If the name Larry Bishop doesn't ring a bell to you, you're not alone. He's one of those rare breed of cult actors that gets spoken of in "exploitation"-literate film circles and pretty much nowhere else. He made a series of biker movies back in the late '60s and early '70s, only to get a smattering of television and background roles before fading into obscurity. But then a chance meeting with Quentin Tarantino changed all that. Quentin, a huge fan of biker films, forged a friendship with Bishop (whom you'll recognize as the strip club owner in Kill Bill Vol. 2) and offered him the chance-of-a-lifetime comeback. He wanted him to star in, write, and direct the greatest biker movie ever made. And Quentin wanted to produce it.
Is Hell Ride the greatest biker movie ever made? No, it isn't. Is it a good, old-fashioned, exploitative-as-all-hell fun ride? Abso-friggin-lutely. Hell Ride isn't what you'd call a serious film. When the DVD spins up, three trailers proceed it -- Tarantino's Death Proof, Rodriguez's Planet Terror, and Romero's Diary of the Dead -- which perfectly set the mood. Once these have played, you have a rough idea of what you're in for. This is exploitation. This is a bunch of guys pushing the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope. A lot of it works. Some of it doesn't.
Quentin clearly has his hands all over this thing and Bishop, no fool, borrows heavily from the hand that is feeding him. The first ten minutes of this film feel like they were deleted from Kill Bill. Stylistically, the editing and the music reek of either Tarantino or someone aping him to the letter. But the affect is fairly cool, because about ten minutes in the film gradually shifts into its own footing, using its Tarantino-esque nature to prepare the audience for an alternate universe. This is a BIKER movie. Guns and booze, broads and bikes -- they all somehow find their way into almost every scene. It's rare that you see Bishop in a scene without a beautiful woman, and even rarer still if she has clothes on (something that begins to become somehow comical by the second act). But that's the universe that this is supposed to exist in, one in which bikers rule the road, where strip club/biker bars are in every town, and there isn't a cop to be found for 100 miles.
This thing stars a bevy of bike-riding badasses -- Bishop himself, Vinnie Jones, Michael Madsen, David Carradine, Dennis Hopper, and most surprisingly Eric Balfour (24 and the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre films), who earns his man card as one of the baddest of the bunch. Hell Ride isn't fine cinema, but it is a fine film to throw a few beers back to and hoot and holler with, all the way up to the killer, perfectly-executed ending. I enjoyed this film quite a bit and it is the perfect kind of film for the discriminating, Grindhouse-loving connoisseur.
The disc comes loaded with all the standard features -- an interesting commentary, a short making-of, a "Meet the Guys" featurette, a "Meet the Girls" featurette, and a video diary with Michael Madsen. The feature I most heartily recommend is the one that focuses just on the bikes: they detail why each character rode each bike and how the bikes were created. It's also interesting to learn about Balfour's experience having to train on an old Indian, one of the old-school ones with a toe clutch and a suicide shifter.
Definitely worth the rent if you're a fan of biker films in general or if you're one of those folks, who like me, is enjoying the Grindhouse revival as it unfolds. Hell Ride is available now from Dimension Home Entertainment.