With the success of Easy Rider (1969), films featuring free-spirited anti-hero motorcycle gangs were popular among the teenage theatergoers. Werewolves on Wheels intended to cash in on this trend and, in true exploitation film fashion, on the increase in popularity of satanic themed films due to the smash success of Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The exploitation of these popular trends makes for an off-beat but entertaining film that played the drive-in theater circuit.
The basic story concerns a brutal biker gang, the Devil’s Disciples, which sets up camp on the grounds of an abbey housing a cloister of satanic monks. The satanists silently bring drugged food and drink for the gang, who pass out shortly after consuming it. After nightfall, the monks conduct a satanic ritual and lure one of the biker gang’s female members, Helen, to the ceremony where they intend to use her a sacrifice to Satan. Adam, the leader of the Devil’s Disciples, awakens and rouses his gang to attack the monks to retrieve his girlfriend and exact revenge on the monks. After violently beating the monks, the Devil’s Disciples leave the area with Helen, unaware that the satanists placed a curse on her, making her a werewolf. As they travel through the desert, the cursed Helen and Adam, who she also infects, transform into werewolves at night and murder members of the gang. As their numbers start to dwindle, Adam decides to lead them back to the abbey to confront the satanists and end the curse, with disastrous results.
The film wastes no time in establishing the violent nature of the Devil’s Disciples, which operates outside the norms of society. As the movie opens, a member of the gang wrecks his motorcycle due to the actions of the driver of a pickup truck. They encounter the driver at a local gas station and violently beat the man in retaliation before unceremoniously dumping him in the back of his truck. This violent nature is reinforced by their immediate use of violence against the satanists and later, against each other as they struggle to deal with the murder of their members. The script unsubtly gives the message that violence begets violence by having the violent and animalistic nature of the Devil’s Disciples manifest itself in the form of a werewolf, in effect saying our violent nature and inclinations will lead to our destruction.
Following the lead of classic genre films like The Wolfman (1941), the movie foreshadows the upcoming horrors by the reading of someone’s fortune. In the earlier classic, a victim of the werewolf has her fate foretold by a gypsy palm reader, who sees a pentagram on her palm, marking her as the next victim. In this film, a similar scene occurs at the gas station when a member of the Devil’s Disciples named Tarot uses tarot cards to read Helen’s fortune and sees the Devil will influence them and that her fate is pre-determined.
While Werewolves on Wheels has numerous interesting scenes such as this that keep the film entertaining, it falls short in some key areas. The biggest failure is in the werewolf makeup, which is very amateurish, even by the standards of the time. Unfortunately, the creature design is essential in horror films, and the low-budget effort here elicits more laughs than scares. The second area of concern is in the acting. For the most part, inexperienced actors are used, which results in unconvincing performances and mumbled dialogue in numerous scenes. Despite these flaws, Werewolves on Wheels is much better than one would expect and is not to be missed by fans of offbeat horror.
Running Time: 84 minutes
Steve Oliver, Donna Anders, Gene Shane, Billy Gray, Gray Johnson, Barry McGuire, Owen Orr, Anna Lynn Brown, Leonard Rogel, Severn Darden, Tex Hall, Dan Kopp, Ingrid Grunewald, Keith Guthrie, John Hull, Carl Lee, Marilyn Munger, Nick Palmisano, Bart Smith
Executive Producer – Joe Solomon; Producer – Paul Lewis; Associate Producer – Stuart Fleming; Director – Michel Levesque; Written by – David M. Kaufman, Michel Levesque; Music – Don Gere