Wednesday, January 19, 2011
These bikers ain't heroes: SATAN'S SADISTS (1969)
There were the bikers films of Roger Corman (THE WILD ANGELS) Anthony Lanza (THE GLORY STOMPERS) Tom Laughlin (THE BORN LOSERS) and of course, Dennis Hopper (EASY RIDER) but then there were the ones produced and directed by prolific exploitation filmmaker Al Adamson.
Adamson (1929-1995) had a large output of films in the late 1960s until the early 80s. Titles like DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES (1976) NURSE SHERRI (1978) and BLACK SAMURAI (1978) just to name a few, were all the cinematic babies of Mr. Adamson, working under the banner of producer Sam Sherman's Independent International Pictures company, a more rugged and impoverished version of Sam Arkoff's American International.
Adamson's SATAN'S SADISTS is an example of an atypical biker film from the era in which they flourished at drive ins. Most biker pics ennobled and mystified the outlaw biker. Adamson's fly-by-night, el cheapo production rebelled against the rebels by having the bikers be sociopathic bastards while the square folks were the innocent heroes. This film was released the same year as EASY RIDER and while that film is far superior, SATAN'S SADISTS eschews the mythos that American cinema created for biker culture. Although the film's ad campaign, like most exploitation cinema, makes the spurious claim of being "the most violent film of the decade!" They seemed to ignore or forget about Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH.
The savage cruelty of the bikers is established in the opening scene in which the gang kills two teens and pushes their car down a cliff. The explosion of the vehicle cues up the opening credits and the theme song (in the tune to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come": "I-WAS-BORRRRRRNNNN mean. By the time, I was two, they were calling me...calling Satan."
The leader of these grimy degenerates is none other than Russ Tamblyn (Riff from WEST SIDE STORY) Tamblyn gives a creepy and believable performance as a despicable psychopath named Anchor who does everything from commit sexual assaults to shove stew into his old lady's mouth. He is given a monologue that sums up the cynicism and frustration of the 1960s America:
I *am* a rotten bastard. I admit it. But I tell ya something. Even though I got a lot of hate inside, I got some friends who ain't got hate inside. They're filled with nothing but love. Their only crime is growing their hair long, smoking a little grass and getting high, looking at the stars at night, writing poetry in the sand. And what do you do? You bust down their doors, man. Dumb-ass cop. You bust down their doors and you bust down their heads. You put 'em behind bars. And you know something funny? They forgive you.
This moment in an otherwise silly B picture stands out and puts the volatile and troubled milieu of hippies vs. the establishment into an interesting perspective.
Anchor and his motley crew roam Southern California looking to bully people unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--such as an out of town police officer and his wife on vacation, and the staff of a roadside cafe.
The film's stalwart hero, a hitchhiking Vietnam vet is played by Gary Kent, a jack of all trades in the exploitation field--he was a stuntman, actor, writer, director, and all around bruised survivor of rough and tumble guerrila filmmaking in that time. Kent's character is an upstanding, square jawed heroic archetype who will slam a greasy biker's face into glass and shove his head into a dirty toilet to defend the honor of innocent women in peril. His dialogue even digs into the cultural zeitgeist of the time when he exclaims in anger "At least in Vietnam, I got paid to kill people!"
SATAN'S SADISTS isn't by any means a very good film. It's budgetary and technical limitations are more than apparent--in one scene you can hear the motor of the 16mm camera running, drowning out some dialogue. The performances range from the uneven to downright bad. But there are good actors in the cast who try their best. B-movie veteran Scott Brady (Film noir badboy Lawrence Tierney's brother) Tamblyn, Kent and Bud Cardos as a half breed, mohawked gang member who begins to detest Tamblyn's vile ways--far best in the performance department. Shortcomings aside, what makes it watchable are the sometimes telling moments of nasty truth and some amusing moments of action characteristic of these kinds of films: Kent's character throws a rattlesnake at a biker in self defense.
Films like these are dusty, gritty examples of a bygone era in which the anger and frustration of a nation besieged by violence, protest, drug experimentation and rebellion, seeped into even the cheapest examples of B-moviemaking.
Footnote: Gary Kent's book SHADOWS AND LIGHT: JOURNEYS WITH OUTLAWS IN REVOLUTIONARY HOLLYWOOD is available at amazon.com or through his website garywarnerkent.com and it is a very insightful and entertaining account of how films like these got made...and how it was miraculous no one got killed, at least most of the time!