Hells Belles started off pretty adequately, and as it went along it turned out to be one of the better biker pictures I’ve seen from AIP. It probably wont be remembered much years from now, and one reviewer who said it’s much more like a B-western than anything else was correct (though I’ve yet to see Winchester 73), but it’s a couple of notches above other fare that was offered during the period. It helps that the producer/director, Maury Dexter, was a professional at making this kind of picture, and is actually a pretty decent storyteller given the elements. That he boils everything down to mostly essentials makes the picture work, and while I wouldn’t say his work rises the script above its more predictable territory, he does find what he needs to have it not go off the rails.
First of all, this is not some mindless film where the plot is buried under lots of scenes of partying and inane music. If anything, the kind of stubbornness on the part of the two main male characters- played perfectly to type by Jeremy Slate as the cowboy Dan and Adam Rourke as the lead biker Tampa- helps push the film along in a good direction, and rarely does the story flap around in the breeze. The soundtrack is also above average for this kind of ultra low-budget B-movie, where the repetition is neat and well played, with some good beats and rhythms put to the action scenes.
Granted, the viewer will know how this will boil down, in a Western-style show-down between two hard-pressed men wanting each by some kind of pre-destined movie-fate. But there are moments that come up that are unexpected too, little pieces of dialog that are not written poorly or to some low-common denominator. It’s not that it’s very realistic, either, but little passages are more believable than other AIP movies I’ve seen. One little moment I liked is right before said showdown, where Rourke has some last words with a fallen biker bitten by a rattlesnake. Or the typical but charming interplay between Slate and leading lady (less than great) Jocelyn Lake.
Hell’s Belles, in the end, is really not totally the typical biker movie- there’s not a lot of drugs, not much of the bikers hassling the locals (minus the gas station scene, one of the funniest in the film), no cops, and lots of open Arizona desert adding to the enclosed/open atmosphere. It doesn’t really aim for much, but then the filmmakers and the cast now that well enough for it to be a good show, and a very respectable B-side to the Midnight double-feature DVD release (the A-side being the Wild Angels). Lots of bikes, cool fights, simple supporting cast, not bad at all.