STONE (1974)
Director: Sandy Harbutt
Severin Films

On and then off again, resolved legal issues have thankfully opened the doors for Severin Films to finally release the ozplotation classic STONE. Years before MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR had mainstream America turning an attentive eye down under, writer/director Sandy Harbutt unleashed a motion picture that entertained and captivated audiences with its portrayal of the uniquely Australian bikie culture. Chock-a-block with drugs, women and rock and roll, STONE is a high octane trip worth taking.

Somebody is taking out members of The Grave Diggers gang one by one and while they don’t approve of their lifestyle, local law enforcement isn’t about to let any such murders go uninvestigated. Meeting with The Grave Diggers leader, The Undertaker (Sandy Harbutt), Hippie cop Stone (Ken Shorter) suggests that the gang allow him entry into their exclusive club, so that he can investigate the killings undercover. The idea of a pig gaining entry into their tight knit society disgusts The Grave Diggers but they reluctantly agree knowing full well that they’ll get to beat the snot out of the copper if he ever crosses the line. After being jumped into the gang, Stone finds himself immersed in a culture that is as dangerous as it is liberating. Life on the road is simpler and Stone finds himself attracted to The Grave Diggers style, but remains focused on his investigative duties. Camping out in an isolated fortress located on a rocky peninsula, The Grave Diggers watch after their own, but soon feel the need for the open road calling them from their stronghold. Visiting a local pub, the gang is presented with the helmet of a fallen comrade and while it is clear to The Undertaker and his men that a rival bikie gang are responsible for disturbing the grave of their deceased brother, Stone knows that the set up is a trap, but convincing The Grave Diggers of such is a hopeless case.

Preferring Kawasaki to Harley Davidson, STONE is a violent, brash, ass kicking bite of exploitation from writer/director/producer Sandy Harbutt. It is a damn shame that Sandy never made another picture, as STONE displays an exceptional talent and distinctive voice that could have produced some amazing pictures. Harbutt’s love and admiration for the bikie culture is adamant and he remains true to the distinctively Aussie culture throughout the film. The Gravediggers may be brutish, crude and prone to sudden disruptions of violence but dammit they're loyal. They’re a family who embrace their dysfunctions and screw anyone who doesn’t understand or look down on them. Hallucinogenic camera work is deftly played and never overbearing, unlike many American biker films of the same era which can leave you reaching for the Dramamine. Backed by a raucous soundtrack, STONE rips along at a rewarding pace, concluding with an ending that feels honest and true to the characters, a rarity for any film, in particular an exploitation picture.

If Miles O'Keeffe and Dave Mustaine had a baby it would look like lead Ken Shorter, only tougher. As Stone, Ken exudes little in the way of machismo, let alone authority as an undercover cop with balls big enough to walk into a bar full of satanic bikiers and demand membership into their club. A leathersmith in real life, Ken created most of his own wardrobe which, along with his billowing hair is far too clean in contrast to the dirt encrusted denim of The Grave Diggers. His performance is the only aspect of the film that doesn’t feel natural, but given his character is that of an outsider, is strangely appropriate. Ken’s attempts to play tough are heavy-handed in comparison to his cast mates, principally Harbutt’s take as The Undertaker. You don’t for once second question that he is in charge and every bit as deadly as his nickname implies. Comprised of friends, coworkers and real life bikies, several of The Grave Diggers gang would find work on George Miller’s MAD MAX, but it is Hugh Keays-Byrne, who plays Toad, who is easily the most recognizable from his role as the sadistic Toecutter. High as a kite, it is Toad who unwillingly places The Grave Diggers on a dangerous path and in a performance that ranges from sociopath to tripping balls, Hugh's character feels ever bit as developed and authentic as Harbutt’s Undertaker. Littered with colorful nicknames, Dr. Death, Septic, Captain Midnight and Bad Max (sounds familiar) to name a few, you may not want to invite The Grave Diggers to your next social gathering but it would be damn fun to be invited to one of theirs.

Severin Films presents STONE with an anamorphic widescreen transfer in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is first-rate, with sharp detail and natural coloring. There are some minor blemishes and a light coating of grain at times, but the picture looks great as a whole. Dolby Digital Mono is clear but you might have to strain your ears slightly to understand several of the thicker Australian accents. Rock and Roll by Billy Green is as loud and as thunderous as the roaring engines and overall Severin has done a commendable job in its release of STONE.

Releasing STONE in both a single and 2-disc special edition, if this title interests you in the slightest I would recommend opting for the special edition. If you have never seen the film before and you buy the stand alone disc, you’ll only kick yourself later for not upgrading to the special edition once you fall in love with the movie. While Disc 1 only features the film's original theatrical trailer, Disc 2 of the special edition features a number of welcomed extras that delve deeper into the film itself and the inimitable bikie scene. “STONE forever” is a documentary of the 25th anniversary of STONE, shot in 1998 and attended by over 30,000 bikers. Director Richard Kuipers interviews seemingly every living cast member, many of whom attended the anniversary celebration, where they were treated as kings among men. Clearly appreciative of his fans and still very much captivated by the bikie way of life, director Harbutt relives the days of initial filming and the trying times of its theatrical release. Although panned by critics, STONE was released to sold out crowds and created a legion of fans who champion the film to this day. Filmed in glorious black and white, and inter-cut with color footage from the film, “The Making of STONE” is a news magazine report of the filming as it happened. Running under 30 minutes, the short features vintage interviews with Harbutt and several other cast members, over which a narrator describes the scenes, paying close attention to a crowded fight scene and repeatedly making special note of the production's inclusion of actual bikies. A brief makeup test is included, accompanied by an extensive slide show of behind the scenes photos, narrated by Sandy Harbutt. Immensely entertaining and highly recommended, Severin Films' release of STONE is an exploitation picture that delivers on every level. Seek this one out! (Jason McElreath)