Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Hellcats (Gemini American, 1967)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I picked the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation of a 1967 biker-gang film called The Hellcats, which from the standpoint of physical production wasn’t at all bad: most of it was shot outdoors, which eliminated the need for most of the tacky sets that destroy the verisimilitude of similar cheapies with more interior scenes; the cast members, even if none of them could be called “actors” except in the most generic sense, were (mostly) attractive and at least looked believable as their characters (and one cast member, Tony Lorea as “Six Pack,” was heavy-set and not especially hot but did flash a quite promising basket); and the director, Robert F. Slatzer (who also appeared in the movie as a gangster called “Mr. Adrian”), actually had something of an eye — much of the film consists merely of people riding motorcycles through deserted back roads in desert locations, but at least he aimed the cameras in their general direction.

The basic problem with this one is a plot that makes utterly no sense even by the meager standards of “B” or sub-“B” filmmaking — it appears to have something to do with the murder of a cop, Detective David Chapman (Bro Beck), early on (he’s blown away in a parked car by a sniper while his girlfriend is nearby, and the similarity of this sequence to the assassination of John F. Kennedy really inspired the MST3K gang — they mentioned him having got the gun from a schoolbook warehouse in Texas and made two references to Abraham Zapruder), and the desire of Chapman’s brother (also a cop), Sergeant Monte Chapman (Ross Hagen, top-billed and sporting a hairdo that makes him look like the beta version of Rod Blagojevich — it’s a pity Blagojevich didn’t do his crash-and-burn act while Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was still on the air, since they would have had a field day lampooning him!), for revenge — and also for his brother’s girlfriend, Linda Martin (Dee Duffy).

Basically this is a three-way crime drama involving police, bikers (who are also drug dealers, though from the evidence in this movie they merely pass around packets of substance — no one actually seems to be using drugs in this film, even though one of the characters is identified in the credits as “Dea [Addict]”) and gangsters, looking like your standard stereotype movie Mafiosi wearing black wool suits (which must have been damned uncomfortable in the hot sun of the California desert) and black felt hats they pull over their foreheads in a vain attempt not to be recognized — only there’s not much clue as to who’s doing what to whom and the movie just lumbers along until it reaches the end of the running time. Yes, this is one of those films that doesn’t end — it just stops. Somewhere in the mix are some not-bad soft-rock songs, two each by the groups Davy Jones and the Dolphins (presumably not the Davy Jones who was in the Monkees) and Somebody’s Chyldren (continuing the tradition of deliberately misspelled band names begun by the Beatles and continued by the Monkees, the Byrds, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard et al.), drowned out in this version by the MST3K comments — though for the most part the commentary was brilliant, especially the JFK references and the comment towards the beginning that the abstract background used for the credits was probably done by Jackson Pollock — after his (fatal) car crash.