Werewolves on Wheels
1971, U.S., Dark Sky Films (DVD)
by Justin Stewart
The title implies hairy-campy horror-fun and the film delivers it—nothing misleading about that. It’d take a right stickler to quibble over the fact that at no point in the movie do multiple werewolves ride any wheeled vehicle, and that when one of the gang does his ride lasts under a minute. There have been more egregious titular bait-and-switches: obvious ones like Live Nude Girls and Sorcerer, and then the more frequent abuses within the horror genre. At 16, it took me weeks to shake the shock of I Dismember Mama, an almost entirely gore-free, cerebral ambling mess, the title of which I only later learned was a pun on an older film. So despite the paucity of actual werewolves (and also their shabby, sub–Teen Wolf tossed-on furskins when they are onscreen), be sure that Werewolves on Wheels is true to its ridiculous title in spirit.
On the commentary track, director/writer Michel Levesque and co-writer David Kaufman punctuate their laughter and self-deprecation with possible elevated interpretations of their movie. It’s a “mythical history of the Hell’s Angels,” its unveiling of clandestine satanic rituals an indictment of world politics, where all sweeping, evil decisions seem to take place in “secret enclaves.” The most satisfying explanation is that it’s a “payback to Easy Rider”, as the gang’s own rock-scored, tracking shot bad-assness is two-upped by a badder power. If any of this sounds at all pretentious, it’s lightened with admissions that they were just giving the studio what they wanted, namely gore (there’s really not all that much), fights, and those far-out tracking shots hippies just couldn't get enough of.
The movie’s funny, condescending irony, its carefully pieced together atmosphere of dread (basically a lot of bird-flock cutaways), and the electrifying use of Don Gere’s Suicide-monotone psychedelic score are evidence that the filmmakers took this gig at least somewhat seriously. It follows the biker gang (called, ha, The Devil's Advocates), led by George Romero look-alike Stephen Oliver, as they roll along terrorizing truckers, stealing gas, and scaring cowherds, before stumbling onto the grounds of a satanic castle. There, the irreverent louts rudely gorge themselves on bread and wine that they don't know is drugged. At night, the clan (led by “One,” played deadpan by cult figure Severn Darden) lure a female biker into their grips, with hopes that she'll become Satan’s bride. After a surprisingly lengthy nude dance (with snake), the girl and the rest of the gang come to, beat the shit out of the monks, and flee. They’ve been tainted, but remain cynical (“Shit, yeah [I could be a monk]. All you gotta do is say your ooh-blah-doo-blahs and chase some pretty bride around an altar”).
Except for a rich, perhaps surreptitiously captured interlude between the bikers and a disgusted gas station owner (“We’re lost.” “That’s for goddamn sure. That’s for goddamn sure. That’s for goddamn sure”), the rest of the movie is one or more hairy hell beast picking the gang off (or are they offing each other?) one by one. Broken down, Werewolves on Wheels is essentially an almost Scary/Not Another Teen/Date Movie–like laugh at a glut of hippie righteous motorcycle movies from the late Sixties (Hell's Angels on Wheels, The Cycle Savages, Easy Rider) plenty apt for deflation. The snake dances and throat slashes are a bonus.