Review: Bury Me An Angel (1971)

Get your motor running / head out on the highway

lookin' for a shotgun / so you can make that killer pay

1971's Bury Me An Angel comes from the Roger Corman school of cheap thrills and drive-in chills. At its core, it's a revenge picture, but there are other youth-appealing elements on the screen including shocking violence, nudity, and a titillating twist that the movie reveals in its final moments. This is an exploitation picture through and through, written and directed by Barbara Peeters (Humanoids From the Deep) in her first solo outing behind the camera. Because there's a woman at the helm, the film treats its salacious elements with a little more grace and artistic flair than your usual motorcycle movie. There's still skin, blood, and gallons of gasoline in every frame, but the camera is a bit more sympathetic, especially during a smoldering love scene with...well, more on that in a second.

Bury Me An Angel opens with Dag (newcomer Dixie Peabody, Night Call Nurses) and her brother (apparently both on screen and off) Dennis getting pretty trashed at a biker party where people are consuming all sorts of substances and dancing the horizontal mambo. Dag and Dennis leave the party and go to their house when there's a knock on the door. Dennis opens it only to find a stranger with a shotgun pointed at his head. The stranger pulls the trigger, Denny's head goes kablooey, and the stranger looks stunned and then runs away. In the coming days, Dag is haunted by the experience and vows to track down the mysterious murderer for revenge. With the aid of two fellow bikers Jonsie (Terry Mace in one of only three screen roles) and Bernie (Clyde Ventura, Gator Bait), she sets out from Los Angeles and heads north, hot on the trail of the man who killed her brother. 

The plot of Bury Me An Angel is pretty thin, even for a Corman-produced project, but this is essentially a western. The motorcycles are steel horses and the plot is about a posse on the lonesome trail of justice. Much of the 86-minute running time consists of footage of our antiheroes riding their bikes through the California countryside while rock and roll music plays. Sometimes they stop to camp at night. Sometimes they visit the local bars and watering holes of the towns that they pass through. They drink beer or coffee, Dag hustles locals at billiards, they get back on their choppers, and we get more montages of open California wilderness. A western through and through.

For me it works (mostly), but your mileage may vary. I love Southern California, especially during this era, and it's great to see Dag driving her bike up Cahuenga or departing the city limits of Los Angeles as we get long tracking shots of our trio with literally nothing behind them for miles and miles. There are huge helicopter shots that pull back to reveal how small these horsemen of the apocalypse are against the mountains and canyons of the desert that completely swallows them. 

And then they meet Grizzly Adams. 

Okay, so it's Dan Haggerty, not Grizzly Adams, but close enough. In the years between his first on-screen appearance in 1964's Muscle Beach Party for AIP and his career-making lead role as a gentle man of the wilderness on television's The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, the body builder and fitness buff starred in a series of biker pictures that include Angels Die Hard and Chrome and Hot Leather. He was never much of an actor, instead letting his massive frame and unique physical appearance do most of the talking, but if you ever wanted to see the "full grizzly," this is the movie for you. In one of the film's town encounters, Dag ends up going back to Hag's pad (his name is actually Ken) for a little loving. The steamy scene is bathed in a red light and features several close-ups of a nude Haggerty as his hulking bulk entangles betwixt the limbs of Dixie Peabody, who--at around six feet tall--was something of an Amazon herself. 

Another thing that Barbara Peeters brings to the table are some pretty trippy visuals as Dag takes some drugs and has nightmare visions of the murder of her brother. There are a couple of freaky dream sequences too, and they are truly bizarre and psychedelic, which I appreciate. They feel wild and experimental, and I'm all for movies taking a detour from the expected path.

But even as a fan of low budget and grindhouse fare such as this, I have to admit that the movie feels overlong despite a running time of less than 90 minutes. There's just not enough story to keep this thing moving. The scenery carries the film as far as it can, and a special mention should be made for the soundtrack, which features songs from a band I'd never heard of called East-West Pipeline. Thanks to a blog post I discovered from the band's drummer Ray Styes, we now know that the band formed in Colorado as Majic Mice then changed their name to Bedlam after they moved to California, where they played clubs and bars. They recorded songs like "Let It Be" (not that one, a different one) for the soundtracks of Bury Me An Angel and Angels Die Hard. As of 2019, only the drummer and fellow bandmate Bill Cone survive. According to Ray's blog post, Bill became a psychologist and debunks UFO sightings. 

Bury Me An Angel arrives on Blu-ray from Shout Factory alongside another 1971 biker picture, Angels Hard As They Come as a website exclusive to Shout Factory's online store. Stock is limited to 1500 units total. The film has been given a new 2K scan and looks excellent. No special features are included, not even a trailer. 

The joys of Bury Me An Angel are fleeting, but could it ever be any other way? These cheap drive-in pictures were made to be seen only once by Jimmy and Janet as they fumbled at each other in the steamy confines of an El Camino, then quickly to be forgotten. As little more than a footnote in the career of writer/director Barbara Peeters and producer Roger Corman, this Blu-ray may actually be more than this film deserves. It lives on as a time capsule of 1971 Southern California biker culture, has some groovy tunes, far out visuals, and a statuesque star that dropped out of the scene altogether just a few years later. Motorcycle movie marathon programmers now have one more title to add to their mix.

Comments

  1. Thank you for reviewing this - it's right up my alley! I've always been intrigued with biker movies. Maybe because it's a glimpse into that counter-culture lifestyle. Or maybe it's because "bikers and babes" usually go hand in hand...
    Like you, I've noticed that a lot of them feel a bit long. I remember thinking that first time, "I can't believe I'm kinda bored with this." Maybe I like the idea of the movies more than the movies themselves. But I will always tune in, because I wasn't able to experience them first hand, and love what they represent.

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    1. I think the reason so many of these movies feel longer than they are is because so many exploitation movies start with a thin premise and never have the time or budget to explore things further. They're the basic frame of a story, but there's not enough to fill that frame. They succeed on atmosphere and setting, but they usually fail on story. That's my theory, anyway!

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