Werewolves on Wheels (1971) Review by RevTerry

I have always loved free coffee. As kids, my friends and I would ride our skateboards around to each church in the area on Sunday morning, helping ourselves to the breakfast table before riding off to cause more minor trouble. Nobody said shit (for church reasons I assumed), and a few awkward moments was well worth some shitty coffee to me at the time. It was fun, mostly because of the free coffee, but I also derived some kind of pleasure from the holy dine and dash itself. Nowadays though, when I think back on those moments, I'm sure I must have dodged a bullet. What the fuck was I thinking? Knowing what I know now, Im lucky I made it. What if they were just letting us get away with it? They could have been making us think we were making off with some free donuts, when in reality we were opening ourselves up to their freaky drugs or potions (as opposed to just passive aggression). That could have been the plan the whole time-- entice a bunch heathens with snacks and refreshments with plans for torture, a curse of some kind, brainwashing experiments, or who knows what else. I have learned a lot from cult films (about cults in particular) and one of those lessons is, that you should never take food from religious groups. I definitely know better now. I certainly do not go seeking out pastries from zealots, and when offered, I politely decline or duck away to dispose of the likely tainted specimen. It’s a wonder I made it this far, drinking the liquids that cult members handed me like a naïf in my youth. The older wiser me knows that drinking from the wrong cup, from the right church (or maybe vice-versa) can end terribly. One swig and it's lights out, then you might wake up as a live sacrifice, possessed, or fucking knocked up by a god-monster. No coffee is worth that. I'm not going to say free refreshments don't exist, but if a bunch of similarly dressed dudes offer you some snacks, on their way to do some chanting, you should probably just pass. It could end up biting you in the ass like in Werewolves on Wheels (1971).
The Devil’s Advocates are your average late 60s nihilistic biker gang, spending days enjoying the freedom of the open road, doing nondescript drugs, and accosting various residents along an unnamed California highway. The gang is led by Adam (Steve Oliver ), who sometimes says deep things and takes advice from Tarot (Gene Shane), the gang's resident psychic. One day the gang, after roughing up a local for running a member off the road, comes upon a religious construct of some kind, nestled in a suspiciously green area (in the desert). Since being in league with the devil is kind of the group's thing, they ignore the warning of the spooky stick in the mud (Tarot) and decide to take a well-earned rest. After they have been hanging out for a while, some synchronized men in hoods show up to offer them food and drink that the extremely trusting gang members consume without question (because no one would try to poison a bunch of assholes, who just got done beating and harassing randoms). Most likely drugged from the grub, the bikers unsurprisingly pass out in front of what ends up being a church of some kind, and the cultists go about their creepy business, which includes killing a cat for some reason. Aroused by the sermon, Adams Girlfriend, Helen (Donna Anders), wakes up in a daze before anyone else, and the members of the cult quickly teach her new dance moves involving a human skull, a snake and her birthday suit. Sooner or later the bikers wake up, start kicking in church group faces and finally make a break for it. Weirded out, but mostly just chalking it all up to bad drugs, Adam and the gang go back to getting fucked up in the desert like usual. Unfortunately, members begin getting ripped to shreds or disappearing, and it starts looking like, just maybe, shit is more complicated than they thought. People start sprouting hair, there is some more chanting, and for some reason, a pile of cars is set on fire. Then, everyone meets back up at the church to finish off the bread and wine leftovers.
I'm going to guess there are mainly two camps of expectations going into this film, based on its title and poster alone. There will people who go into the flick expecting werewolves on motorcycles (as implied by the title and depicted in the accompanying artwork), and they might be a little disappointed. Those familiar with the classic b movie sales pitch, however, will be glad to know that the film does feature both motorcycles and lycanthropes. In fact, it's even the bikers that are turning into wolves--they just never quite reenact the scene on the poster (it's arguable). The actual content is almost a 60/40 split between a biker road film and an occult exploitation flick. Holding it together and making up the motivation of the film’s paper-thin plot is a basic thrill of the open road outlaw flick, following the group of ruffians as they enjoy serene rides down dusty highways (and beat people up). It's an almost serious attempt at the subgenre at first, introducing the film’s subjects as free-spirited bad boys with passionate (but nonsensical) philosophes. It takes its cues from the Angel Unchained (1970) side of the “Outlaw Biker” trend. Like a lot of its peers, there's definitely some Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, and Dennis Hopper soaked into the characters, but the flavor is less Easy Rider (1969) than it is The Wild Angels (1966) or  Hell's Angels on Wheels (1967), with The Trip (1967) sprinkled on top. Our main characters aren't what you would call good guys, but they seem to have a lot of fun with their life choices-- really, all the way up until the wolfman thing. The bikers’ initial meet-up with the cult members is dreamlike and reminiscent of Odysseus’ run-in with Circe. The genre-bending clash feels like a double feature that has folded over on top of itself. Before you can make sense of where the new setting and motif come from, the group is taking food from strangers in cloaks and people start dancing with human bones. The shift into hooded chanting sleaze is undoubtedly abrupt, but the purest approach to both subgenres compliment each other. Any rough parts in the stitching of barely related scenes get smoothed over by the consistent tongue in cheek humor. At times it seems extremely self-aware and always keeps it light-hearted through beat downs and demon worship. Even with the humor injection, it never quite tips over into any one type of film. All at the same time, it is a unique, critical art piece, derivative near-parody, and rip-off. A manic amount of conflicts are introduced (of various sizes), but none of the many subjects gets more than a surface level detail before taking their place in the chaos. If you have seen or heard of its many influences, you can fill in the possible blanks throughout. The religious depictions come in full force with random jargon and lots of flame overlays. It is a fantastical cartoon level depiction of evil that reminds me of Ted V. MikelsBlood Orgy of the She-Devils (1973) or bargain basement The Devil Rides Out (1968). By the time anyone actually turns into a werewolf, enough random threads have been introduced to fill a few movies. The wolfman plot comes in at first with a low balled mystery and finds a way to bring out the spaghetti western influences from the diverse mix of random shit. There is kind of a campfire Paul Naschy thing going on at one point, while being spliced with visions of brimstone and satan induced nudity. There's no real point to much of it, but it's never boring. Scenes feel like natural additions to the yarn, whether or not they add any value to the story.  It's a disjointed, messy blend of its era’s favorite sleaze, served with an entertainingly quick pace and an extra layer of intentional cheese.
The varied methods on the technical side of things fit well attached to the engaging but unfocused story. The “road” scenes are oddly organic and for all the silliness that they actually tie together, they still come off feeling a lot like a documentary at times. As if from another film completely, the motorcycle-centric chunks have an aspired clunky editing that strings together biker lifestyle shots with aesthetic nature footage. Sooner or later, it leads to things like a naked skull hula, but the intro sets up a mood that would give a few of its bikesploitation peers a run for their money.  For its satanic rituals and such, the film switches bases completely into artful madness without notice. Just as motivated as the more grounded moments in the film, the occult depiction bundles borrowed techniques into a unique outlandish style. The camera, more or less, takes flight during these flashy rituals, pausing its frantic twirling only for shit like eyeball close-ups. As quickly as it shifts from the two extremes, it drops all stylization for most of the last quarter. The movie’s wolfman effects are a low point, somehow being less intimidating than the shorter haired bikers. It's more than a little lackluster in the monster department, however, that does lead to some of the film’s best carnage. Eventually, there are some practical gore effects that can be pretty brutal, even a little ahead of their time, but they take forever to show up and include a ridiculous fake cat sacrifice. Each theme in the film gets its own extremely fitting soundtrack. Avant-garde, instrumental 70s guitar laces the trashy black magic psychedelics, leaving the biker scenes to a playlist of folksy 60s rock. 
The movie is Michel Levesque first feature as a director. Levesque would direct the trashy revenge thriller Sweet Sugar (1972) the following year before spending the next few decades as an art director, doing work for Russ Meyer early on and even bringing to life some junk food for television in the 90s. The stunts in the film were orchestrated by Charles Bail, who would very soon afterward direct blaxploitation classic Black Samson (1974) as well the cross country comedy The Gumball Rally (1976). Taking the leadership role here, Steve Oliver had already donned a leather jacket in the relatively grounded Angels from Hell (1968). Child star (Father Knows Best 1954-1960) Billy Gray was, kind of, doing a bad boy thing after his pot arrest in 1962, although it would be a whole eight years after this flick that he would show up in anything else unrelated to Father Knows Best. Folk rocker Barry McGuire is in there too, for some reason. Apparently, it was one of two forays into acting (I think he's making songs about Jesus exclusively now). The film’s de facto antagonist is played by Severn Darden, who was already a veteran in 1971 and would appear as Kolp in the last two Planet of the Apes films (plus like, 120 more films). Legend has it that much of the gang was filled out with a real outlaw motorcycle club, who for the most part acted out the scenes with little direction. It's pretty obvious from watching that everyone had a lot of fun making the film.  I also have to assume that Rob Zombie is a fan, as he has sampled the film in two songs and made nods in his own film works.
Werewolves on Wheels is a standoff between commonly used grindhouse tropes on a dusty American road. It's wonderfully goofy garbage that makes me wish Paul Naschy and Dennis Hopper would have gotten together in the late 60s to ride motorcycles, take acid and fight random doom-cults. The plot cramps every genre trope it can fit in its runtime, while still moving along quickly enough to keep it simple and consistently entertaining (all it's really missing is hippies). It makes me feel better that even some badass bikers fell for the old free food at church routine. By dumb-luck alone, I made it through my more trusting youthful indiscretions. I don't know if fourteen year old me had it in him to punch enough old people in Sunday clothes to make it out of a scenario with the same gusto that The Devil's Advocates had. Although, now that I have typed that out it, it seems like something little RevTerry might have been into trying, at least.
1h 25min | 1971
 Director: Michel Levesque
Writers: David M. Kaufman, Michel Levesque 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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