A friend of mine asked me if I could buy the Werewolves on Wheels DVD for him. I duly obliged.
Werewolf on Wheels may be far from what one’d call a successful movie, but there was a genuine oddness to it that kept me from hating it when I’d watched it years ago.
Tending to check freshly arrived DVDs (nothing more irritating than finding out a DVD you bought months ago isn’t working), I unwrapped the DVD and checked it.
The DVD menu worked properly and within no time I’d found out there was a commentary track available. I chose the commentary as my audio option and pressed ‘play’. The movie started playing and suddenly I was watching an entirely different version of Werewolves on Wheels.
The audio commentary by writer and director Michael Levesque and writer David M. Kaufman is more than enlightening.
If you want to understand Werewolves on Wheels, you’ll need to watch the movie with its commentary track on.
Werewolves on Wheels scores an abysmal 2.3 at the IMDb. The movie focuses on a group of bikers who are strolling on the grounds of a satanist cult. A biker girl finds herself taken to a black mass ritual and before you know it, she’s dancing with snakes. That’s when the bikers notice her absence and they try and rescue the girl from the satanists’ clutches. Which doesn’t go as well as they’d anticipated. Sure, they can butcher some satanists, but they end up being cursed. Some of them end up being werewolves at night. I wonder how this will end…
What is Werewolves on Wheels? It’s a biker movie with horror elements. The title may confuse you into believing it’s a werewolf movie, but it’s more of an occult movie. That you won’t see a lot of werewolves until the very end of the movie, has everything to do with the movie’s budget. While they were still shooting the movie they heard that they wouldn’t get the estimated days needed for shooting the movie and the director had to wrap the movie up at a faster pace, dropping several scenes they didn’t have time for.
But the movie, once it was finished, was still too long for the MPAA, who wanted to give the movie an X rating unless certain scenes were cut partially or completely. They found the movie much too gory and blasphemous.
If Werewolves on Wheels doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, this is partially why. The movie as it was shown was miles away from what had been intended. Different versions were made for different countries. At the end there were so many the director said: “It’s as if every time I see the movie I end up seeing a different version.”
The DVD version is a bliss: not only has the movie been cleaned so the night scenes look a lot better now (previous versions featured lovely nocturnal scenes with floating flames, because the movie was so dark you could hardly see that bikers were holding torches), some scenes are also restored. No explanation is given as to why not more of the cut scenes were shown in this DVD version. I guess we must assume they were lost or destroyed. Hey, it was the early seventies and things like that happened. Just ask the people involved with The Wicker Man.
The audio commentary track confesses that the props used in the movie were real. And by props they meant the liquor and drugs. Which doesn’t mean people were constantly wasted, but the only people who stayed off all the substances were the director, the assistant director and the cameraman (something we should be grateful for). That did help the movie initially by creating a sort of bond between the actors. In fact, when some of the actors were killed, they insisted they wanted to hang around the crew until the movie was completed (rather than going home) because the atmosphere on the set had grown into something magical.
This camaradery is visible when you’re watching the movie. It’s one of the biggest advantages of the movie.
The audio commentary is also full of fun trivia: the tarot cards used in the movie were made by the prop team of the movie because they didn’t want a company asking them money for using their brand of tarot cards.
And so an audio commentary changed a movie from an acceptable 80 minutes of mindless pleasure into something else. You’ll get a more wholesome feeling when you’re watching the movie. You’ll still notice that there are a bunch of plotholes in the movie, but you’ll know whether it was the team messing up or whether it was because a related scene had to be cut. If you want a biker cult movie, I’d still recommend Psychomania any day, but there’s something to Werewolves on Wheels: its lack of budget to create a lot of werewolves, its anything-goes attitude, its sheer weirdness… in a way, this is a great example of early 70s cult movies.
Substandard in some ways, essential in many others.
The DVD was released by Dark Sky Movies. The extras include an audio Commentary with Michael Levesque and David M. Kaufman, a photo gallery, radio spots and theatrical trailers (incl. The Losers).