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From Angels to Hellcats, women’s roles in biker flicks

By Staff | Aug 31, 2011

Racing on the highway chasing an unfathomable American road dream has placed the motorcyclist in the spotlight since moviemaking began.

Often used as the mode of transportation for the young male rebel (think James Dean or Brando), and with him will be his gang and his woman. Depending on the theme, especially in the last 20 years, bloodsucking zombie or vampire ladies may lurch nearby.

During the 50s, 60s and 70s, low-budget motorcycle flicks provided a break for Nicholson (“Hells Angels on Wheels,” 1967); Hopper (“Glory Stompers,” 1967); Dern (“Cycle Savages,” 1970); and Fonda (“Wild Angels”). By 1969, the trio of Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson created the classic “Easy Rider.”

The cycle flick originated from a Hunter S. Thompson article about the real Hell’s Angels motorcycle club in California. One can rattle off low-budget films with “Hell’s Angels” in the title as well as iconic films such as “On Any Sunday,” “Coogan’s Bluff (Clint Eastwood), “Mad Max“, or Brando’s “Wild One.” But, even in the diva-friendly 21st-Century, this bygone genre stuck to the “bad boys.” When “bad girls” came to play, they might lead a gang but they’ll make love to more than their shiny black bike.

“CC and Company” (1970) had Ann-Margret hanging on to real-life football hero, Joe Namath who was leading one motorcycle gang against another. Nancy Sinatra played a hanger in “The Wild Angels” and who can forget the nude female rider (generally a wide shot) from “Vanishing Point.” Cher co-starred in “Mask,” a touching drama in which her son had a deformed face and only members of the “gang” accepted him.

By contrast, women were the “victims” of LSD indulging bikers in “Satan’s Sadists” (1969). One of the earliest comes from 1955 and in glorious black and white tells of how Cassandra Leigh (Barbara Marks) forsakes college saying “I do” to cycle riding, pot-smoking and drug dealing in “Teenage Devil Dolls.

Gradually, the women rode their bikes and headed up “gangs,” but a sexist aura still prevailed. The titles may occasionally have a “tough” title like “Girls from Thunder Strip” (1966), “Teenage Gang Debs” (1966) or “Sisters in Leather” (1969), yet even one of the most progressive filmmakers of the time maintained an R-rating for partial or full nudity. “Thunder Strip” has an Appalachian theme. In it a group of hippie chicks on cycles descend upon a moonshine making venue resulting in a one-of-a-kind 60s shocking culture crash.

Director Al Adamson brought to the screen women who wouldn’t be kicked around on the road with “Angels’ Wild Women” (1972), “The Hellcats” (1967), “She Devils on Wheels” (1968), “The Mini-Skirt Mob” (1968), “Sisters in Leather” (1969) and “Cycle Vixens” (1978). They were drive-in favorites for the teen set, but even the leaders of the pack either didn’t wear bras or went topless on their journeys.

“Road of Death” (1973) had adult star Carol Connors (“Candy Goes to Hollywood“) starring with her real-life husband, Jack Birch, in a free love biker flick set in Florida. When accosted by a motorcycle gang, husband and wife set out for vengeance against hog-riding creeps.

According to biker movie compilation sites, 1972’s “Bury Me an Angel” put a woman for the first time in the director’s chair and a woman in the lead.

Described by IMDB as “tautly directed… from the woman’s point of view,” the film’s heroine sets out with a shotgun intending to avenge the murder of her brother.

Barbara Peeters directed the film, which starred Dixie Peabody, a six-foot buxom blonde, who gets on her bike with a sawed off shotgun, two male sidekicks, and goes after the killer of her brother.

Ms. Peeters, who also wrote the script, came from the Roger Corman school of acting/directing from which Ron (“Eat My Dust“) Howard graduated.

Roger Cormen’s distribution company, New World Pictures, specialized in low budget action/adventure with plenty of T and A. Ms. Peeters went on to direct the sci-fi/horror film, “Humanoids of the Deep,” after completing the director’s cut, Corman went back and “salted” additional gratuitous female nudity. The same treatment was given to “Starhops,” which was re-edited from a PG to an R.

Although the masculine-buddies-in-leather-jackets-crossing-the-country-in-a-rite-of-passage films have been common, an alert web surfer asked: Why aren’t there any female biker buddy films? Good question.

One highly regarded cult flick shot in Europe, “Girl on a Motorcycle” (1968) gave Marianne Faithful her fifteen minutes. She had been photographed only in a fur rug during a drug bust at Keith Richard’s house. In the film, a.k.a. “Naked Under Leather,” she dons a black leather cat suit with fur lining. This could be the closest to a cyclist diva road trip you can find. She plays a woman running from her newlywed husband on her Harley.

Finally, “She-Devils on Wheels” (1968) pits an all-female club against some rival male bikers. After one of the women is murdered, the bow-tie wearing Man-Eaters club strings wire and start decapitating men in a small Florida town. Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, he would move on to direct gore classics, such as “Two Thousand Maniacs” and “Blood Feast.”

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