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Werewolves on Wheels

     "Hey! We all know how we're gonna die, baby. We are all  gonna crash and burn!"

-- Adam probably wishes that were true.     

 

     

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Sights &
Sounds:
Werewolves
on Wheels
(1971)
 South Street Films /
 The Fanfare Corporation

Scuffed
Leather
& Twisted
Chrome:
More Outlaw
Biker Flicks.

The Wild Angels

Run, Angel Run

Satan's Sadists

She-Devils on Wheels

Werewolves on Wheels

 

On a lonesome highway, out of the heat and rippling haze of the desert, The Devilís Advocates ride. (Now that is one inspired name for a motorcycle club.) There appears to be about a dozen of them on bikes, with a couple of biker skanks, bringing up the rear, in an old ambulance. As they roll along, snogging their old ladies, popping some pills, smoking some reefer, and dabble in a few other hallucinogens, they continue to ride. And ride. And ride. And ride -- Iím sensing a theme here.

Trouble starts when a straggler is run off the road by a couple of good old boys in a pickup-truck, and as the other Advocates burn rubber in pursuit, the locals manage to give them the slip. Ah, but the not so bright hit-n-runners then make the bone-headed mistake of stopping at the very next available gas station -- so it isnít that big of a surprise when the Advocates roar up and surround them, looking for a little payback. Adam (Stephen Oliver), the gangís leader, forcefully pulls the driver out, and proceeds to give him a big old wet kiss on the lips!? (The hell?) He then punches him in the stomach (-- thatís better), and then turns him over to the rest of the gang, who proceed to beat the crap out of him. But the Advocates aren't completely ruthless as they leave the geriatric passenger alone, and after the bloodied driver is unceremoniously dumped in the back of the truck, the old man punches the gas pedal and tears off. Having had enough fun, the Advocates let them go and invade the gas station instead.

While the others imbibe huge amounts of beer, Helen (DJ Anderson) -- Adamís old lady, wants Tarot (Deuce Barry), the spiritual sage of the group, to tell her her fortune. Tarot gets really cranky because he reads the cards and doesnít tell fortunes (-- thereís a difference?), and it doesnít matter because he wonít do readings for chicks anyway. At first, this makes Adam happy because he doesnít like it when the morose Tarot starts messing with his cards -- I guess it makes him even more morose. But Helen is insistent, and he finally orders Tarot to do it, just to make her shut up. Wanting to know how she's going to die, Helen watches at Tarot lays out the Chariot Card, the Loverís Card, and the Angel Card. (Do you wanna hit or stand pat?) Next comes the Devilís Card, which Tarot ominously warns will have a future influence on her. And then he deals another, more ominous card that says her fate is predetermined, meaning she cannot change it. Claiming itís all a crock, Adam wonít let him flip the last card. But Helen's really got her panties in a bunch to know, so Tarot reveals the last card: Helen will die by a lightning strike in the Tower of Satan. (I had a vision once where mall walkers trampled me to death. Walked right out of the Sam Goody and BAM! -- I wonder if they have a card for that?) Suddenly, overcome with disturbing visions of death and the Cloven One, Tarot is visibly upset by the reading. Adam snaps him out of it, still insisting it's all a load of bull-crap, and herds everyone outside to head deeper into the wilderness for a little R&R.

So theyíre off again, and weíre entreated to another long travelogue sequence until they eventually stop at a fork in the road for a beer break. Unable to shake the visions, Tarot is still a bit uneasy and Adam chides him for believing in all that mumbo-jumbo. But Tarot claims he only believes in the truth, and claims he can show them all the "real truth" if they're willing to follow. They are, so he leads them down the fork lest traveled into a primordial woods. (And no, Werewolves on Wheels is not based on the poetry of Robert Frost. Maybe if it was an AIP picture?) Ditching the bikes, they head further into the trees and find a huge circle of stones in a clearing -- obviously an altar of some kind -- where they commence to have a drunken orgy. And it isnít very hard to spot the Tower of Satan in the background; an exact match to Tarot's prophetic vision. And when Adam starts calling for the Devil to come out and join the party, he doesn't realize that the Devil is listening -- and has every intention of taking him up on the invitation...

The origins of the Outlaw Biker flick can be traced back to the summer of 1947, when the American Motorcyclist Association [AMA] sponsored a Gypsy Tour and Rally in Hollister, California, over the July 4th Weekend, where around 4000 bikers showed up -- mostly returning veterans, trying to readjust to civilian life -- which was about 3985 more than the town could really accommodate. And then a couple of rival clubs -- the Boozefighters and the Pissed-Off Bastards of Bloomington -- allegedly got into a rumble, resulting in the so-called Hollister Riot. I say allegedly, and so-called, because aside from some public drunkenness and general disorderliness, there wasn't much of a riot. However, inspired by a (posed) picture he saw in LIFE magazine about the rowdy weekend, writer Frank Rooney wrote a fictionalized tale called "The Cyclist Raid" for Harper's Weekly, where a gang of hooligans ride in and take over a small town. Fiction soon clouded the truth, and a legend was born.

It was Rooney's imagined Hollister Riot that inspired Stanley Kramer's The Wild One, recognized by most as the first Outlaw Biker flick, which in turn helped create a whole new genre. The film also influenced the bikers themselves -- but most of them were emulating Lee Marvin's skuzzy Chino, not Marlon Brando's pretty boy Johnny. And starting with Roger Corman's mucho profitable The Wild Angels in 1966 -- inspired again by an article in LIFE about the massive funeral of a legendary Hell's Angel member -- most of the other films followed suit, focusing on the rough and rowdy world of life on the road, using real bikers in their films as extras.

With low production costs and money to be made, over the next few years some 40 to 50 biker flicks were unleashed on the public -- Satan's Sadists, The Glory Stompers and The Devil's Angels, to name a few, but by the dawn of the '70s, the genre was no longer firing on all cylinders. And as filmmakers almost always do when a genre is about to die, they combine it with another to try and squeeze a few more titles out of it. In the horribly misstitled Hell's Bloody Devils, Al Adamson stuck some bikers in his James Bond knock-off with less than stellar results. American International was yucking up it's own creation with Eric Von Zipper bumbling his way through most of the Beach Party series. So it was inevitable, then, that somebody would start combining the biker and horror genres, and none other than Hershell Gordon Lewis started the blood flowing with She-Devils on Wheels; and then there was Psychomania -- the tale of biker gang selling their souls to the devil for immortality. Strange film. They worship a toad. I'm serious.

About this same time writer David Kaufman teamed up with director Michel Levesque on a script for Werewolves on Wheels. Levesque was a production designer for Russ Meyer, and they got financing from Paul Lewis, who had a hand in a ton of biker movies, including Easy Rider and Hell's Angels on Wheels. From what we've seen so far, there wasn't much of a script to this film as a lot of the dialogue appears to be adlibbed -- but adlibbed very well by the mostly amateur cast. Oliver was already a genre veteran, and if you look closely, you can spot folk-singer Barry "Eve of Destruction" McGuire and former child star Billy Gray, who had just come off a much publicized marihuana bust, amongst the Advocates. And according to Levesque in the DVD commentary, most of the cast were stoned for the entire shoot. Method acting I guess. 

When an initial deal with AIP fell apart another distributor was found with Joe Solomon's Fanfare Productions. Solomon was one of the quieter patron saints of exploitation cinema, but brought us plenty of biker mayhem: The Born Losers, Run, Angel, Run, and Nam's Angels a/k/a The Losers -- where the government sends some renegade bikers to Vietnam on a covert rescue mission. When Werewolves on Wheels was released in 1971, the poster and press-kits screamed "The gang thought it was tough ... 'til they found a new kind of hell ... THE BRIDE OF SATAN!" And all the promotional materials -- including a complimentary barf-bag in case the film made you sick (-- hopefully for the right reasons), promised us lycanthropic hooligans on Harley's. But what we really got was a different kind of monster all together, which will soon present itself as the Advocates' drunken orgy continues unabated until several monks appear from out of nowhere, who offer the revelers some bread and wine.

Unknown to the slovenly bikers, however, who greedily accept and gorge themselves, the wine has been drugged and they all start dropping like flies. (And can you imagine the potency it would take to knock this crowd out?) When the head evil monk shows up, announcing himself as One, the spokesman for He Who Must Remain Silent Forever (Severn Darden -- a well known comedic actor, who you may also remember as the leader of the mutants in Battle for the Planet of the Apes), he babbles in satanic, circular logic for a while, and then removes a strand of hair from Helen. (Satanic rites are weird.) Returning to the tower, One calls upon his Master and sacrifices a cat, draining its blood into a cup, and throws the carcass into the fire. Taking the blood, he draws a circle around himself, leaving only a small gap for the Bride of Satan to enter. He then constructs a crude fetish doll out of wax and sticks Helen's stolen hair onto it. Then, after inviting the other black robed monks to circle up and join the ceremony, One leads them in a chant to summon their Master's new Bride. (And I think they're supposed to be speaking in tongues, but it sounds like they're just strumming their fingers over their lips. Like I said -- weird.)

Outside, in the passed out pile of Advocates, Helen slowly rises. Compelled by One, she is mesmerized and drawn into the temple, and at this point ya might think that youíve had some spiked wine, too, as she switches frequently from biker gear to a wedding dress. When she enters the altar room in a puff of smoke, One dips some bread into the cat blood and feeds it to her. And before you know it, sheís buck-naked and doing a strangely provocative dance number around the large fire-pit while caressing a very large snake!

When the other Advocates slowly start to wake up, Adam notices Helenís gone. Hearing the ruckus going on inside the temple, he rousts everybody else up to go and rescue her ... Inside, One is smearing blood all over the wax doll, and seeing what they've done to Helen, Adam and the bikers start kicking evil monk ass. As the Advocates make quick work of his minions, One drops the wax doll into the fire, and as it melts, Helen screams; but this also seemingly frees her from One's spell. Adam grabs her and they make their escape, but not before each biker gets some of the blood smeared on his face.

Day breaks, and to put as much distance between themselves and the tower, the Advocates head further into the desert. (Yay, more travelogue footage.) When night falls and they make camp, Helen drops some acid and starts doing the standard freak-out dance around the fire -- that's nowhere near as entertaining as her earlier number. Suddenly, she has a vision of the wax doll, melting in the fire, and goes screaming into the night. Adam chases after her, while the other bikers decide to mock the satanic rituals they just witnessed and start chanting "oobla doobla ooggla urbla" and chase each other around the bonfire until Mouse (Owen Orr) decides to make Shirley (Anna Lynn Brown) his own personal Bride of Satan. Sheís willing, but heíll have to catch her first. Meanwhile, one sand dune over, Adam and Helen are in the process of doing the nasty -- but she throws a hitch into the foreplay when she bites him on the neck. Nearby, Mouse and Shirleyís game of tag has degenerated into a wrestling match, but their foreplay is interrupted by a several hairy paws that attack them, and then we're treated to not one, but two, slow-motion throat slashings -- complete with a geyser of arterial blood. (And in case you missed it, they repeat it for you. Like, three times!) We then leave the scene with the shadows of two monsters savaging the victims to pieces.

The next morning, the bikers make the grisly discovery. (Itís pretty obvious who the monsters are, but I will point out that Adam and Helen have no recollection of their actions.) Assuming something from the desert killed them, Adam states that all they can really do is bury them with beer cans and move on. Which means more travelogue footage -- that leads us to the gas station scene. (Ah, the gas station interlude, my favorite part of the movie. More on this later.) The pudgy and cranky owner is a Mr. Burke -- heavy on the Mister, mister; he doesnít like their kind (-- Damn hippy-pinko-commie biker freaks! --) and makes them pump their own gas. He also warns them to be careful and not burn his place down, and constantly reminds them theyíre in the desert and that the only way out is to parachute straight up. What a great kook.

After that brief interlude, theyíre on the road again and stop for the night at an old landfill, filled with the beaten husks of hundreds of old cars. Tarot goes off by himself to meditate, and when Adam finds him, they get to talking ... Adam thinks they need to head off to Florida, like the good old days, but Tarot says somethingís wrong, something bad, and he canít ride with the Advocates anymore. Ignoring his qualms, Adam continues on reminiscing, making it harder for Tarot to convince him that evilís afoot. When Adam finally hears he doesn't listen, and warns his friend to lay off the bad vibes because heís starting to freak everybody out with all the negative waves. Again, Tarot presages that heís just telling the truth, and then right on cue, he is gripped by another vision: Heís back in the temple, and is being force fed the bloodied bread at the foot of a crucified Helen!

That night, while the others sleep, the same furry claws attack the biker standing watch. After the monsters ravage and kill him, the body is tossed into the bonfire. (They had lit up the entire landfill, making things nice and creepy.) The next morning, while fighting over the last beer, the Advocates realize that someoneís missing again. Finding the burnt remains in the ashes, as Tarot lays the bad magic trip on everybody again, Adam blames the evil monks -- and has a hankering to break his boot off in a certain evil monk's ass ... And it's here where the movie takes an even more surreal turn:

A freak sandstorm blows over the highway, and after the cloud engulfs the bikers, when the sand-wave quickly dissipates, the bikers are gone! vanished before the eyes of the gals in the trailing ambulance. (I canít begin to tell you how effective this scene is. See illustration above.) We then cut to the middle of desert, where the mystically displaced Advocates find themselves lost in the sand dunes with absolutely no idea how they got there ... Since their bikes arenít built for off-road travel, it takes them awhile to make it back to the highway. Still believing the Monks are behind this, though Tarot insists they shouldn't mess with them anymore, Adam is determined to settle the score. Also fed up with Tarot's negativity, Adam sucker punches him, triggering a brawl, where Tarot is quickly beaten into submission. However, the fight and mystical detour has taken up too much valuable daylight and they have to stop for the night. And as an eerie silence hangs over the Advocates gathered around the campfire, the silence is broken when Adam sees a vision of a wax dummy -- this time in his image, melting in the fire. Obviously, he freaks out at this, and then starts to painfully change. 

Helen sees her wax doll in the fire, too, and also starts to change. Unsure of what's happening, the other bikers back off -- except for Tarot, who tries to help Helen -- but it isnít long before the remaining Advocates are facing two snarling werewolves. (And as we finally get a good look at them, I think they stole the masks from Paul Naschy.) Before the transformation can really sink in, Were-Adam buzzsaws through a couple of bikers, while Were-Helen chases after Tarot. Circling back to the campfire, and using a log as a torch, he manages to hold her off. Following his lead, the other Advocates take up torches and set Helen on fire, who screams, falls into the campfire, and is consumed by the flames. We then get a quick blip of her in the wedding dress, rising up out of the fire like a Phoenix. Outnumbered, the remaining werewolf jumps on his bike and roars off. With torches in hand, the others mount up and go after him; eventually catching up and put the torch to him, too. On fire, Were-Adam quickly loses control, crashes, and goes up in flames when the gas tank explodes.

To avenge their friends, led by Tarot, the remaining Advocates return to the temple and head into the altar room, where they find One and some other loitering monks. And as each Advocate picks a partner to beat down, and raises his arm to strike, they see the faces of their deceased comrades under the monkís hoods and quickly collapse. Summarily defeated, they all succumb to the power of One -- whose robes are now occupied by Adam, and Tarot is the first to be fed some bloodied bread at the foot of the crucified Helen; thus fulfilling his vision. Creepy.

And now, on a lonesome highway, out of the heat and rippling haze of hell, the Devilís Advocates ride for all eternity...

The End

If I could sum up Werewolves on Wheels in one sentence it would probably go something like this: I like it -- a lot, but I donít quite get it, especially that gonzoidal ending. Which isnít necessarily a bad thing. At one point, in a brief moment of clarity, I had it and it all made sense, but this was quickly lost before I could write it down. That happens to me a lot. *sigh* But it bears an important question: When does an exploitation film move beyond the usual crap to inspired filmmaking? I think Werewolves on Wheels definitely qualifies for the ladder. Which begs an even bigger question: Was this by design, or by some divine cinematic accident?

Now, a film that promises werewolves on wheels but doesn't really deliver them until the 70th minute of an 85-minute movie has a pretty steep hill to climb. And this movie should be terrible based on the title alone, but if you can move beyond your preconceptions, you can see some pretty ingenious stuff going on here ... The film itself looks great and was shot with a real eye for composition and framing, and exploits it's locales beautifully. You can really feel the heat of the desert and smell the sweat of the bikers, so to speak. Director Levesque has a thing for fire imagery, and all the fires in this film are huge, and the resulting, flickering shadows will have your eyes playing tricks on you.

With the barest bones of a plot holding things together, there are enough surreal ambiguities to keep you interested -- and the film does feel like it was made up as they went along. Case in point: the gas station scene. From the camera angles used and the reaction of the cranky owner, I donít think he had a clue he was being filmed. Either that or he was a colorful local that they decided to stick in -- or maybe they let him in the film to pay for the gas. Overall, the acting is above average, and if the dialogue was improvised, there are no blaring incidents and everything seems natural enough. And the southern-fried rock soundtrack by Don Gere is dang near perfect. E'yup, I got another song stuck in the old random play jukebox in my noggin: "Oh I've got one foot in heaven, and the other in hell..."

If the film fails at all, and it's only a small bump, it's in the make-up and gore department. The newly formed MPAA came down hard on the film and a lot of the gore had to be cut out. I don't think the werewolf costumes are all that bad, but Levesque probably made the right choice by keeping them in the shadows and allowing most of the carnage to be done off screen or in silhouette. And from what gratuitous gore shots we get, the MPAA ruling might have been a blessing in disguise.

As I said before, there are several elements of this film that I just canít quite figure out, or quite piece together, and it's really bugging me. Was Tarot in league with the Satanists to begin with? He led them down the path to the devilís temple in the first place, right? Right. But then he did try to save them. And then he led the late charge to avenge his friends, right? Right. Maybe it was his fate -- and he knew it, and he knew he couldn't change it ... and therefore he was just fulfilling his destiny ... Oh, wow.

So maybe I do get it.

Werewolves on Wheels (1971) South Street Films :: The Fanfare Corporation / EP: Joe Solomon / P: Paul Lewis / AP: Stuart Fleming / D: Michel Levesque / W: David M. Kaufman, Michel Levesque / C: Isidore Mankofsky / E: Peter Parasheles / M: Don Gere / S: Steve Oliver, DJ Anders, Gene Shane, Billy Gray, Barry McGuire, Owen Orr, Anna Lynn Brown, Severn Darden
Originally Posted: 11/11/00 :: Rehashed: 05/22/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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