Videodrome :: Werewolves On Wheels (1971)

(Welcome to Videodrome. A new column plumbing the depths of vintage underground cinema -- from cult, exploitation, trash and grindhouse to sci-fi, horror, noir and beyond.)

As Vietnam festered, Nixon lied and free love gave way to rampant VD, it was inevitable that the outlaw biker film genre, reaching a zenith with the introspection and groovy drifting of Easy Rider, would degenerate into witchcraft, cannibalism and supernatural animal rape. Werewolves on Wheels is the Western roadhouse culmination of that pop culture shift.

Despite a hokey name that conjures thoughts of more innocuous schlock, this 1971 occult highway yarn manages a tad more than your average popcorn creature feature. The hippie road tunes combined with the worst imaginable manifestations of devil worship result in a genre mashup that nods both to America’s political antiestablishment and outright depravity. It’s dirty and creepy, contemptible but creative. Even if the filmmakers had no idea what they were trying to do–and by all accounts they didn’t–this 83-minute Satanist romp successfully evokes a prurient ‘60s counterculture vibe before ceding ground to a Roger Corman-esque display of cheap ‘70s exploitation and bad special effects. Psychedelic tunes and altered states of consciousness are the backdrop, while the menacing specter of “shape-shifting beast come to rip your lungs out” dominates even the drugs and loose sexual mores of the characters.

The first four minutes are brimming with artistic vision. Behind Don Gere’s dark and droning guitar score, the opening scene introduces us to a cast of bearded libertines as they ride toward the camera, fuel exhaust permeating the desert air. One by dirty one, they attack the open road with gusto, revving their motors, weaving, spinning out and executing motorcycle tricks at high velocity. It’s a tasty hors d'oeuvre to the campy black magic and barroom violence that follow, and if it had only maintained this energy and slickness, we’d be talking about a different movie.

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