Biker Cinema

Titles Reviewed: Bury Me An Angel (1971), The Glory Stompers (1967)

Bury Me An Angel

(USA, 1971) DIR-SCR: Barbara Peeters. PROD: Paul Norbert. CAST: Dixie Peabody, Terry Mace, Clyde Ventura, Joanne Moore Jordan, Dennis Peabody, Beach Dickerson, Dan Haggerty.

Writer-director Barbara Peeters, along with Stephanie Rothman (The Student Nurses), specialized in genre films with a "feminist" slant, often released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Bury Me An Angel is a unique biker film, and not just because the protagonist is female. Writer-director Peeters has crafted a stylish and surprisingly thoughtful antithesis of the genre. The heroine (given the interestingly asexual name "Dag") is a human being instead of a gun-toting caricature. When her brother gets killed in the imaginatively shot opening (done with no dialogue), she is actually given an ample amount of screen time to grieve (usually in movie reality, people stop mourning before the next scene).

The film's first third is filled with strange Bergman-esque flashbacks of Dag's disturbingly Freudian childhood with her brother. Not only do her adolescent memories show up just after her brother's demise, but also during any sexual moments. On the revenge trail, Dag recruits a couple of dorks to extend her vengeful duties (in an amusing switch of the gender roles, one of the men says to her, "You were just using us?!?"). While she bathes in the lake, these two goons jump into the water, in the hope of getting some free love. Suddenly, intercut with these sunny scenes, we get these strange, dark flashbacks of a little girl in a bathtub. Much later, Dag meets an artist named Ken, played by Dan Haggerty (yes, Grizzly Adams), who helps her out. Then in an elongated love scene between the two, this almost-erotic moment shot with red gels (signifying: passion? anger? fear?) is interrupted by cut-ins of her brother, also bathed in red light, in close-up, as seen by her POV, and that he is "mounting" her.

These cut-ins during the potentially erotic moments serve a dual purpose. Because Dag is a six-foot tall, good-looking blonde, and because this is an exploitation movie after all, the male viewer anticipates seeing much more of Dag than just her personality. These moments are always sabotaged. It makes sense that her would-be sexual encounters evoke these dreadful memories. Ms. Peeters forces the viewers to confront their voyeurism with these upsetting, incongruous images. It thusly becomes a curious case of biting the hand that feeds-- all the drive-in crowd wanted was some sex and violence, yet got a lot more than they bargained for. Given all this heavy psychology, the moment where she exacts her revenge is understandably anticlimactic. When her brother's assassin is staring down a gun barrel, he says -in a typical hick accent that you can almost hear the blade of grass in his teeth-: "You and yer brother, weren't right.... incest!". This resolution is something we've suspected all along, yet even this insight feels too simplistic. Something is still amiss here, something even more dreadful...

Barbara Peeters did after all make a film, and not a term paper, so it would be remiss to ignore her skill as a director, with a wealth of visual imagination given the material. (An interesting motif is to film scenes via reflections in mirrors-- itself symbolic of the story.) Plus, the moments of violence are decidedly more harsh than standard B movie fodder. These are three-dimensional characters who bleed. Sadly, "Dag" was the only lead role for the impressive Dixie Peabody (formerly a model named Diane Potter). After a supporting role in Night Call Nurses (part of Corman's hugely successful "nurse" series), she disappeared from movies, and sadly passed away in 2005 at the too-young age of 57. Corman factory regular Beach Dickerson, appearing here as "Harry", is also an associate producer. Richard Compton (also director of the Macon County films, and Angels Die Hard, in which Dixie Peabody had a cameo) appears as a pool player. James Whitworth (Jupiter in The Hills Have Eyes) is a biker. Although New World Video released this to VHS, incredibly, Bury Me An Angel still has yet to receive a DVD or Blu-ray release as of this writing.

The Glory Stompers

DIR: Anthony M. Lanza. SCR: James Gordon White, John Lawrence. PROD: John Lawrence. CAST: Dennis Hopper, Jody McCrea, Chris Noel, Jock Mahoney, Lindsay Crosby, Casey Kasem, Robert Tessier, Gary Wood.

The Glory Stompers bike gang is just having a good time, digging out to some rock n roll on a transistor, when they are intercepted by another bike gang, The Black Souls, led by the no-good Chino (Dennis Hopper, natch). The Souls try to horn in on The Stompers’ chicks, especially Chris (Chris Noel), the squeeze of good biker Daryl (Jody McCrea). After The Stompers turf them, The Souls later seek retribution when Daryl and Chris are chilling at a riverside. After a tussle, Daryl is left for dead. The Souls kidnap Chris, initially one assumes, for lustful purposes, but it is soon learned they plan to take her south of the border to sell her into white slavery! As Daryl is wiping the blood from himself, he is befriended by the legendary Stompers honcho, Smiley (Jock Mahoney), and together they pursue the Souls to rescue Chris and exact revenge.

If biker films can be called 20th Century westerns, as the cyclists are outlaws in a modern frontier, then The Glory Stompers is parallel to the "Retired Gunfighter" theme: young inexperienced man joins forces with veteran, who once again puts his guns on to help fight the bad guys. This film is also part of the “people in peril" formula, using the familiar subplot of the captive victim wearing down the weakest link, the member of the kidnappers who still has some morals.

A distinctive case where the medium is the message, The Glory Stompers is one of the grimiest biker flicks I’ve seen, yet its deficit of production values or technical finesse actually enhances the material. The grainy, underexposed film is almost entirely framed with leering, sweaty close-ups in shaky foreground lighting, and uncertain canted angles, which however succeed in capturing the dementia and depravity.

And yet, one is surprised by the sincerity of this wild morality play. Glassy-eyed Dennis Hopper, who looks like he hasn't bathed in a month, could have just chewed the scenery, but his low-key acting makes Chino perversely charismatic. Chino actually has a code of decency, albeit a twisted one. He adheres to family values (of course, The Black Souls are a surrogate family); he is also very protective of his younger brother in the group. His decision to sell Chris into white slavery is a surprisingly clinical one, like that of a surgeon nodding, saying, "Yes, amputation is what we must do." Once The Stompers eject the Souls from their party, Hopper acts like a misunderstood child: "I just wanted to dance with you, baby."

Stealing the show though, is Jock Mahoney, who is positively “right on” as Smiley. The 48-year-old actor is so cool in his long, steel hair, earring, sleeveless costume, sunglasses, high cheekbones and moustache. It isn’t a stretch to think he’s channeling his good friend Lee Van Cleef, who at the time was making several Spaghetti westerns with similar “older gunfighter-young protege” dynamics. Mahoney was no doubt hired for the old B-movie trick of some “above the line” marquee value, regardless of how big or small the role. As such, the film’s greatest disappointment is that his character is given little to do except ride and expound on his leaving the Stompers because he was fed up with violence, but will once again be immersed in it.

This enjoyable revenge western (I mean, biker film) is one of the few films directed by Anthony M. Lanza, including the drive-in sleaze classic The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. His previous gigs as an editor on films for Ray Dennis Steckler and Arch Hall Sr. bring the right sensibilities of unusual compositions and cutting that seem fitting for this ragged out material.

This is a very enjoyable romp filled with familiar faces to the genre: Hopper (of course), Jody McCrea, Chris Noel, Lindsay Crosby, Bob Tessier, and even Casey Kasem! Trash it may be, but The Glory Stompers is irresistible junk food.