The late ’60s was the prime time for biker movies – and one of the major players in this briefly thriving exploitation subgenre was producer Joe Solomon. His filmography includes about a half-dozen biker pictures made between 1967 and 1971, starting with the classic Hell’s Angels On Wheels. Angels From Hell was his follow-up to that subgenre-defining hit and the results show that Solomon and the filmmakers who worked for him were quick to master the formula.
Angels From Hell begins with Vietnam vet Mike (Tom Stern) returning to his hometown of Bakersfield to pick up his previous occupation, i.e.: being a biker. He quickly takes out the gang leader who has risen up in his place and starts a new gang. All his old cohorts join up and he even picks up a new mama in Ginger (Arlene Martel), whose home doubles as a biker clubhouse.
However, Mike also runs afoul of Bingham (Jack Starrett), the local Sheriff. The Sheriff had a detente-style relationship with the last leader but Mike has no intention of curbing his gang to please “the Man.” Bingham tries to deal fairly with Mike but that’s not easy when all his deputies hate the bikers – and there’s also turmoil within the gang, including jealous rival Dennis (Pepper Martin) and mentally disturbed, trouble-creating Nutty (Paul Montoya). The pile-up of these tensions leads to an ending that is as unsentimental as you might expect from this subgenre.
The finished product is an archetypal biker flick. Angels From Hell doesn’t aim to reinvent the genre or twist the viewer’s expectations: instead, it simply aims to deliver all the expected elements to its target audience. On those terms, it’s a rock-solid success. Jerome Wish’s screenplay is episodic, including detours like a visit to an ex-biker who has become a movie star and a sort of summit meeting between the bikers and a hippie commune, but it moves quickly and delivers the required sex, violence and rude attitude.
Angels From Hell is also confidently directed by Bruce Kessler, an accomplished television director who dabbled in exploitation filmmaking (his most famous credit is probably Simon, King Of The Witches). His style of direction is economical, snappily paced and makes good use of location shooting and some real biker extras to achieve the appropriate scuzzy atmosphere.
He also gets solid performances: Stern is charismatic but not afraid to show the unlikeable side of his character, Martel makes a sultry biker mama and erstwhile director Starrett delivers a coolly menacing performance as the town’s top cop. Look also for exploitation flick regular Steve Oliver in a nice turn as the most sympathetic of Mike’s biker pals.
All in all, Angels From Hell is worth a look to biker movie fans and the kind of solid genre entry that will charm anyone into exploitation fare from this era.
DVD Notes: this film just received a nice-looking anamorphic transfer in the Shout! Factory 4-film/2-DVD set, 4 Cult Movie Marathon, Vol. 2. The results look and sound quite good. The rest of the set includes the films Chatterbox, The Naked Cage and Savage Island: all three are full-frame transfers that look like VHS-era masters. That said, the quality new transfer of the previously rare Angels From Hell makes this worth the $10 admission price alone.