Monday, April 8, 2013

She-Devils On Wheels (1968)

Directed By Herschell Gordon Lewis
Starring Betty Connoll, Pat Poston, Christie Wagner

"When you're doing the bedtime bugaloo, you ain't in no position to fight!"

Ed Wood is often derided as the worst filmmaker in history. He's certainly the funnest to pick on, and he obviously did no one any cinematic favors. However, Ed Wood had something that some other filmmakers lack, and that's ambition. He GOT his octopus, he GOT his Bela Lugosi, and if he didn't  have a star, he had his players play to their strengths. Tor Johnson, he's a ghoul. Criswell, he's a psychic. He did his best.

Herschell Gordon Lewis on the other hand, despite his filmography, is seemingly defiantly clueless. And this is rarely more evident than with She-Devils On Wheels. In Herschell's hands, an unknown like Betty Connoll is, Varla?

Released  three years after Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, HGL's She-Devils On Wheels is about an all female biker gang who spend their days raising hell, terrorizing, and racing. It was produced with the usual HGL modus operandi of filming in remote Floridian locations (in this case, Medley, FL.), and using an ensemble of pseudo-actors and local cast-offs.

So, what's the plot to this mess? Well, basically, the all girl biker gang The Man-Eaters, are having a turf war (over a stretch of an abandoned airport runway) with a gang of drag racers (all guys of course) who are casually referred to as Joe Boys Group. Of course, there is other shit going down.  Mainly with good girl gone bad Karen (Christie Wagner), who still feels the lure to a more righteous path. I don't know why she doesn't leave the gang, because no one in the group seems to like her. In fact, they're ready to hog tie her, and drag her behind a bike for breaking the rules and getting "hung up" on local stud, Bill.

All this is tied together with the usual tapestry of regional under-achievers, high hopes, and sweaty desperation. The thing with a lot of the exploitation scripts, is they talk big. They have a lot to back up. And you need actors with the right build to lend credibility to the menace. Does anyone actually buy scrawny, lanky, Christopher Mitchum as Ricco The Mean Machine, for example?

But Tura Satana, as Varla? Of course. And there's a reason I've brought her up twice. She-Devils is clearly such a Faster, Pussycat! knockoff, that you expect more. And that's what's wrong with this movie, and with most Herschell Gordon Lewis movies in general. They are content with the bare minimum, if even that.

Thus you get a disappointment like She-Devils on Wheels. An ensemble cast that doesn't act the part, much less look it, and shot on abandoned, overgrown locations. It's worth checking out, if only for the kitsch factor (HGL owes kitsch A LOT).  Maybe one day we'll get that female biker witch coven movie I've been pining for. Until then, there's this. I guess.

HGL had the distribution to parlay his theatrical efforts into a something greater than what he accomplished. Sure, he's the Godfather of Gore. But when was the last time you listened to a commentary track and heard the director say he was inspired by a HGL filmed scene for a specific shot? Herschell Gordon Lewis: Often lauded, but rarely emulated.


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