"I love you, man...but you're a bummer."
If you're in the mood for a good biker ass-stompin'...find the guy responsible for releasing this in fullscreen. Shout! Factory, under their popular Roger Corman's Cult Classics line, has released Naked Angels, the 1969 actioner "supervised" by an uncredited Corman and starring Michael Greene, Jennifer Gan, and Richard Rust. A weird, obsessive little biker flick, Naked Angels is predictably rough around the edges, production-wise, and miscast in its central role, but fans of the genre (myself included) will deem it necessary viewing...although a "buy" is out until a widescreen transfer is released.
It's like this, you pussies. You see, you live your pathetic lives either stuck in an office or in your safe suburban enclaves, where the wildest thing that happens to you is losing the three-bean casserole ladle at the Rotary's pot luck dinner. Now a guy like Mother (Michael Green), you see...he's a man. Having been laid up in a hospital for like, two months, he's back at the L.A. hangout of his biker club The Angels, and he has some scores to settle. First, he needs to take back the presidency of The Angels from his watchful lieutenant, Fingers (Richard Rust). Second, that's not the only pie Fingers has his fingers in―Fingers also helped himself to Mother's chick, Marlene (Jennifer Gan), so it's time for her to get back to riding bitch on Mother's hog. And third, Mother wants to put a major hurting on the punk-ass Las Vegas Hotdoggers who jumped him and put him in the hospital. A trip to the Vegas strip yields a romp with a gangster's broad for Mother, and the info he really needs: the Hotdoggers are holed up in an abandoned mine out in the desert. So they're off, but as anybody's who's been stranded in the sweltering desert knows, things can get weird out there fast, and soon, Mother's biggest problem isn't The Hotdoggers...but his own gang.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on Naked Angels―not because it's a particularly egregious example of the genre (it's actually kind of interesting)―but because I've made it rule that in this day and age, a full-screen DVD release of a widescreen movie just isn't worth most of my readers' or my time. Now, if I'm wrong and Naked Angels was actually filmed in the old Academy ratio of 1.33:1, you can slam me on Facebook with the details and I'll sheepishly amend the review...but I'm betting it wasn't (long before 1969, even the cheapest of the cheap crap released back then was at the very least 1.66:1). And if this transfer somehow represents an unlikely, antiquated open matte that we should crop off on our sets, Shout! can email me (with a few choice swear words) and again, I'll change the review. However, if the excuse is, "this is the best source available for the transfer," that's fine, and I completely understand...but that doesn't mean I'm going to go ahead and recommend it. A rental at the outside, but no purchase. I'm too spoiled now with DVDs to put up with anything other than, at the very least, the correct aspect ratio for a movie.
With that said, Naked Angels is actually a fairly interesting variation on the standard Western-cum-biker flick scenario (they even acknowledge this cinematic evolution with a dream sequence set in the Olde West). Unlike the usual convention of having the central anti-hero be an essentially decent, morally righteous dude who eventually rejects the lawless, jungle animal code of his biker gang (as I wrote in my Devil's Angels review, most of these "wild" biker movies were deeply conservative at their core), Naked Angels's leader, Mother, truly is a piece of sh*t―it's the rest of the gang that turns out to be "good." When Marlene shows genuine affection for the returning Mother, she's rewarded with an off-putting seduction/rape scene where she's beaten as much as made love to by the violent Mother. He's putting her back in her place, and enjoying the sadism. Since Marlene is pretty (and hot) and loyal, we want to identify with her and her other lover: the careful, disapproving Fingers. So when Marlene refuses to come around to Mother's brutalizing treatment, Mother "turns her out," offering her up as the gang's new "mama" (a sexual slave to be used by all and anyone in the gang, in any way). Yet the gang recoils (except for one dude, who's shamed by his old lady and stopped by Fingers); they want nothing to do with this kind of sexual degradation ("This is a club...not a mob!" says the morally conservative Fingers. "What do you think we are: a bunch of flipped-out hippies?"). After his biblical forty days and forty nights suffering in the desert, writer/director Bruce Clark (Galaxy of Terror, Hammer) fools us into thinking Mother is rehabilitated and back with the gang when he helps Fingers defeat The Hotdoggers...only to have SPOILERS ALERT! Mother finish off Fingers for the last time before leaving The Angels for good. The truly reprehensible anti-hero lead leaves the gang because they're too nice―not the other way around.
Naked Angels is pretty rough, production-wise, with the choppy editing and continuity you would expect from a low, low budget exercise like this. Still...that jerkiness does add an air of exploitation verisimilitude that's pleasing on a nostalgic level, giving the movie that unintentionally odd, sometimes dreamy feel so many of these types of film now possess from that period. Clark gives us the obligatory trippy, freak-out shots (of the Vegas strip) that already-buzzed audience members were hoping for, while that particular location sequence made use of an interested mix of still shots and live footage (the sped-up cycle action during the opening credits did not work, however...unless it was deliberately done to make me think of Eric von Zipper). Unfortunately, Clark's depiction of the bikes in action fails throughout Naked Angels―a big no-no for a biker flick. During the big desert run, it isn't egregious that he spends a lot of time shooting those hogs―after all, that's probably the biggest convention of the genre―it's that he shoots them so poorly: mostly head-on, with lots of dust from the camera truck (they probably couldn't get the camera truck off to the side, in the rough desert). Violence and nudity are at expected levels, while the post-dubbing is engagingly distracting: just who the hell is that one biker who sounds exactly like Der Bingle? Certainly Naked Angels' biggest drawback, though, is Michael Greene. Greene, an excellent actor (he was memorable in To Live and Die in L.A. and Lost in America, to name a few), just is not believable as a vicious, violent, raping biker psycho. I'm sorry, but if you can't say the word "bitch" and make it sound real in a biker flick, you are in the wrong role (his rape of Gan is laughable, with these weird hesitations and attacks in his kissing that noticeably throw Gan). And without an either believably twisted anti-hero/villain...or an unintentionally funny one (Greene is distressingly humorless here), you don't have a truly good biker flick.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.