Roger Corman’s 1966 classic Wild Angels defined the formula for a new genre called the “Biker Flick”, and it opened the floodgates for a deluge of good, bad and downright cringeworthy films that capitalized on the public’s fear of outlaw motorcyclists.
By 1971, worry over roving packs of hippies on choppers had replaced by the threat of rampant Satanism lurking in every shadow. Hollywood adapted, incorporating the occult into the genre, and I’m glad they did. Werewolves are better on two wheels.
1. Werewolves On Wheels (1971)
Dig those crazy monks!
After an ominous tarot card reading, a hell raising biker gang, the Devil’s Advocates, tempt fate by visiting a Satanic monastery. Greeted with bread and wine, things seem pretty groovy, until they quickly pass out on the front lawn, drugged. While they nap, the monks get back to work, kidnapping Helen for a sinister, cat sacrificing ritual.
Eventually the gang rescues her, but it’s too late. Helen is the Devil’s old lady now, and unable to shake her bad vibes, the gang is one by one transformed into a murderous pack of blood-thirsty lycanthropes. If only they’d listened to the tarot cards…
Though the writing and pacing is mediocre, don’t write this one off too quick. Director Michael Levesque (best known as an art director) delivers lingering wide shots of free-wheelin’ bikers riding through vast desert landscapes on sick choppers, and groovy satanists doing the work of the Devil in style.
The visually stunning film is set to an original score by Don Gere, which is a psych rock masterpiece. At the time, many of the biker films had commercially released soundtracks, but this one didn’t.
It’s so good that I tape recorded the audio and broke it into tracks, and it turns out I wasn’t the only crazy one out there, because Finders Keepers released the complete score on blood red vinyl a few years back. Now out of stock (I’m holding onto mine tight) you can pick up a CD here.
2. Psychomania, aka The Death Wheelers (1972)
Everybody dies, don’t they… but some come back.
This pre punk “video nasty” turned cult classic tells the tale of The Living Dead, a rather adorable motorcycle gang who get their kicks terrorizing a small British town.
Their leader, a sinister sort with a dark family legacy, learns from who else but mother, that the secret to immortality is to REALLY believe when you die you’ll come back, and you will. Sounding easy enough, armed with a cemetery toad and a pair of his Dad’s glasses, Tom takes the plunge (literally), by doing “the ton” off a bridge on his motorbike.
Tom is killed and the gang buries him upright on his Triumph in a creepy clearing outside of town which looks suspiciously like a tiny Stonehenge. Thankfully mother was right, and an undead Tom flies from the grave in a cloud of exhaust smoke. Except for his skeptical girlfriend Abbey, the gang members quickly rush to follow Tom’s lead, and after a series of hilarious suicide scenarios, they are re-united and set out on a devilish crime spree, riding now truly as… the living dead!
3. Hex, aka The Shrieking aka Grasslands aka Charms (1973)
Meet the Easy Riders of Bingo, Nebraska.
Set in 1919, a gang of bikers (including Gary Busey, and Keith Carradine in his first roll) on new fangled machines roll into the rural prairie town of Bingo, Nebraska. Instantly surrounded by curious locals, a snot nosed kid dares them to a drag race his brother’s oh so 70’s, flame job hot rod. Not willing to be called chicken, the gang gives the Jalopy a run for its money, but things get messy and they flee town.
The gang hides out on a remote farm run by two stoic, dope smoking sisters who welcome them in reluctantly. It doesn’t take long before their concerns are validated by one of the bikers getting a bit too feely, and the outraged sisters call upon the dark spirit of their shaman father to teach them a lesson...
The film, shot entirely on the desolate Cheyenne River Reservation, is plotless, hokey, and painfully dull at times. It does, however, pose an interesting question as to what it was like to live in this strange moment in time. A crossroads in history, when the future in the form of a combustion engine came barreling into sleepy Edwardian towns in a terrifyingly loud black cloud of angry smoke.
Released repeatedly over the years under multiple titles, Hex managed to remain in complete obscurity, making it unexpected biker horror flick gold.
4. Race With The Devil (1975)
If you’re going to race with the devil, you’ve got to be as fast as Hell!
A pair of Texas motorcycle dealers, Frank and Roger (Peter Fonda and Warren Oates) pack their wives, a dog and a couple of dirt bikes into an RV and head out for Colorado. Things go terribly wrong however when the fellas sneak away from camp to race their bikes in the desert, and become witnesses to a ritualistic Satanic murder.
Narrowly escaping with their lives, they report the incident to local authorities who seem unfazed, and suggest that perhaps it was simply “hippies killing an animal.”
Not convinced by the murderous hippie angle, and now suspicious of a deeper dark conspiracy, the vacationers steal some books on the occult from the town library and hit the road to see if the Amarillo police just a day’s drive away will take the matter more seriously.
A stop for the night at a trailer park proves disastrous when the dog is killed, and even though they flee, it’s clear the cult is onto them. They are everywhere, and the foursome are forced to take matters into their own hands, waging war on the Devil.
5. Chopper Chicks In Zombietown (1989)
Life’s a bitch, and then you die. Usually.
The Cycle Sluts, an all girl biker gang on the road and on the run from their past, roll into the sleepy desert town of Zaria, population is 128….and dropping. The girls head straight for the saloon looking for kicks, and it doesn’t take long before the uptight townsfolk are out to lynch the girls for luring what’s left of their men into, uh, “coitus.”
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, the local mortician (an amateur mad scientist) has been turning the neighbors into zombie slaves to work the abandoned radioactive mine 5 miles out of town. A foolproof plan, until a curious kid stumbles across the mine, and accidentally releases the undead, who make their way slowly, very, very slowly towards town.
With the help of their new admirers and Dede’s old man (Billy Bob Thornton) who happens to live in town, the girls narrowly escape the mob, making it to the main road, where they run smack into the zombie hoards...still slowly, very, very slowly lurching towards town.
Though the townsfolk have been less than kind, the gang join an uzi toting bus load of blind orphans stranded on the road, and set out to battle the zombies by luring them in a church (you’d never know it was a 1/8 scale model), packed full of explosives.
A Troma classic, featuring Hal Sparks and former MTV veejay Martha Quinn. It’s also Billy Bob Thornton’s first film.
6. I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle (1990)
Made of steel, forged in hell!
The film opens with the massacre of a satanic biker gang in the midst of a ritual chicken sacrifice. The gang is wiped out and the bikes destroyed, but not before the summoned spirit has a chance to scurry up the tailpipe of a damaged Norton Commando.
A zombie biker shot through the heart rips open his own throat in a final selfless act, to fill the gas tank of the possessed Norton with... you guessed it: blood. The bike is eventually bought by a local chap, Noddy, and proceeds to terrorize the sleepy town of Birmingham, taking him along for the ride.
This dry British comedy is filled with priests on trikes, blood sucking motorbikes, and Young Ones-style special effects, was the moonlight (literally…it’s a vampire flick after all) project of the production team behind the British hit show Boon. Lying to the TV studio about necessary re-shoots, the crew borrowed the show’s sets, props, actors and everything else that wasn’t nailed down to shoot this witty horror film that pokes fun at an already fantastically silly gene.
7. Wild Zero (1999)
Trash and chaossss!!!!
In a Japanese twist on the biker horror comedy genre made popular in the 1990s, Director Tetsuro Takeuchi drops us into an apocalyptic nightmare where loud as hell garage band Guitar Wolf, aided by blood brother Ace, set out to wage war on a zombie outbreak and an alien invasion all at once in an epic battle to save the world...and “ROCK ‘N ROLL!”
The film, which borrows from classics like Psychomania and Evil Dead, hits all the right notes: killer punk rock soundtrack, big guns, fast cars, tiny Honda motorcycles, sexual ambiguity, and a ton of fake blood. Perfectly mixed, it’s a Rock ‘n Roll love letter to all the cult films that came before.
8. Ghost Rider (2007)
Teenage Johnny Blaze, a globetrotting carny, is paid a sinister visit one night. Satan offers to save his sick father... and it will only cost him his soul. Johnny rushes to sign his name in the Devil’s book, but in an evil twist, his father now healthy, is killed just hours later performing a fiery stunt. Johnny is crushed. All he has left is his sweetheart Roxanne, who’s being sent away to live with her mom. He hops on his motorcycle to win her back, but the Devil however has other plans and stops him in his tracks. Roxanne is gone, and his fate is sealed.
Years later, grown-up and now a superstar, Blaze (Nicolas Cage) performs death defying motorcycle stunts for crowds of cheering fans. He is an unstoppable but soulless daredevil tormented by his past. Called upon again one night by the Devil (now revealed to be an arch-demon named Mephisto), Johnny is forced to repay his debt, and night after night, in a curse that can never be broken, he is transformed screaming into a hell blazing vigilante on a flaming iron steed... he is the Ghost Rider.
Based on the Marvel comic, it’s peak Nic Cage. Need I say more?
9. Dear God No! (2011)
It’s almost dark, I’m sober and I haven’t gotten to kill anyone today!
On the run, a group of outlaw bikers attempt to seek refuge in a mountain cabin only to fall victim to a crazed scientist and his hunchback assistant performing hideous experiments. What is lurking in the woods making escape impossible? Could it be the legendary… BIGFOOT? Dear God No!
Shot entirely on Super 16mm using equipment from the era, this drive-in dream on speed pays homage to the sleaziest of the exploitation biker flicks of the early 1970s. Then, just when you think you’ve had enough, the film’s sequel Frankenstein Created Bikers was released early this year, continues where Dear God No! left off. Together they’re a gruesomely campy double feature win.
10: The Requiem Ride (2012)
One dark evening, nine souls were lost in a tragic accident. To this day, the hearse still roams the rural back roads, its driver damned for eternity to repeat the hellish ride... the Requiem Ride.
This wonderfully quirky short film, “inspired by 1960s biker flicks”, was created by Cal Piorkowski as a senior project while a student at Pratt. He’s definitely someone to keep your eye on.
Want to up your movie night game? Scoot on over to my blog Cine Meccanica to download a free bingo game that works with just about any vehicular film—and makes for a perfect drinking game.
Corinna Mantlo has spent over a decade riding motorcycles and working within the community. She is the founder and curator of Cine Meccanica, and a published authority on two-wheeled cinema. She is also the Founder of The Miss-Fires, The Motorcycle Film Festival, and the owner of Via Meccanica, a custom upholstery shop specializing in motorcycle seats.