Director: Michel Levesque
Dark Sky Films/MPI

One of the few American films to meld the biker and horror genres, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS is a shear oddity that could only have been bred from the prolific period of the early 1970s. Diligent producer Michael Lewis was looking for either a horror film or a biker film to release, and what he got was both of those wrapped up into one drive-in epic with a blatantly great title and an even better advertising art.

A biker gang known as The Devil's Advocates ride the desert roads led by Adam (Stephen Oliver) and his mama, Helen (D.J. Anderson). While resting at a service station, Tarot (Duece Berry) reads his same-name cards, and foresees a grim fate for the gang. The next stop is a secluded monastery, where a group of monks satiate the bikers with wine and bread, and they make camp on the grounds. Later that night, Helen is mystically called inside the monastery, as these monks are actually more interested in Satan than anything holy, and she performs an exotic dance with a snake and skull while totally nude. The rest of the gang crashes the ceremony, rescuing Helen and hitting the road. But Helen has apparently been afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy, and she puts the bite on her boyfriend; what follows is a lot of bloodshed and mutilation.

Seemingly void of plot or substantial dialogue, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS is a really weird film that can be entertaining in a trippy sort of way, and it’s one of those things that tends to grow on you with repeated viewings. It’s got the typical motorcycle movie ingredients, with the biker gang (looking more authentic than usual) indulging in boozing, brawling and balling. The horror elements include a black magic/Satanism angle that allows for some unusual photography and nicely edited sequences, including a hellish vision of Helen soaring up in a tattered wedding dress, as if she was being called as the Devil’s bride. You get a female lycanthrope, as well as a male one, and they are only seen on the screen during the last few minutes of the film, at least delivering what the boastful title promised. The old school monster makeup actually looks pretty good, comparable to some of the Paul Naschy werewolf designs being done around the same time.

The cast of this low budget shocker is made up of familiar exploitation faces, as well as performers you would never expect to appear in this sort of film. Stephen Oliver as the gang leader was a good choice, as he’d already appeared in Russ Meyer’s MOTOR PSYCHO and the Joe Solomon-produced ANGELS FROM HELL. Once the clean cut folk singer of “Eve of Destruction,” and once the even cleaner cut star of “Father Knows Best,” Barry McGuire and Billy Gray respectively play bikers. You would think it odd casting, but with their extremely long hair, anti-establishment looks and wild attitude, they fit right in and are hardly recognizable. What fans and critics always fail to point out is that D.J. Anderson (who’s extended nude snake dance is an absolute highlight) is aka Donna Anders, the heroine of COUNT YORGA, and “Duece Berry” is actually a pseudonym for actor Gene Shane, who also appeared in RUN, ANGEL, RUN and THE VELVET VAMPIRE. The great character actor Severn Darden (CONQUEST OF and BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) appears in the small but vital role of “One,” the monk cult leader who inaugurates a black mass by sacrificing a black cat and recites some satanic mumbo jumbo. Most of the background gang members are played by real bikers, as well as stuntmen.

Dark Sky Films has done a great job on DVD with a film that never looked good before on home video. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, it boasts excellent detail and strikingly bold colors. Darker scenes, including the nighttime werewolf transformations, are now finally easy to make out, and visually appealing. There is some artifacting during one or two of the dark scenes, but it’s very brief. On the down side, the transfer is for some reason missing the opening few seconds of the film, including the main title credit. The mono audio track has some background hiss, but is otherwise just fine. Optional English subtitles are included.

An excellent audio commentary with director Michel Levesque and co-screenwriter David M. Kaufman, moderated by David Gregory of Blue Underground is the central supplement. The commentary has a freshness about it, as both gentlemen vigorously discuss the film as if it was made yesterday. A group of stoned hippies doubling for the sluggish monks and an improvised sequence at a gas station with its real-life hammy attendant in the actor’s chair are just some of the anecdotes covered, and they also reveal how the MPAA demanded a lot of the gore removed, as well as objectionable language which had to be red-dubbed. Also included is the very battered and faded theatrical trailer, a trailer for THE LOSERS, a still gallery, and two radio spots which showcase the great showmanship of the film’s distributor, Fanfare. (George R. Reis)