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SPOKES: World's worst biker films?

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Written by Staff Writer   
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 09:14

The cast of Roger Corman's 1966 biker exploitation film 'The Wild Angels' includes Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra and 'members of Hell's Angels of Venice, California.' Image courtesy and Waddington's Auctioneers.

The thing about Valentino Rossi is that we need him to be doing well, even if you’re not a fan because he’s one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all the time and, therefore, Moto GP’s biggest star. To hear that things aren’t going well with testing, especially after announcing last month that the new GP12 Ducati was podium-focused, is a bit of a blow.

You can only have so much fun watching a pair of Honda’s disappear in the ether, leaving the rest of the field to squabble for loose-change GP points. Rossi’s disappointment also highlights the gaping hole left by the death last season of Marco Simoncelli. You could always rely on no. 58 for a bit of spice.

It’s a paradox. At the same time I’m thrilled about the start of the season it has the potential to be an anticlimax by the lack of, well, racing.

Feeling a bit jaded I decided to watch a biker movie. I'd seen them all—except one I’d been avoiding. I’m not sure if you’d even call Wild Hogs a biker movie. Not in the sense of the ones cited here over the past few weeks, because it’s simply dreadful. Perhaps even more depressing is that it’s by no means alone. So here we go, folks, the worst biker movies of all time.

For a start most of these movies revolve around the outlaw biker in various guises. It’s not hard to see why. It's a tantalizing subject, the cliché of big guys on choppers living a wild life of bikes, beer and babes. The whole open road shtick with a bit of criminal activity thrown in for good measure makes for a compelling yarn. Wild Hogs tries to take this one stage further by having a bunch of average Joes—in this instance actors who should know better—playing at being bikers and then accidentally finding themselves up against the real thing with “hilarious” and “action-packed” consequences. It’s truly dreadful. I get annoyed just thinking about it, but will spare you the subsequent rant.

Ironically, though, Wild Hogs (2007) is unique because it doesn’t fall into one of the three broad categories that poorly made biker movie falls into—possibly with the exception of the ludicrous Easy Wheels (1989), which isn’t even worth mention. They are as follows: tongue in cheek or exploitation ones, the gritty ones, and the ones that are just heinous. Some are already in pieces by the time you’ve finished reading the title, gems such as Werewolves on Wheels (1971 replete with tag line “if you’re hairy you belong on a motorbike”), Satan’s Sadists (1969 “breezy riders roaring to hell”) and Angels' Wild Women (1972 “they’ll beat ’em, treat ’em and eat ’em alive’).

It’d be nice if I could tell you that these three movies are so bad they’re almost good, but I’d be doing you a disservice. Despite attaining a sort of cult status the only thing interesting thing about them is that they were made within a couple years of each other reflecting both a pathological obsession with outlaw bikers—and the occult in the case of the former two—and an overindulgence in psychedelic narcotics in B-movie Hollywood. Do you think the person that came up with those tag lines was eating granola bars and sipping chamomile tea?

An example of how these types of movie should be made, which moves us nicely into tongue-in-cheek country, is Psychomania (1973) made around the same time as the previously cited disasters. I doubt you’ve heard of it because it’s British and little known outside of a handful of cool dudes. It’s certainly worth a look on Amazon/eBay. It’s a silly movie featuring a gang of young bikers, the occult and immortality, sort of. Overtly hammy, comically so in places, but it’s played straight and entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Yet one suspects the wrong reasons have been carefully arranged. It is British after all, what.

Ghost Rider (2007) tries to pull off the same thing too, but it’s too cartoonish, too aware of its corniness to cut it. It’s a rather dull offing with too much CGI [computer-generated imagery] about a bloke who really shouldn’t be anywhere near a bike’s gas tank. Why on earth they bothered to make a sequel is anyone’s guess. Hooray for Hollywood—not.

Getting a bit closer is Hell Ride (2008), which knowingly loads the screen with biker clichés. It even has Easy Rider’s (1969) Dennis Hopper. It’s more of an homage to the biker movies of yore and winds up a bit limp through a lack of originality as you’ve literally seen it all before. Likewise is Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1989), a Troma Entertainment offing, which is already trying too hard to ape the sensationalism of the aforementioned B-movies. However dreadful they may be, there is an authenticity of sorts to Satan’s Sadists, Werewolves on Wheels et al. Chopper Chicks in Zombietown isn’t as funny/trashy as it thinks it is and massively fails. It also has a Billy Bob Thornton in it.

Jack Nicholson, also in Easy Rider, pops up in Hell’s Angels on Wheels (1967). Looking at it now it’s hard to work out if the clichés are intentional or not. Either way, it has attained cult status for the right reasons in so far as it’s very much of its time and purports to take itself seriously. The snag is I’m not sure how seriously we’re supposed to take it. It’s not a great picture but has some interesting moments. Hells Angels president Sonny Barger makes an appearance in the movie, which probably gives it more authority that it deserves.

A few years before Easy Rider, Peter Fonda featured in the exceptionally poor The Wild Angels (1966), directed by the great Roger Corman, the master of exploitation movies. This is a fabulous example of his brand of nonsense. It’s almost up there with Psychomania but let down by its sheer daffiness, despite the oddly impressive cast. It’s worth noting that Fonda himself seems to have made a bit of a name for himself in bad biker flicks for appearances in both Ghost Rider and the reprehensible Wild Hogs. But he wrote and starred in Easy Rider, which lets him off the hook.

On the Easy Rider theme, Roadside Prophets (1992) has it lurking at the back of its tiny mind, but fails on a grand scale because it tries to be humorous. Roadside Prophets should have known better after Chrome Hearts, aka C.C. and Company, an aimless offing from 1970. Wild Hogs, too, should’ve taken note that comedy, bikes and movies don’t make comfortable bedfellows because at some point you’ve got to get serious. The Wild One (1953) established that. As far as Hollywood is concerned the motorcycle symbolizes freedom, rebellion and danger, not chuckles and giggles.

Probably the most influential biker movie of all time, The Wild One isn’t necessarily any good. As we’ll see shortly it’s the first in a long line of biker movies that swagger and spit, but it’s a million miles from some of the later movies it inspired. At the time The Wild One was unique, it’s the first movie to feature the outlaw biker, probably inspired by the relatively adolescent Hell’s Angels. Marlon Brando’s moody attitude—his black leather jacket/ jeans styling—stand today as a blueprint for the rebel, mainly in bike parlance but without works pretty well too, even if the cap has other less-macho Village Peoplesque connotations these days.

The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) has the ’60s whiff of silliness about it. It’s the only one here that, as the title implies, features a girl on a motorcycle. Once you’ve recovered from that, it’s pretty awful stuff. It’s playful, a little bit sexy and very different from any movie noted here. A curious peek into the mind of the 1960s that’s not really worth fussing over.

While some of these movies are vaguely watchable for all the wrong reasons, the same can’t be said for the following. The biker movies that take themselves seriously, played straight without a hint of irony, are a nightmare and make every single biker look like a knuckle-dragging pillock.

Some of these are so beyond the pale I’m going to have a stiff drink before I start. So, in no particular reprehensible order, we’ll begin with Stone Cold (1991) featuring the last person on earth you’d like to have as a cellmate. I’ll be honest; I couldn’t make my way through most of these movies. It’s the machismo. It’s nauseating to the point of expulsion. Running Cool (1993) has main characters named Bear and Bone. What genius came up with that? Give me Angels' Wild Women any day. Soulless, joyless reams of celluloid featuring grisly, grunting berks and a few off-the-peg Harleys don’t add anything to the world.

Beyond the Law (1993) has Charlie Sheen in it playing a character (this one has a mullet and clipped beard) named Dan Saxon. Not Arthur Spectacles, Dan Saxon. Made two years after Stone Cold, it has almost exactly the same plot: cop infiltrates a tough biker gang etc., and stuff happens. One would imagine the F word features a lot, in this instance used like a 12-year-old might in order to impress the bigger boys, with lots of punching overdubbed to sound like breaking windows. I gave up after 10 minutes. Born to Ride’s (1991) cover informs us that the main character, someone who’s now in Glee, “was born to break the rules,” and we see him sitting—replete with stubble and gormless expression—on a Harley, probably. I’ve no idea what happens in this movie, I was too mentally exhausted to take any more.

Biker Boys (2003) and Torque (2004) are both dreadful. There’s no doubting that, but I have to say I don’t mind either film. This is big budget, high-octane drivel with genuinely breathtaking stunts featuring the cream of the day’s sports bikes. The plots are rubbish, the acting nonexistent but it has lots of wheelies, jumps and skids. I can’t help it if I was born wrong, can I?

Even if they don’t have such seductive titles as Werewolves on Wheels, there are plenty of biker movies that are just rubbish, where the motorcycle is employed solely for the purposes of plot or character development. Silver Dream Racer (1980) is a good example. Largely unknown outside of the UK (you’ll be relieved to hear) it stars ’70s crooner and one-time heartthrob David Essex (ditto the comment in the last parentheses). In case you’ve not gathered, it’s British and dire, which is a shame because I really wanted to like it. In essence it’s just a vehicle for Mr. Essex, who even sings the theme tune. By the time one has plowed through it one wishes that the end were real (he dies, you see.)

Similarly, One Week (2008) used the motorcycle as a symbol of freedom, in this case as means of searching for “something,” after the main character discovers he has cancer. It goes on somewhat and is mawkish and sentimental to boot. Avoid.

Freebird (2008) is the British attempt at blending comedy and bikes and guess what folks? It justifiably flopped like a pancake on its release and disappeared into the ether like, well, ether. It likes to think of itself as a sort of road movie, but really, the bikes/bikers are used as a cynical device to milk a laissez-faire attitude to recreational drugs which are presented to the poor viewer in a way akin to smoking a joint in front of your granny. Why do so many bike movies makes us all out to be idiots? It features Phil Daniels, who starred in 1979’s not-too-bad Quadrophenia, which is a biker movie of sorts but focuses far too much on scooters to be of any use here.

The best thing about Poker Run (2009) is its tag line of “Live to ride, ride to DIE!” and really, that’s as imaginative as it gets. This is filmmaking at its worst. It hasn’t one redeeming feature, save the fact it does come to an end.

With a bit more budget but no less atrocious is Harley-Davidson and The Marlboro Man (1991). Cast (and I’m looking mainly at you, Mickey Rourke; Don Johnston was never going to be no more than a TV actor), crew and everyone involved in its making, including me for watching it, should be thoroughly ashamed.

Still at least they’ve all got bikes in them. I like bikes, by the way.


The cast of Roger Corman's 1966 biker exploitation film 'The Wild Angels' includes Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra and 'members of Hell's Angels of Venice, California.' Image courtesy and Waddington's Auctioneers.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 14:48

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