Director: Bruce Kessler Release Year: 1968 Genre: Biker Starring: Tom Stern, Arlene Martel, Ted Markland
Mike: You don't burn from your own people, Dennis... only punks do that. And we don't have any punks on this gang. So get on your scooter, man... and fade.
Angels from Hell is a fun, little-seen late-60's biker flick about a Vietnam Vet named Mike who comes back home to retake control of his old gang, The Madcaps. He dispatches the guy who assumed control of the gang in his absence with little-to-no trouble, and wastes no time stirring up shit with the local cops. Turns out the temporary leader had made an arrangement with the fuzz: the bikers could do anything they wanted, as long as they didn't come within the city limits. Seems like a reasonable compromise, but Mike is gravely offended at the perceived lack of freedom.
You can tell a lot about a biker movie by the names of the bikers... and while Mike isn't much of a Hell's Angel-type name, the rest of the gang more than makes up for it. I'll let Smiley explain:
Smiley: "I'll get all the old boys together: Speed, Nutty, Tiny Tim..."
Smiley: "Balls. Yeah (he-he-heeeee). Right."
There's always a biker with an eyepatch.
Yeah, it's that kinda movie. Director Kessler has 49 directing credits on IMDB... 46 of which are made-for-TV movies or TV series (including one of my favorite long-lost shows: The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage). As far as I can tell, the bulk of his 'directing' must have been to tell the actors "When in doubt, laugh," because this is the damny laughiest movie I think I've ever seen. Mike gets held at knifepoint by a lesbian? Laugh. Cop says he's going to write you a ticket? Laugh. Using a silly voice to tell a cop that your alibi is playing checkers and eating cookies? That gets a big damn laugh. I'd conservatively put the laughing to non-laughing scenes at 3:1.
The lead laugher in this movie is Smiley (Ted Markland), a guy who cracks up before, during, and after everyone of his lines. Markland is a great character actor who's been in a ton of stuff (including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), and he's easily one of the best things about the film. There's apparently a lost scene where Markland performs a song that he wrote... if anyone out there happens to have a copy of the film with that scene in, please let me know.
I love Smiley's glasses.
Some things to watch for:
- A goofy, poorly-choreographed fistfight that ends with an unexpected hobbling.
- Bud Ekins, the guy who did the jump for Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, plays an uncredited role as guy in the white suit who gets terrorized by the Madcaps. That's one reason why the relatively short scene features not one, but two, fence jumping tricks.
- After one of the bikers gets roughed up by the cops, Tiny Tim's broad helpfully offers: "I'll go make some chicken soup!"
- The police chief who clearly has a framed picture of Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Newman on his desk.
- "Mom says I can't smoke grass 'till I'm older. She says kids have their own high going."
- The fantastic opening song/animated credits. In fact, here you go. No Communication by Jerry Fuller & Stu Phillips
The movie is mostly partying, bike-riding, and pig-bashing, but it takes an odd time-out about an hour in when the gang visits a nearby commune... turns out the squares are hassling everybody who's different... not just the bikers. "Everybody's so hung up on property rights... what about civil rights?" the lead hippie asks. The two groups hang out for a while, play music in the forest, swap necklaces, discover that we're all the same on the inside... then Nutty kills one of the hippie chicks, so Mike decides to grab the gang and head on down the road.
The Madcaps ride.
Its around this point that Mike's motivation starts to become unclear. Up till now he's been talking about and planning for a 500-strong biker gathering as a show of defiance/civil rights protest. Suddenly he's ranting about creating an army, starting a riot, and taking over the world. His girl points out how much better the bikers had things before Mike showed back up (and she's absolutely right), but he blows her off. By the end of the film Mike gets back on his "the law protects the squares and the bikers alike" kick, but its all kinda muddled. And the ending is a late-60's mind-fuck if there ever was one.
You can pick up Angels from Hell at Trash Palace, complete with trailers and some odds-and-ends extras. If you like semi-goofy biker movies, this is definitely a good one to get.