It doesn’t happen very often to me as a reviewer, but occasionally I come across a film so ineptly written, so poorly acted, and so incompetently directed that sitting through it from start to finish can be seen as a test of one’s own character, one’s own capacity to endure in the face of pure, unrelenting torment. The Hellcats is just such a test.
Even though I’m sure The Hellcats did have a director and a screenwriter, their names hardly matter. The real reason The Hellcats lives in infamy (besides being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) is because of its producer, Tony Cardoza, who also produced (and sometimes starred in) the legendary trilogy of torture known as the collected works of director Coleman Francis. It’s fair to say this movie isn’t nearly as excruciating as any of Francis’ films (Skydivers, The Beast of Yucca Flats, or Red Zone Cuba), but then again, neither is staring into the sun for twelve straight hours.
The Hellcats bears all the hallmarks of being made by a group of people without one single clue amongst them: Out of focus shots, dialogue seemingly recorded by microphones wrapped in down pillows, and a meandering plot that’s not even in the same zip code as lucidity. Over the 84-minute running time of Hellcats, there’s perhaps five minutes of plot (none of which make any sense), with the rest being nothing but mindless, pointless filler.
The titular Hellcats are a hippie biker gang, a little like the kind you’d see in Easy Rider, but a lot more like the kind you’d see in Satan’s Sadists or Werewolves on Wheels. They drink beer, they make out, they trip on acid, and they go-go dance endlessly in a way that reminds us why we don’t see white people on Soul Train. And the youngest of them appears to be about 35, so I guess that old 60’s adage about who you can trust never quite reached universal acceptance.
At the start of the film, the Hellcats attend the funeral of their leader. They lay all sorts of sundry hippie biker accoutrements across his casket, everything from switch blades to tire chains to, in what I’m guessing was meant to be a joke, a brassiere that one biker chick deftly unhooks from beneath her shirt and lays across the coffin.
But is the leader really dead? I couldn’t really tell you, but watching the ceremony from afar are two plainclothes policeman who exposit that the leader faked his own death to turn informant. Or perhaps that’s not really what they’re talking about at all. Truthfully, I listened to this exchange of dialogue four times and still couldn’t make any sense of it, and that’s way more effort than this movie deserves. All you really need to get out of this scene is that the younger of the two officers is a guy named Dave.
Also watching the funeral from a distance is a group of mob types. We know they’re mob types because they wear black suits, gaudy ties, and huddle around a chubby godfather-type with a strong likeness to Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein. Their conversation doesn’t make much sense either, but at least they finish it up with a good healthy round of evil laughter to let us know they’re the bad guys.
By this point, anyone watching is guaranteed to be bewildered; which is a bad sign, as we haven’t even reached the opening credits yet. After said credits (featuring the expectedly lame go-go title tune), we’re treated to a long, labored sequence of hippie bikers delivering a bag of white powder. (I’m assuming it’s cocaine or heroin, but of course the movie never says, preferring to stick with the ubiquitous “the stuff”.)
One biker rides on and on, until he passes “the stuff” to another biker. This biker then also rides around for a while, until he hands off the bag to yet another biker. And on and on it goes, like a retarded relay race, until finally the dope gets delivered into the hands of the mob boss from the opening scene. Riveting, no? The bag of powder is smaller than his hand, so was it really worth all this trouble to deliver it? I mean, couldn’t they have found out what brown can do for you?
After the delivery, the mobsters spend some time scheming against the cops, and as you’d expect, they do this while sitting in an open convertible in broad daylight. Ultimately, they decide to whack our friend Dave. They accomplish this by, I swear to God, simply driving around aimlessly until they just happen to discover Dave having a picnic with his fiancée.
And what a picnic it is, because the couple is reclining together in a lovely patch of dead, brown crabgrass. Before they can break out the potato salad, a mob guy perches himself up on a hill and takes Dave out with a sniper rifle. Because we all know how the mob loves to shoot people from a distance with precision rifles, don’t we? A quick, painless death really sends a message to anyone else who would cross the mob.
We abruptly cut to Dave’s brother Monte (Sidehackers’ Ross Hagen) arriving on a plane. We don’t find out his name is Monte for another thirty minutes, but I’ve decided to cut to the chase for the sake of brevity (as well as my own sanity). Monte meets with Dave’s fiancée Linda, and somewhere in the middle of unfocused, unintelligible talk of revenge against Dave’s killers, Monte finds Dave’s notebook among his personal belongings. He reads an entry describing a motorcycle gang named the Hellcats and proclaims, “I wonder if you hunt them like ya hunt people!” [?]
Before we have time to ponder this inscrutable statement, we cut to Monte and Linda on a motorcycle. Their plan, it seems, is to infiltrate the Hellcats to find Dave’s killer. Monte has even put on a black knit cap and some big sunglasses, so he should fit right in.
Their first stop is the Moonfire Inn, which luckily for them is where the Hellcats hang out. Through the art of making confusing speeches and manifesting nonspecific rage, Monte manages to convince the gang that he’s the real deal. So the gang lets him join, just in time for him to participate in a long, pointless freak out session.
For the next ten minutes, it’s nothing but drunken debauchery as the Hellcats drink beer, dance, spray beer on each other, dance some more, and laugh at one guy named “Hiney” who got hold of some bad acid. They exclaim stuff like, “Hiney cubed it again!” Beer soaks every frame of this sequence, while the camera is jerked in and out in that good old-fashioned 60’s “freak out” style. Oh, and during all this Monte actually starts making out with his brother’s fiancée. Just part of the cover, eh, man?
After a few completely unrelated scenes, the Hellcats head to a clearing so they, too, can have a picnic in the middle of dead, dry brush. This leads to—can you guess?—more drunken revelry! That is, until a rival biker gang shows up on the scene. The middle-aged hippies taunt each other for a while, and eventually the two leaders decide to fight each other with tire chains. But Monte quickly breaks up the fight by grabbing them both by the collars and proclaiming, “Hey, brothers, no more war!”
That does the trick, but for daring to intrude on the fight, Monte is forced into a match of “scrape” against the Hellcats’ leader. This involves his hanging onto a pole tied to the back of one dirt bike, while his feet are tied to another dirt bike, and both bikes pull off in opposite directions. Watching this is about as suspenseful as you’d imagine, but Monte proves his worth. To the victor go the spoils, so Monte gets to have sex with the gang leader’s jowly, middle-aged girlfriend on a set of mattress springs down by the reeking backwater.
This initiates a series of events too complicated for mere mortals to comprehend (at least, I’m sure that’s what the filmmakers told themselves), but it eventually leads to Monte and Linda being taken along on a mission to run some drugs for the mob guys. But when things go horribly wrong, they end up being held hostage by the mob while all the Hellcats ride to the rescue.
That’s pretty much the whole story, even though there are plenty of scenes along the way that have nothing to do with anything, like a vignette where an artist paints a portrait of a topless girl lying in the dead, brown brush. (Of course, she’s lying on her stomach, so the titillation factor here is in the negative range.) The Hellcats come along to snatch the portrait away, menacingly paint a red stripe down the artist’s nose, and advance on the topless girl, until… the scene ends. None of the characters in the scene appear again, so I can only assume the clip was included solely because it features a cameo by Tony Cardoza himself as “The Artist”. Hey, if you can’t actually be an artist, you might as well play one.
In addition to this, there are several pointless attempts at titillation in the form of the often bikini-clad girlfriend of the mob boss. Hilariously, it seems they couldn’t convince the actress to actually make out with the Harvey Weinstein look-alike, so when it comes time for them to kiss, she tosses a towel over both their heads [!] and we cut to next scene. (This even turns out to be a recurring theme, because Monte and the gang leader’s girlfriend toss a blanket over their heads when they’re going at it on the mattress springs. Though, in their case, I’m not sure who was more reluctant to make out with whom.)
Ultimately, The Hellcats may only be of interest to those who have suffered through Red Zone Cuba. Besides the Cardoza connection, the bartender at the Moonfire Inn played a member of the lawman posse in Red Zone Cuba, and gang member Mongoose was POW Bailey Chastain in Cuba (sadly, he appears here sans tungsten mine).
But believe it or not, I’ve just listed all the high points of this movie. When most of the running time is devoted to hippies spraying beer foam on each other, it doesn’t take much to sum up a movie. The Hellcats is pure suffering from start to finish, a rare film that has absolutely no reason to exist. After one viewing, you might just look up the name Tony Cardoza and say to yourself, “I wonder if you hunt him like ya hunt people!”