Roger Corman’s connections to biker cinema dates back to his directorial effort, THE WILD ANGELS, a well publicized genre bender which triggered an onslaught of imitations. Independently made a few years later, NAKED ANGELS featured an uncredited Corman as production supervisor, and he would continue to dabble in motorcycle movies with his New World Pictures, which was in the formation stages at this time. Corman’s vague association with NAKED ANGELS is enough for Shout! Factory to issue it on the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” collection, as it makes its “official” DVD debut here.
Mother (Michael Greene, THE CLONES), president of the LA Angels motorcycle club, is released after being cooped up in a hospital after a rival gang member beat up on him. Mother gets off to a fresh new start by stealing a bike, reclaiming his old lady Marlene (Jennifer Gan, WOMEN IN CAGES) and taking back his colors and leader position from Angels VP and buddy, Fingers (Richard Rust, THE STUDENT NURSES), who was also clinging on to his girl while he was away. Mother is out to find the member of the Vegas Hotdoggers who is rresponsible for his lengthy intake of hospital food, and he’s bent on sweet revenge. Raiding a Vegas topless joint, Mother and his boys throw their weight around and learn that the Hotdogger they’re looking for is hiding out in an old, abandoned desert mine in Devil’s Head (in biker film lore, that means a road trip is in order).
Mother nabs the hot brunette girlfriend of a gangster and beds her in a hotel room until the gangster’s well-dressed cronies chase him to the roof. The Angels comes to Mother’s defense, but the cops force the gang out of town. First, they spend the night outside a barn, where mother reclaims Marlene sexually in a lovemaking session which has him slapping her around, apparently how he gets off. When the Angels eventually make it into the heart of the desert, Mother’s cruelty and recklessness towards them (not to mention his request that the guys gangbang Marlene as a form of punishment) is enough to turn them against their leader. But despite the entire clan splitting from him, Mother is determined to move forward with his plans, despite all the obstacles, some of which include running out of gas, dehydration and western-motif hallucinations.
Directed by New Zealand native Bruce Clark, who co-wrote it with Marc Siegler (the two later collaborated on the Corman-produced sci-fi gorefest GALAXY OF TERROR for New World Pictures), NAKED ANGELS is mostly about meandering bikers in and around a desert, a common element in biker films of the late 1960s (HELLS ANGELS ’69, SATAN’S SADISTS). That said, the thin plot feels as if it was concocted right out of a half a dozen other motorcycle pictures from around the time this was made. The mustached, tall and lanky Greene is not bad (the actor was and is sort of chameleon-like in his movie roles), but his portrayal of the annoying, misogynistic, flute-toting Mother comes off as sort of a poor man’s (and less intimidating) William Smith (who, even by 1969, was the actor most associated with this kind of tough biker role). One of Greene’s best scenes is when Mother stares down a nervous gun-pointing gas attendant who refuses to serve him and starts babbling about sin.
Richard Rust was an underrated actor, and his Fingers is slightly more interesting than Mother. Fingers is initially seen greeting his old friend and leader in a gross-out beer drinking ritual that has them gargling it, spitting it back in the glass, concluded by them drinking each other’s recycled suds. Fingers turns out to be a moral and sensitive character, actually winning over Marlene because of it (this is one of the few biker pics where the leader is rejected so easily by his main squeeze in the end). Jennifer Gan, who sadly passed away in 2000, is tall and sexy, especially in her leather pants with its open, cross-stitched design down the sides of the legs. Probably best known for her starring role in New World’s VIP flick WOMEN IN CAGES, Gan also played a biker chick in an episode of “The Monkees”. Future director Penelope Spheeris (WAYNE’S WORLD), is easily recognizable as one of the motorcycle mommas.
A fairly shoddy looking production, NAKED ANGELS benefits from the cinematography by Robert Eberlein and Bill Kaplan, which nicely captures the Vegas strip of the late 1960s (look carefully for a theater marquee showing a double bill of TORTURE GARDEN and THE COLLECTOR), as well as the contrasting desert landscapes which overcome our wild riders. The trippy acid score, heavy on guitar and keyboards, was by Jeffry Simmons, a one-time member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention (the soundtrack for the film was available on Zappa’s record label). The memorable ad campaign (which was also made available in a more censored, retouched version) featured a sketch of a shapely blonde in white panties with “Property of the Angels” inked on her derriere. This promotional image stays true to a scene in the film, where a curvaceous naked momma, dancing before a bonfire in front of some stoned gawkers, has those very words on one of her bare cheeks. The film played on the top of a double bill with Jack Hill’s black & white, acclaimed racing drama PIT STOP (which was originally titled THE WINNER).
NAKED ANGELS was previously available on DVD on a 5-DVD set from Infinity titled, “Roger Corman’s…Best of the B*s Collection 1: Hot Bikes, Cool Cars & Bad Babes”, but it turns out they just sourced their transfer from the old Monterey VHS tape, dropouts and all (plus they had the nerve to stick a watermark logo on the bottom corner). Shout! Factory’s DVD (availably exclusively to purchase on their website) is a welcomed authorized edition, but the presentation is 1.33:1 full frame, rather than in the film’s original 1.85:1 ratio. No major clean-up has been done for the transfer (which seems to be one that has been laying around since the 1980s), which has its share of markings, but colors are stable and although some scenes tend to be dark, the image is decent overall. The mono audio is also passable, but some of the dialog sounds muffled (likely to the production values). There’s no proper chapter menu here (or any extras for that matter). Some may find the $19.95 price tag high, but it's still better than paying outrageous prices on eBay for the old, big-boxed Monterery VHS tape. (George R. Reis)
BACK TO REVIEWS