GREYDON CLARK DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE
Directed by Greydon Clark
br> 1978 – 91 minutes – Widescreen – Mono
THE BAD BUNCH
Directed by Greydon Clark
1973 – 80 minutes – Standard – Mono
DVD Provided By VCI Entertainment
Article written by Fred McKennon
As I prepared myself to watch this Greydon Clark double feature, I had a fairly good idea of what was in store for me. I was familiar with some of the director’s other “works” (SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS, WITHOUT WARNING) and was prepared for some B-grade grindhouse/drive-in-style 70’s exploitation and, without a doubt, that is what I got. Now whether the experience was a positive one or not, I’d have to answer yes and no. While I thought HI-RIDERS was a hell of a good time (despite itself), THE BAD BUNCH (aka TOM) left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
I’ll start with HI-RIDERS, the main feature in this “Drive-In Double Feature,” so lovingly released by VCI Entertainment (they seem to specialize in the schlocky to the very schlocky). I’d like to tell you what the plot of the movie is, but not I’m really sure there truly is one. The film starts with a young couple, Mark and Lynn (Darby Hinton and stuntwoman hottie Diane Peterson), pulling a drag racing hustle on a member of a gang called the Hi-Riders, a Hell’s Angles-esque gang that prefer muscle cars to hogs (though a few of the members do indeed ride motorcycles). The Hi-Rider refuses to pay up when he’s beat and the first of many, many chase scenes ensues (I loooove me a good car chase). He ends up shaking the couple, but they find him later (and yes, there’s another chase) and he leads them right back to the Hi-Rider’s den, an abandoned movie lot previously used for Wild West flicks. There’s another challenge and Mark wins yet again and from there the couple are asked to be a part of the gang. Now here is where the film gets sloppy, but I enjoyed the sloppiness nonetheless.
Normally I don’t care for mindless film padding, but here the padding is at least fun to watch. At a certain point the plot (which is unclear to begin with) is put on the backburner and we’re just watching the Hi-Riders party, race, screw, and get rowdy in general. As frustrating as this may seem, I can’t say I ever got bored (I can’t say the same for THE BAD BUNCH). I should mention at this point that I love biker flicks from the late 60’s/early 70’s and HI-RIDERS is very much a throwback to those films with muscle cars replacing the Harleys. At about the 50-minute mark, something resembling a plot finally pops up. The HI-RIDERS are challenged by a townie to a race and both drivers and their shotgun riding chicks end up getting killed. The townie’s old man just happens to be the richest hick in town and even though the whole thing was an accident, he wants all the HI-RIDERS dead. This leads up to a slaughter of the whole gang, minus Mark and Lynn, the Hi-Rider’ leader and new his townie girlfriend. It’s up to the two couples to survive and get vengeance on the gang’s killers.
Genre legend Mel Ferrer gets top billing as a small town sheriff, but to be honest he’s hardly in the film, and his performance is totally wasted on a limp character. I will give Clark credit for not making Ferrer’s character a stereotypical small town sheriff (he’s actually kind of a good guy). Neville Brand (Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE) pops up as a bartender and does what he does best – look creepy. The four main characters all give okay performances, but the rest of the cast give gloriously bad performances. When I say gloriously bad, I mean acting so bad that it’s good again. There are many laugh-out-loud deliveries of dialogue that add a level of campiness to the film, which only adds to the fun. Along with the joy of watching the Hi-Rider’s and their hi-jinks, there’s also a rocking soundtrack, which fits with the whole 70’s muscle car vibe of the film (Davis Essex’s “Rock On” is featured among some other generic, albeit effective classic rock-ish jams).
THE BAD BUNCH was Greydon Clark’s first motion picture and his first stab at Blaxploitation (he also directed the much better, yet still crappy BLACK SHAMPOO). I mentioned that I love Biker flicks, which helped me enjoy HI-RIDERS, and I’m absolutely fanatical about Blaxploitation and I really wanted to like this film, which made THE BAD BUNCH’s stankiness an even harder pill to swallow. The film stars Greydon Clark himself as a Vietnam vet that goes to Watts to give a letter to the father of his friend that died in ‘Nam. The friend happened to be a black man and his brother is a born-again Muslim named Makimba (Tom Johnigarn) that has deep hatred for any honky that crosses his path. Clark’s character, Jim, just happens to be that very unlucky honky. Jim tries and tries to make peace with Makimba to no avail. The whole film follows both characters as Jim cheats on his girlfriend and Makimba grows more and more pissed at Jim for literally no reason at all. Makimba’s rage stems from Jim delivering a letter to Makimba’s father—that’s it. Makimba causes his own father’s death; he blames Jim. Makimba loses his girlfriend; he blames Jim. The cops beat him up and lock him away for 20 days; yeah, he blames Jim. Now as dumb as all this sounds, Jim’s story is as boring as Makimba’s story is stupid. We’re given a window into these’s guy’s lives that we have no reason to care about. Makimba’s blind & dumb rage, mixed with Jim’s boring soap opera of a life equals a really dumb and boring movie.
I did truly wanted to like this movie, and because I love Blaxploitation, I kept looking for redeeming value in THE BAD BUNCH. I was not successful. While Blaxploitation movies do use stereotypes, THE BAD BUNCH seemed to exploit every bad stereotype and in the end made the film seem, dare I say it, racist against African Americans. Now I have no problem with a black man being a villain in a Blaxploitation movie (they were usually the hero, if not anti-hero), but all the black characters in this film are given no sympathy or redeemable value. Makimba is just driven by anger and seems to have no intelligence at all, and his posse is just as vicious with only a few of them showing anything resembling a conscience. Then we have poor Jim, a victim of circumstance, and a womanizer…you know what? Screw this film. Even the music sucked and that is just a fucking crime for a Blaxploitation movie to not have at least a killer soundtrack. The acting wasn’t terrible, but with crappy characters that you don’t care about, who cares about the acting? I’ll cut Greydon Clark some slack since this was his first movie, and he did go on to some better things.
VCI provides the DVD with director commentaries for both films, an interview with Darby Hinton and Diane Peterson, an interview with Greydon Clark, and trailers. As for the two films, HI-RIDERS is pure B-movie fun, though some people with a shorter tolerance of such mindless cinematic goofiness may not enjoy it as much. So, I say forget THE BAD BUNCH, but if you dig 70’s drive-in movie trash, HI-RIDERS is worth the price of this double feature.