Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Bruce D. Clark’s Corman-produced Naked Angels was released two months after Easy Rider and I have a strong hunch they rushed through shooting and editing to cash in on the seminal hippy-biker film. Corman had set the outlaw biker bar high three years earlier with The Wild Angels and then Easy Rider successfully infused the genre with the hippy sensibilities of the time. Naked Angels takes this artsy-hippy approach and combines it with the best and worst aspects of the outlaw biker genre.
Michael Green (To Live and Die in LA) plays Mother, the anti-hero leader of the California biker gang Naked Angels. The gang’s name is misleading – none of them are all that naked and they’re certainly not angelic. They should be called the Denim Dickheads. The movie begins with Mother returning after an extended hospital stay. Their rivals the Las Vegas Hotdoggers beat Mother senseless and now that he’s out, he wants revenge. Revenge against the Hotdoggers, which has got to be the lousiest biker gang moniker ever.
The Angels mount up and head out to Vegas to skin some Hotdogs, but they can’t find them. They do manage to weed out one of their members at a bar, and he squawks about some hidden mine in the Nevada desert where the Hotdoggers are holed up. Mother and the gang head out into the desert without a clue of the mine’s whereabouts. Jealousies and concerns about Mother’s sanity begin to tear the gang up. When the gang refuses to run a train on Mother’s woman, their leader takes to the desert alone.
Like most drive-in biker movies, there’s not much plot. Long scenes of hauling ass through the desert are interspersed with sex and heaps of debauchery. There is some interesting things going on though. Still shot montages and trippy camera work (ala Easy Rider’s cemetery scene) abound and some of it is pretty damn good. There’s even an old west dream sequence. The scenes of hell-raising in Las Vegas are particularly great and capture the raunchy vibe of Sin City in the late-60s. The neon lights of the strip are contrasted nicely with the scorched earth of the endless desert.
Michael Green is one mean bastard. Some of the close-ups of his face make his eyes look the headlights of a truck, barreling right for your face. I wasn’t even sure what the hell was going on in one trippy scene, but a close-up of his face is superimposed with go-go dancing as he peels some skin off from under his eye. It’s disturbing and wonderful. The music is fantastic too, even if it seems out of place at times. It was composed and performed by Jeff Simmons, who would later join the Mothers of Invention.
Bruce D. Clark (best known for 1981’s Galaxy of Terror) only made a handful of movies and that’s a shame. He was one of the more talented hacks in Corman’s stable of filmmakers and Naked Angels has enough interesting things about it to make it stand-off in a saturated genre. The film is sure to satisfy outlaw biker fans and devotees to subversive ‘60s cinema.
Shout! Factory presents Naked Angels in full-frame, in a washed-out, muddy transfer. There are plenty of scratches and dirt. Shout! Factory doesn’t really seem to apply any restoration technology to these Corman releases, but in the case of Naked Angels, it enhances the film’s authentic, dusty biker vibe.
The mono audio is absent of hisses and the soundtrack sounds pretty good.