If Paul Naschy remade Easy Rider, it would probably turn out something like Werewolves On Wheels, a fast and cheap genre based exploitation movie that was made for the seventies drive-in crowd but which succeeds on a different, almost transcendental level that raises it above the trappings often associated with biker movies and horror movies. It's an interesting experiment that somehow manages to work really well in spite of itself.
Directed and co-written by Michel Levesque (who worked as an art director on Russ Meyer's fantastic Supervixens) and co-written by David Kaufman, the movie follows a gang of bikers known as The Devil's Advocates (the same named used for the biker gang in The Losers!), lead by Adam (Stephen Oliver), who find themselves the guests of some weird monks after they settle down for the night after a hard day of pestering people on the highway and at gas stations. The monks take them in and give them bread and wine and, later that night, they bring Adam's girlfriend into their inner circle where she partakes in a crazed orgy of devil worship and dances naked with a snake around her neck.
Adam freaks out when he finds out what's going on and he and his crew tear out of there like bats out of Hell. One of the bikers, Tarot (Duece Barry), has a penchant for reading the cards after which he's been nicknamed, and knows that something evil is in the air. When members of the gang start winding up dead, sometimes with their throats torn open, he figures it's time to get away from this life style but Adam doesn't want him to leave and he's been acting rather strange since those bite marks appeared on his neck once they left the monastery.
A lot more professionally made than you'd expect from the sensationalist title of the film, Werewolves On Wheels spends a lot of time showing off the scenery of the desert areas in which it was shot and providing us with wide angle shots of the Devil's Advocates riding down long, empty highways. Considering that it was directed by a Russ Meyer collaborator the movie isn't all that exploitative at least in the T&A department. There are some scenes which contain a fair bit of nudity but it's not all that gratuitous and it does fit in with the storyline fairly well. In terms of the violence, well, it's there and a few scenes get a little gruesome (the throat tearings are shot in such a way that the blood spurts towards the camera against a black background ensuring that we really 'see' the blood as it flies at us) but it's not as nasty as other films of the same time period. Considering the title of the movie itself, we actually get surprisingly few shots of werewolves actually riding around on motorbikes, which is a shame as the ones that we do get are great.
The performances in the film aren't really any better than most of the biker/drive-in films that were being churned out in the seventies, with the most interesting performances coming from the supporting actors who played the evil monks. Barry and Oliver are fine as the male leads in the film but neither of them are really what anyone would consider great actors, at least not based on what we see here. They do fine with the material but they're interchangeable with characters from similar films like Hell's Angels 69 or The Losers.
Despite all that, Werewolves On Wheels works really well. We know just enough about the characters to understand their plight and to get to feel for them a little bit without the story getting too bogged down in characterization that it should slow down the action and trash elements. It's almost like the movie was made for the art-house crowd at times with some of the strange camera angles and odd plot twists that provide moments of near-surrealism, but the movie is firmly rooted in the biker-horror genre even if it tries not to be.
While the colors are just a tad dull in a couple of scenes and there is some mild grain and minute instances of print damage throughout the movie, Werewolves On Wheels looks really good on DVD for the most part. The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and this transfer does the movie justice. The black levels stay strong throughout, the nighttime scenes are surprisingly clear and free of murkiness, the reds look nice and bright during the shoot out sequences, and flesh tones look lifelike and natural. Edge enhancement and aliasing are there if you want to look for them but they're never overpowering and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts to speak of. Overall, the movie looks really good on DVD.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is fine, and it comes with optional English subtitles. There's a little bit of hiss in a couple of spots but otherwise there's not much to complain about here. The fantastic seventies rock score by Don Gere and the sound effects come through nicely without overpowering the performers and their dialogue. It's not a fancy track but it gets the job done well enough.
The main supplement on this release is an excellent audio commentary track with the film's director, Michel Levesque, who is joined by the film's writer, David M. Kaufman and moderator David Gregory. Both participants are quite jovial here and both have fairly fond memories of the shoot and the project in general. They do a good job of covering the influence that other biker films had on the project and of detailing some interesting trivia about a few cast members. They also mention in passing that some material had to be chopped out of the movie to get it passed with an R rating and that for a long time there was a rumor going around that Dennis Hopper of all people was in fact the real director of the film.
Rounding out the extra features are a trailer a piece for Werewolves On Wheels and The Losers, two radio spots for Werewolves On Wheels and a still gallery of promotional photographs and materials.
Dark Sky Films brings a true seventies cinematic oddity to DVD in style with their release of Werewolves On Wheels. It's a strange film to be sure but one that is completely watchable and one that somehow manages to be really and truly interesting as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.