Shitty Movie Sundays: The Hellcats (1968), or, The Heck Kittens

“You’ve seen the guys. Now here are the psycho mad mamas who ride with them. They’re The Hellcats!”

So says the trailer to The Hellcats, the 1968 film from writer (with Tony Huston) and director Robert F. Slatzer. The trailer promises a biker gang flick along the lines of The Wild Angels, only with ladies in the lead. Well, that’s a lie, invented to trick unsuspecting would-be viewers into seeing this dog. There are women bikers in this movie, sure, but it’s an equitable relationship with the men in the biker gang. That makes it unique in this subgenre, where women are usually relegated to the role of property, but a lie, nevertheless. It’s not the first misleading trailer for a film ever made, and it won’t be the last.

A more accurate trailer would have gone something like, “Ride with the Hellcats! Obey posted speed limits and traffic laws! Rock out on the jukebox to some of the softest pop music Southern California has to offer! Hear the outlaw bikers avoid profanity of all kinds!” For a biker gang flick, The Hellcats is about as lame as it gets. Slatzer and company appear to have fallen victim to age. That is, the filmmakers are from an older generation losing touch with the younger, and this flick is a nightmare portrayal of what they think young folk are like. It’s a tale as old as time. The older generations always look upon the younger with distrust and bewilderment, and films like this are the result — frightening to middle-aged contemporaries, hilarious to the youth of the day. From a perspective over fifty years removed, it’s all pretty damned stupid.

Ross Hagen stars as Monte, an army paratrooper whose brother, a police detective, was killed on the order of crime lord Mr. Adrian (Slatzer, in a little self-dealing). Monte’s brother had been investigating the Hellcats, as he suspected them of smuggling drugs for Adrian. The Hellcats 1968 movie posterAfter his murder, Monte and his brother’s fiancé, Linda (Dee Duffy), hatch a plan to pose as an outlaw biker couple and infiltrate the gang to get some vigilante justice.

As for the gang, they just had a big shakeup. Their leader is dead, and the gang has been taken over by Snake (Del ‘Sonny’ West). Snake loves nothing more than partying, so all the business is handled by Sheila (Sharyn Kinzie). She’s sort of his old lady, but that’s a passé term in The Hellcats. This mama has her own bike and her own agenda, coming the closest to fulfilling the promise of the trailer.

What follows are a whole bunch of biker flick clichés. There is lots of partying, useful in padding the running time, a little brawling, some riding around, etc. — everything one would expect from a biker gang flick. But, it’s all so mushy. These may be violent, drunken, drug-smuggling bikers, but they never feel more threatening than the Jets and the Sharks. Thank goodness no one breaks out into song.

The budget for this flick looks to have been miniscule. That hurts the film quite a lot, but it did provide a fine moment of shitty filmmaking. In one scene, the Hellcats’ partying and revelry is interrupted by a rival gang. Snake and the other gang’s leader agree to a race through the backcountry to prove…something. The race begins! The bikes are off! And then viewers never see them again until Snake crosses the finish line. The entire race goes unseen. Instead, viewers get some audio of loudly revving engines, and shots of all the other bikers looking intense, waiting on an outcome. It sure would have been nice to see the race. But, we all know of that timeless filmmaking maxim: Allude, don’t show. Or, something like that.

The Hellcats is objectively awful. The script stinks, the acting stinks, the portrayal of biker and drug culture stinks, it’s cluelessly moralistic, out of touch, and the music is hard on the ears. But, it’s a barely competent production with endless moments of mirth. If this movie was representative of the criminal class in real life, the police would have the easiest job on the planet. At no point in the entire movie did Slatzer manage to draw the viewer in. Suspension of disbelief is impossible, and that is quite an accomplishment. The Hellcats takes over the #187 spot in the Watchability Index from Ice Twisters. Check it out.

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