Color, 1971, 85m. / Directed by Michel Levesque / Starring Stephen Oliver, D.J. Anderson, Duece Barry, Barry McGuire / Dark Sky / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

On the short and utterly bizarre list of horror-biker hybrid movies (along with the British Psychomania), Werewolves on Wheels invariably confuses first-time viewers expecting an hour and a half of lupine hog-riders terrorizing innocents under a full moon. Apart from some brief wolfing-out near the end, this surreal curio is closer in mood to films like The Devil's Rain and Race with the Devil.

Here a gang of bikers called the Devil's Advocates, led by Adam (The Naked Zoo's Oliver), roam the desert and terrorize innocent gas station employees. One night they encounter a group of monks (led by frequent TV staple Severn Darden in weird makeup) who invite them to share bread and wine, only to unleash a hallucinatory orgy of naked snake-dancing and bloodshed. Now bitten by his girlfriend (Anderson) and infected with strange urges, Adam tries to resume the regular routine with his boys (including folk singer McGuire, the troubador from The President's Analyst), while they're plagued by weird omens and increasingly strange behavior among their ranks.

Pulling two of its chief personnel from Russ Meyer films both past and futrue (Oliver had appeared in Motor-Psycho, and director Levesque did production design on several titles like Up!), this very strange but hypnotic film is something of an acquired taste, striving for artistry more than exploitation during most of its running time. Yes, you get some shaggy bikers, a bit of T&A, and some gore here and there, but the camera usually seems more content to dwell on the atmospheric locations and striking little visual tricks. For once the cast members seem like real bikers rather than dressed-up AIP kids spouting faux-hip dialogue, and this aspect is largely responsible for the film's effectiveness, even when the story doesn't make much sense.

Extremely dark for much of its running time, Werewolves on Wheels was a notorious casualty of the VHS era thanks to several tape releases that simply looked like an hour and a half of mud. Dark Sky's DVD finally reveals what the heck is going on during those night scenes, and finally the climactic action is clear and coherent. For some reason the title card is clipped off at the beginning, but otherwise this seems to be complete. On the very solid commentary track, Levesque and co-writer David M. Kaufman (along with Blue Underground's David Gregory) allude to additional material dropped from the final cut to earn an R rating, but alas this appears to be long lost. (As it is, the nudity seems to justify the rating far more than the gore.) Dennis Hopper also merits a few mentions, due both the film's debt to Easy Rider and producer Paul Lewis' frequent Hopper collaborations, including the same year's The Last Movie (which makes this film look like a model of lucid storytelling). Also included is the oft-circulated theatrical trailer (taken from far more battered source material than the feature itself), a stills gallery, two fun radio spots, and a crossover trailer for Dark Sky's other weird '70s biker release, The Losers. The anamorphic transfer of the feature itself looks excellent with solid encoding, while the mono soundtrack does justice to the excellent, rock-influenced Don Gere score.

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