Anyone who knows me or has read my reviews knows that I love "bad" movies. My philosophy is that the only truly bad movie is one which fails to entertain, and a film that is engaging and enjoyable to watch can still be (at least, relatively speaking) good in spite of glaring technical or artistic deficiencies. For this site alone, I´ve written positive reviews for films like CARNOSAUR, DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE, and even Ted V. Mikels´ 10 VIOLENT WOMEN. My DVD collection includes discs like THE BORN LOSERS, THE SHAME OF PATTY SMITH, BLAZING STEWARDESSES, SPACE AMOEBA (aka YOG, MONSTER FROM SPACE), SHOWGIRLS, BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS, and the complete works of the late Andy Sidaris. I left last October´s Cinema Wasteland show in Cleveland walking on air because I was able to purchase a copy of Al Adamson´s SATAN´S SADISTS and get it signed by star Gary Kent. I´m a die-hard, unapologetic fan of the weird and wild.
One of the highlights of that Wasteland convention was the screening of a 16mm print of Herschell Gordon Lewis´ 2000 MANIACS, a grindhouse classic about northerners detoured into a southern town full of psychotic, redneck ghosts. Lewis´ work is never polished or professional by any objective standard, but his butcher shop gore effects and unrepentantly sleazy style invariably make for a memorable viewing experience. So when I recently ordered a copy of his infamous biker opus, SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS, I was prepared for a grand old time. The Godfather of Gore does a female motorcycle gang movie? It couldn´t possibly miss! Or so I thought...
SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS tells the tale, as it were, of a gang of Harley-humping "hotties" known as the Man-Eaters, vicious vixens with an appetite for sex and an even bigger craving for carnage. These hardcore honeys ride around in pastels and Capri pants, race for their pick of available studs, and generally cause mild havoc on the mean streets of Florida. I say "mild" because nothing much really happens in the film, especially when compared with the rest of the director´s work or the countless other biker films playing drive-ins around the time this was released. Lewis frequently leaves his camera stationary as the girls mill around their parked bikes, chattering inaudibly about nothing in particular and, if you´ll pardon the expression, manfully keeping the plot from going anywhere. There are a couple of races which are remarkably slow-paced. There is a poorly shot fight sequence between the Man-Eaters and a male hot rod gang (led by a winner named Joe-Boy!), in which specific shots and sound bytes are repeated multiple times to pad the scene´s runtime. There´s a dull, unappealing orgy scene involving the mostly fully clothed Man-Eaters and a group of slack-jawed locals who apparently wait around all day in a rundown house for the bikers to come and get serviced. The best scenes are typical Lewis touches - a gang member drags her helpless boyfriend around behind her bike to prove her loyalty, and Joe-Boy is dispatched at high speed by a metal wire stretched across a country road by our "heroines". Unfortunately, even these amusing moments can´t rescue the film from fatal monotony.
With the exception of the gang´s newest member, Honeypot (played by Nancy Lee Noble), none of the Man-Eaters are particularly attractive. The trailer describes leader Queen (Betty Connell) as "gorgeous", "desirable", and "unattainable", but she´s only marginally prettier than most of her underlings. The most interesting member of the bunch is the big, burly Whitey (Pat Poston), a husky blonde who generally dresses more practically for life on the road (foregoing the colorful, K-Mart fashions of her peers for a white t-shirt and stretch pants) and seems at times to be the only one strong enough to actually handle a motorcycle (she is frequently shown helping another lady lift her bike or move it into a securely parked position). Poston also gives the best performance here, though that´s a bit like saying NEW YORK MINUTE is the best Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie. Few of the cast members of SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS went on to appear in any other films, and it´s not hard to see why.
I sincerely wanted to like this film. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Lewis as an exploitation legend and a pioneer of gore cinema. I love biker and girl gang movies. The title and premise are magnificent, and the poster (featuring the tagline "Soft, Hell!" and promising "Blinding Color!") is a masterpiece of drive-in artwork. In this era of remakes, perhaps someone will buy the rights to SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS and do the material justice, presenting celluloid trash lovers with a fast-paced, ultra-violent action film loaded with gore and gorgeous women. The original sadly falls short on nearly every front and, despite being his biggest box-office success, is one of Lewis´ weakest efforts. Unless you´re a Lewis completist, or the sort of movie masochist who watches MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (which I also own on DVD!) to cheer yourself up, you will probably find SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS an extremely difficult and tedious road to ride.