL’s tone is decidedly bleak and somber. Or at least it starts out that way. Shown repeatedly through flashbacks and hallucinations, the murder of Dag’s brother jump starts the picture with graphic and effective detail. The fatal head shot haunting Dag throughout her journey, constantly adding to her thirst for revenge. Any growing sense of impending retribution is however ground to a screeching halt by a silly bar fight at the film's half- way point. The scene, which is punctuated by musical cues straight out of the “Batman” television series, is completely out of character and weakens the punch initially landed by the film's opening. Sadly, the picture never fully recovers from the whimsical bar brawl, which is a shame as the brother/sister revenge premise showed potential.
Directed by Barbara Peters (HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP), BURY ME AN ANGEL’s one sheet is, like so many other biker flicks of its era, a work of art suitable for framing. Hyped by the headline, “SHE TOOK ON THE WHOLE GANG”(which isn’t true, she’s only after the one guy) the poster's pitch continues, “A howling hellcat humping a hot steel hog on a roaring rampage of revenge.” Now THAT’s a tagline! Touting an illustration of Dag befitting a Bill Ward cartoon, the poster is, like so many other biker flicks of its era, more pleasing to the eye than the film it promotes.
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (runtime listed as 83 minutes but is actually 72 minutes): After breaking out of jail where he was being held on suspicion of murder, Frank Webster (John Ireland) stops for a cup of coffee at a roadside diner but instead of a moments rest finds only headache and more trouble. When a portly trucker attempts a citizens arrest, Frank is forced to knock the would be good Samaritan on his back side and flee, taking fellow patron Connie (Dorothy Malone, MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES) with him as a hostage. Stealing Connie’s Jaguar, Frank and his new friend put pedal to the metal as they make a run for the border. Attempting to stay one step ahead of the cops, Frank decides to enter an international car race as a means of crossing over into Mexico. The duo arrives at the starting line only to discover that women drivers have been banned due to the dangerous nature of the border crossing race. Left with little other choice, Frank takes Connie’s place as driver, but with no training or experience finds himself more reliant on his unwilling partner than ever before.
One of Corman’s earliest cinematic ventures, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS was co-directed by lead John Ireland whose acting credits range from ALL THE KING’S MEN and SPARTACUS to SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS and SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT. The film, which shares nothing save for its title with the Vin Diesel pictures of the same name, is well written and at time, rather clever. There are a few scenes that might have you scratching your head – if you’re ever locked in a wooden shack, setting the place on fire is probably not the best means of escape – but as a whole the picture offers much to enjoy. Scenes of actual racing are given their time to shine but they clearly take a back seat to the drama and budding romance between Frank and Connie, who is played quite competently by Dorothy Malone. A particularly tough broad, it’s easy to see what Frank sees in Connie, besides being in the right place at the wrong time. A no nonsense, straight to the point gal, without Connie’s wits and tactful demeanor, it’s doubtful Frank would have made it across the county line, let alone get a shot at crossing the border.
NAKED ANGELS (83 minutes): Fresh out of prison and hell-bent on revenge, bad ass biker Mother (Michael Greene) meets up with his old gang and wastes no time in ordering them for deployment. Driving from L.A. to Las Vegas, The Angels hit the highway determined to track down and kill the rival gang responsible for Mother’s federally forced vacation. When their route proves to be too exhausting, Mother, who is not about to let anything or anyone stop him from settling the score, finds himself at odds with his crew. His bull-headed drive eventually gets him kicked out of his own gang, but nothing, not dehydration, hallucinations or a hundred miles of desert, is going to stop him from getting payback.
Co-written by Marc Siegler (GALAXY OF TERROR), NAKED, ANGELS is 80% guys riding around in the desert and 20% weak melodrama. That’s not to say that the picture didn’t grow on me a little but after 45 minutes of guys riding around, stopping only to fix their bikes, which they fall off of constantly, you start to wonder just where exactly is this whole story going. Much like BURY ME AN ANGEL, NAKED ANGELS' marketing materials prove to be far superior to the film itself. The picture's one-sheet does, for the most part, deliver on its promises as the film does features a young gal with "PROPERTY OF THE ANGELS" tattooed (written with a Sharpie) on her ass. The film's original soundtrack, released on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, not only showcases a groovy score by Jeff Simmons but does an amazing job of portraying the gritty and brutal biker lifestyle all in a single image. The LP cover features a snap shot taken from a scene in which Mother is encouraging his gang to run a train on his old lady Marlene, who is played by Jennifer Gan (WOMEN IN CAGES). Sadly the film itself simply does not deliver on the promise of such powerful promotional images.
THE WINNER aka PIT STOP (runtime 90 minutes): Thrown in jail after getting caught drag racing, devil may care delinquent Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos, EAST OF EDEN) finds himself with a new lease on life after being sprung from detention by racing sponsor Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy in his final role). A witness to his last race, Mr. Willard thinks Rick may have what it takes to run the figure eight, a track which doubles over on itself. The prospect of racing on a track that has an intersection does not initially appeal to Rick but knocking the current reign champ, Hawk Sidney (Sid Haig, COFFY) down a few pegs certainly does. After his first race ends poorly, Rick takes a job as a junk yard mechanic as a means of earning enough extra scratch to pay off his debts and supe up another car to race. Ricks skill as a driver and mechanic, as well as his boneheaded determination begin to get him noticed around the yard by both his peers and by Hawk's girl Jolene (Beverly Washburn, SPIDER BABY). Rick eventually beats Hawk to become the new number one driver, a concept that Hawk has a hard time coming to terms with. Hawk will however prove to be the least of Rick’s troubles, as his eye turns from Jolene to racing super stud Ed McLeod's wife, Ellen (Ellen Burstyn, billed as Ellen McRae).
By far my favorite film of this collection, THE WINNER is an incredibly entertaining picture. I have yet to watch a Jack Hill film that I didn’t enjoy so perhaps I’m a little biased but I really did have a lot fun with this one. Sid Haig is in top form as the conceited figure eight racer Hawk. Completely taking over each and every one of his scenes, Sid plays Hawk a bit over the top but in way that wholly suits the character. Beverly Washburn is cute as button as Jolene and Ellen Burstyn is quietly seductive as McLeod's spouse. Written and directed by Hill, the film's racing footage helps to distinguish itself from its peers by providing a rough documentary feel that puts you in the middle of the action. I’ve lived in NASCAR country for most of my life, but have never been a fan of racing. Honestly, I couldn’t care less. But watching the cars rip through the figure eight, narrowly clipping each other as the track wraps around and over on itself all but demanded my full attention.
Occupying the fourth disc of this collection all by its lonesome, T-BIRD GANG (runtime 65 minutes) feels a bit out place in that it has nothing to do with bikes and very little to do with cars, save for that its heavy drives a T-Bird. When his father is killed in an attempted robbery, Frank Simmons (John Brinkley, A BUCKET OF BLOOD) aggress to go undercover in order to undermine and dismantle the crew responsible for his old man's untimely demise. Using the alias Frank Minor, Simmons latches himself onto a gang run by Alex Hendricks (Ed Nelson, THE BRAIN EATERS), a seemingly distinguished young chap who has himself quite the set up. After successfully helping Alex with a heist, Frank informs the police of his boss’s next move. Alex’s muscle Raymond (Tony Miller, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS) however smells a rat and in attempt to out Frank, calls off the job in hopes of catching the young man in a compromising situation. Predictable and formulaic, T-BIRD GANG's highlight is a title card asking for your patience while the reels are changed.
While NAKED ANGELS and BURY ME AN ANGEL make their DVD debuts with this set, all seven films included have been available for home viewing before, either via VHS, DVD or both. ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME was released on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment twice using alternate covers and later on DVD by Brentwood and St. Clair Vision. THE WILD RIDE saw a VHS release through Silver Screen Gems “Biker and Bad Girls Gems” line, before eventually finding it’s way onto DVD through Brentwood in 2001 and Alpha in 2005. BURY ME AN ANGEL was released on VHS in 1985, through New World Video with a cover that featured an illustration of Dag in a variety of titillating situations, of which only half actually appear in the movie. The front cover of the NAKED ANGELS VHS release, via Continental Video, likewise features a titillating illustrated image. One that puts Jennifer Gan’s cross cut leather pants front and center. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS saw DVD releases from both Alpha and Brentwood in the early 2000’s as did T-BIRD GANG.
And now for the bad news. All seven films are presented fullframe with each feature baring its own chapter selection menu and opening synopsis title card. Each film is accompanied by an affixed “Hollywood Select Video” watermark located in the lower right corner. The watermark, while annoying, does tend to blend into its surroundings, thanks in part to the transfers themselves which are shoddy to say the least. Most appear to be culled from video sources, most notably NAKED ANGELS and BURY ME AN ANGEL, both of which suffer from tape rolls, blurry detail and washed out coloring. BURY ME AN ANGEL also features a glitch that sends the disc back to the main menu once it reaches the Chapter 2 stop. Night scenes throughout the collection are a murky, dark mess. Scratches, hairs, lines, spots, think of a blemish and you will probably find it here with the exception of THE WINNER which is in surprisingly good shape. Black and white cinematography for THE WINNER looks crisp, as does detail however the image does appear squished. Anchor Bay released THE WINNER under its alternate title PIT STOP back in 2000, although good luck finding it as this original release has long been out of print (the transfer here looks to be ported from that very disc, and its anamorphic image pushed to fullframe!). Audio is in the same sinking boat as its visual counterpart, with some prints showcasing more pops and crackles than a packet of Strawberry Pop Rocks.
Trailers for HELL’S BELLES, PIT STOP, TOMB OF LIGEIA, MASQUE OF RED DEATH, THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, THE TRIP, NIGHT CALL NURSES, THE STUDENT NURSES and THE YOUNG NURSES are scattered throughout the collection and fair far better than the features they are supplementing (the majority of the these likely ported from their official DVD releases). Vintage drive-in concession ads and intermission bumpers can also be found on each disc and while fun to experience, they are hard to enjoy given their heavy pixilation.
While I love the idea behind this collection, its execution leaves much to be desired. Bringing drive-in fare to the DVD format is a noble cause that I support whole heartily, but if the only print source you can find is a water damaged VHS tape that’s been sitting in your garage gathering dust for the last 20 years, at the very least post a warning on your packaging. Give your consumers a heads up. Stating “Digitally Remastered” simply isn’t enough information. You need to be more specific like, “Digitally Remastered, from the finest 3rd generation bootlegs we could find”. (Jason McElreath)
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