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The Peace Killers
(1971)
 

Director: Douglas Schwartz            
Cast:
Michael Ontkean, Clint Ritchie, Paul Krokop


One of the things I like is a good ol' motorcycle movie, filled with good ol' sex, good ol' nudity, and good ol' violence. Unfortunately, The Peace Killers is a bad ol' motorcycle movie. Yes, it has sex, nudity, and violence, but all of this material just goes to show that it is not necessarily the kind of material found in a movie that's the most important thing, but more often the quality of the material and its context. If you thought that sex, nudity, and violence could never come across as dreary, then I think you are the right audience for this movie.

It's not just a bad movie - it is an ugly one as well. When I say "ugly", I am not referring to the characters in the movie engaging in grotesque acts (though there are one or two of those things in the movie, which I will get into later.) No, I am really talking about the look of the movie. Most of the movie is shot on muddy plains covered with rocks and the occasional patch of short grass. The few buildings we see look like they were abandoned Uh, Mr. Policemen... Just *how* are you going to apprehend all those motorcyclists? for long periods of time before the film crew moved in, not bothering to dress them up. Even the characters are eyesores. Now, I know in biker movies, the characters usually aren't outfitted in tuxedos and top hats. But usually their outfits, while tacky, are tacky in a charming way. They look a little goofy - they are fun to look at. The bikers in The Peace Killers, on the other hand, dress in either scuzzy and dusty outfits, or black and white checker patterns outfits which are just plain stupid for a menacing biker to be seen wearing. The whole movie has a feel like your neighbors decided during their weekend to make a movie, and just used what little props and locations they had available to them.

Right from the start we're hit by the movie's ugliness, as well as its generally stupid nature. We see about, oh, more than twenty bikers (dressed in those aforementioned ugly clothes) roaring across the rock scattered landscape, pursued by two cop cars with drivers who are wearing crash helmets for some reason. We never find out how the two policemen figure on stopping and holding a whole gang of bikers (nor why they are chasing them in the first place), but I guess it doesn't matter, since Rebel (Ritchie), the gang leader with a voice that never changes tone, whips out a smoke grenade from his pocket and stops them. Nor do we ever find out why the gang subsequently shrinks down to a measly five members.

Two of the members go to get supplies for the gang (how would they carry the stuff back on those bikes?), stopping at one of those typical gas station/corner store places that somehow manage to stay in business despite there being stuck in the middle Eager to explain his hobby, a motorcyclist shows a civilian "the ropes" of nowhere on a minor highway. Hippie siblings Jeffrey (Ontkean) and Kristy (Jess Walton) are shopping there at the time, and Jeffrey freaks out seeing these bikers, for he knows that they are in the same gang as Rebel - and Kristy is Rebel's former old lady, who ran out on him. Instead of doing something logical like hiding Kristy in the back, Jeffrey decides to sneak her out of the side door to their camper. While that might not sound like a bad idea, you'll see it to be a pretty idiotic idea when you see the side door is only a few feet away from the direct sight of the bikers.

Of course, one of the bikers sees Kristy and recognizes her, but the siblings manage to get away. When they are safe, Kristy then tells her brother the reason why she fears the gang, which does explain to the audience why the two were eager to get away, but it seems strange that Kristy is giving her brother the explanation that he seems already to This biker believes in keeping a woman on a short leash know. Meanwhile, Rebel and the other members of the gang are alerted, and they start the hunt for Kristy. They decide to torture the owner of the store to get the location of the commune Kristy is staying at, using a pencil (!) and a flare. Though the use of the pencil is quite cheesy, the whole sequence comes off as quite sadistic, since the director seems to be emphasizing the pain the man is going through, as well as focusing on the laughing and leering faces of the gang during the torture. Another somewhat distasteful moment is during Kristy's explanation, showing us a flashback of a gang rape the bikers gave another woman. Here the camera leers not just on the chortling bikers' faces, but leers on the woman's beer-soaked breasts and gives us her viewpoint of one biker unzipping his jeans.

With the knowledge that this is going to be a hippie vs. sadistic bikers flick, let's take a brief look at the hippies in the commune. Leaving aside Kristy and Jeffrey, there's no effort to distinguish any of the commune members from each other, except for Alex, leader of the commune and Kristy's boyfriend. It's probably no coincidence that in his first appearance he resembled Jesus, with his beard, long hair, and white outfit. Imploring his flock to not fight the coming bikers, preaching love-your-enemy like Jesus, the real Jesus managed to say a heck of a lot more interesting things than, "Love is often spoken of the act of two bodies coming together," and other stilted rhetoric that sounds like it comes from a (bad) New Age book. At least it's a lot better than the dialogue the indistinguishable bikers blurt out, two typical examples being, "Tits! I love them!" and "Show us your tits!" And it also beats out the lyrics of the "Rebel" song: "....Blood dripping from his hands / Makes him feel like he's a man / He's ridden in the sun way too long / And I do believe it's driven him quite mad."

You can guess what happens when the bikers come, though the writer didn't seem to realize how painfully predictable things were, because we get a long sequence when Kristy tries to escape by horseback with the bikers in pursuit, sometimes with Make war, not love! both parties going even faster than when I go jogging. Since we are not even halfway through the movie, do you think she escapes? That doesn't even need to be answered - what needs to be answered is why the screenwriter even bothered to put this pointless scene here, unless he had no other idea how to get the movie to feature film length. Which might also explain why earlier, the searching bikers ransacked the commune for several unsuccessful minutes, afterwards trying to punch her whereabouts out of the hippies, before seeing her ride out of the commune's barn that they somehow neglected to search.

It's incredible just how badly made The Peace Killers is. There are a lot of other stupid thing that happen just so the movie doesn't end after thirty minutes, like the police telling the hippies they won't pursue the bikers, despite their attempt to arrest them earlier. The direction stinks, including extended fight scenes that obviously had not one bit of choreography attached to them. It also has some of the laziest post-production you'll see - or rather, hear - or rather, not hear, since some sounds (like the starting up of a motorcycle) just weren't dubbed in.

There are a few unintended laughs, such as Kristy's second escape attempt during the second half of the movie, which reminded me of the classic sleeping bag escape from Prophecy. Also in the second half, some new characters are introduced via a black motorcycle gang*, You don't need to make breakfast when you're a biker. Just ride without a helmet, and the bugs will do the rest! including their female leader Black Widow, a butch, macho biker who brings some life and amusement. It's also amusing to see the hippies at the climax not only deciding to forgo their peaceful ways, but preparing for the final battle a la MacGyver. And the big battle does have some red-paint mayhem, plus some hilariously bad acting. Now, I usually follow the philosophy of "Saving the best for the last," but getting the best out of this movie felt like getting paid a dollar for several hours of back-breaking work - just not being worth the trouble.


* All the members of this gang are black except for one token white member, no doubt to show other biker gangs they aren't racists.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: The Annihilators, Run, Angel, Run, The Stranger

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