Monday, July 4, 2011
Black Angels (aka, sadly, Black Bikers from Hell)
D: Laurence Merrick
Claim to fame: Most of the movie clips on the Savage Pencil compilation LP Angel Dust are from this film
White club vs cop vs black club
OK, some quick words before we start. As I said, I grew up on watching the early (peak) years' biker movies on heavy rotation on mighty UHF teevee (and this seems as good a place as any to mention that you can still see such cool shit on the tube, on This for example). So when the fam FINALLY got a VCR, we (usually me and my buddy Joe) would head to the local mom 'n' pop video store, which actually had a no shit cult section, and rent trash like "Suspiria," "Amin: The Rise and Fall," and even that notorious piece of shit "Snuff." Add some bad pot and worse food, and you got yourself an afternoon... Anyway, they had a pretty good selection of biker movies, but most of them were on tv all the time anyway. Among the few that weren't was "Black Angels." "Fuckin' A," I thought, "Finally a black biker movie." It looked pretty cheesy, but so were some of my favorites, so I gave it a chance. And fell in love. This, maybe more than any other, is my comfort biker movie.
(Pause here for unsolicited plug. I finally got a copy of this in the mid '90s from a tape trader guy, but that's been gone now for years. I finally got this on DVD from Trash Palce)
I warn you about my personal fondness for this movie before I wax about its virtues because, to some, there's a lot to scoff at. For starters, the title is slightly misleading. The "black angel," in the movie, is what the bikers call the cop, Lt Harper (who by the way reminds me of Michael McKean playing the Mike Myers character Dieter). It's forever getting in, the lead is terribly miscast (I'd buy him as a hot rodder or even a trucker, but not an MC leader), and the sets are about community college play level. Much of the acting is quite bad, the fight scenes are mostly awful, and they couldn't even afford a police car. Oh, and the white and black club leaders are named Chainer and Knifer, respectively. That's a lot to overlook, but it's worth it.
Young, cracker hatin' Jimmy just got his colors as a member of the Choppers (who are apparently all played by members of the actual Choppers MC), and already has a big plan to lure Chainer, leader of the white Satan's Serpernts, out of his pad for a beating. In the course of the (long) chase, Chainer makes a jump, but Jimmy doesn't. Being a solid brother, Chainer returns Jimmy's colors to the Choppers, to let them know that one of their own had died, and that he wasn't at fault.
If this isn't enough for Chainer to deal with, Lt Harper is constantly hassling the club, and there's growing schism between Serpents Frenchy and Big Jim. Soon a new guy shows up, a Triumph riding Texan fugitive named Johnny Reb. They decide to let him hang around, because "any cat that'd work his old lady over with a ball bat can't be all that bad," though Frenchy doesn't like it.
Meanwhile, Harper warns each gang that the other is "on the warpath," leading to the building tension and eventual clash.
While, as I said, the title is a little misleading, race is a major theme here. The Choppers do the sarcastic "yes, masssa" bit with Harper, and Knifer goes on a rant about "300 years"(?!) of oppression. Generally speaking, the blacks in the movie are much more race-conscious than their white counterparts. Reb spouts off some racist BS, but is cut off by Chainer, who doesn't want to hear that shit. But while he hates racism, what Chainer really hates is unfounded racism allegations, lamenting the fact that when a white club fights a black one, it's assumed that it's based on race and not territory. And behind it all, it's The Man pulling a divide and conquer, pitting the clubs (races) against one another. Though not exactly earth shattering, still pretty heady stuff for a biker movie. Additional politically incorrect moments include comic relief bits with an angry nun and with an outrageous gay stereotype, and Chainer's warped relationship with his old lady.
The directing, while a bit dated, with its hard cuts and frequent flashbacks and flash forwards, is tight and well done. Even the terrible, seemingly stuntman-free fight scenes benefit from good editing. Director Laurence Merrick, by the way, would later do the must see (and Academy Award-nominated) "Manson."
The "aw, shucks" Des Roberts (Chainer) aside, the actors --even the biker non-actors-- are all at least decent, though James Whitmore ("The Hills Have Eyes") is the only recognizable face. That John Donovan (Frenchy) wasn't cast in another biker flick is a fucking crime.
As far as I can determine, no soundtrack LP was released, but if I'm mistaken on that, I NEED IT DESPERATELY. Though the closing theme is hilariously bad, most of the songs are pretty good. Bobby Stevens's soul rockin' "What's Going On" (not the Marvin Gaye song) stays in my head for days, as does Smokey Roberds's bizarre "Cigarettes" (which I would love to hear Mojo Nixon or Rufus & Ransom or somebody cover).
No hate mail, please, but for its great soundtrack, bold themes presented in a cheesy manner, great final shot, endearing cheapness, dialogue like Papa Jupiter delivering the classic line, "This time I'm gonna kill you, Frenchy, you filthy, no-good, egg suckin', finger lickin', scab pickin', scuzzy faced rat," and my own nostalgia, I have no choice but to give this a solid five. This is what a cheap, bold, trashy, drive-in biker movie is supposed to look like.