{2jtab: Movie Review}

Hells Angels on Wheels - Blu-ray review


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3 stars

As far as exploitation cinema goes, Hells Angels on Wheels is actually a solid offering of two-wheeled mayhem in the years before Easy Rider.  It was originally filmed when people and headline news were obsessed with motorcycles, motorcycle gangs, and the groovy sensations they caused; a sort of love ‘em and fear ‘em mentality.

Roger Corman's Wild Angels might have created the cinematic buzz around biker gangs but it was often too safe in its gait.  Here – under the leadership of Jack Nicholson, Adam Roarke, and Hell's Angels president Sonny Barger – where the gangs actually get their hands dirty on the silver screen.

Directed by Richard Rush (The Stunt Man), Hell’s Angels on Wheels tells the story of a young man named Poet (Nicholson) who quits his gas attendant job in style (he assaults an impatient customer and wracks his boss) and, after butting heads with a Hell’s Angel member who knocks out the headlight of his ride, “trips” with them thanks to the leader’s – Buddy (Roarke) - acceptance and rides for freedom and for the attention of Buddy's passed-around girl, Shill (Sabrina Scharf).

The script by R. Wright Campbell showcases the slide of middle class morals as Poet becomes involved in brawl after brawl, orgies, beer, marijuana, and some other very primal activities.  In fact, according to Barger himself, the film is the most accurate portrayal of Hell’s Angels during its limelight era when damn near everyone “leaned” on them for one reason or another.

There’s also a wonderfully rich selection of pure shots from cinematographer László Kovács (listed as Leslie Kovacs).  For example, the film opens with a pan of San Francisco, then a pan to a field of flowers, and finally rests upon the chrome of a Harley Davidson.  The flowers go out of focus as the bike is started with a roar and speeds away.  Throughout the film, there are scenes as poetic as this.  No wonder then that Dennis Hopper would demand Kovács’ participation in Easy Rider.

However, it is the acting from Nicholson and Roarke that carries the film above a simple exploitation picture of insignificance.  Sure, the obligatory scenes of exploitation abound but the sharp charge of naturalness from a cool Nicholson and a mellow Roarke help deliver satisfying entertainment as the gang rides from California to Nevada in their black pocket t-shirts and leathers.

Animalistic and fearless – even after committing murder – the real thrill of Hells Angels on Wheels becomes Poet’s change from exposure to all things brutal upon his two wild wheels.  So what will it be, my brothers and sisters of the road?  Super, regular, or ethanol?

{2jtab: Film Details}

Hells Angels on Wheels - Blu-ray reviewMPAA Rating: X.
95 mins.
: Richard Rush
: R. Wright Campbell
Cast: Adam Roarke, Jack Nicholson, Sabrina Scharf
Genre: Drama | Thriller
The shattering true story of the Hells Angels of Northern California
Memorable Movie Quote: "I don't need you, and I don't need your rules or your uniform man."
U.S. Films
Official Site:
Release Date:
June 1967
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 3, 2013

Synopsis: At first gas station attendant Poet is happy when the rockers gang "Hell's Angels" finally accepts him. But he's shocked when he learns how brutal they are - not even murder is a taboo to them. He gets himself in trouble when the leader's girlfriend falls in love with him - and he welcomes her approaches.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Hells Angels on Wheels - Blu-ray review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
3 stars


Blu-ray Experience
3.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - September 3, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0 (48kHz, 16-bit)
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy
Region Encoding: A

Hen's Tooth Video’s 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer of Hells Angels on Wheels is a great representation of a prime element in very good shape. The colors are sharp, the details are clear, and it is largely free of any debris.  There are a few moments of flickering but they are few and far between.  The enhanced image composes the film well - I've previously only seen grimy full-frame edited television prints. This transfer is clear and has good detail; the 2.0 mono sound is sharp in the center channel.  All in all, this is a solid biker exploitation value.



  • Located in the Setup category, the newly recorded commentary from Rush – who is now 84 years old – has a few significant pauses but is still worth the ride.  His memory is pretty sharp as he recounts the project’s origins and what it was like to work with Nicholson and a group of Bay Area Angels.  At the very least, it is worth a single listen.

Special Features:

  • A gallery of vintage publicity material – ranging from photos to reviews – is the film’s sole supplemental item.
  • Photo Gallery (2 min)

{2jtab: Trailer}