With his first two black & white “roughies”, Russ Meyer was palpably building towards something special that just quite wasn’t in reach. In what critic & friend Roger Ebert dubbed Meyer’s “Gothic period,” the tirelessly perverted director had established a very distinct atmosphere of violent, maniacal, sex-crazed dread in Lorna & Mudhoney that was pushing his career towards the cartoonish war of the sexes trashterpieces that would eventually make him a B-movie legend. Unfortunately, before Meyer would more or less perfect the roughie picture with Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, he would end up making one of the worst films of his career, Motorpsycho!. Halfway between Marlon Brando’s landmark motorcycle gang classic The Wild One & Roger Corman’s Easy Rider-precursor The Wild Angels, Motorpsycho! is a fairly straightforward proposition of Meyer’s usual bevy of buxom babes recontextualized in a world of instrumental psych rock & loud motorbikes. Too bad it’s a grotesquely misogynistic bore & one of the most vile films of the director’s entire oeuvre. I’m usually on board with Meyer’s peculiar brand of brutish horndoggery, because it reveals such a deeply strange character underneath his militaristic, all-American façade, but Motorpsycho! is honestly too repugnant to excuse on artistic grounds, campy or not.
There isn’t really much plot to speak of here. A biker gang that looks like The Evil Beatles terrorizes a small desert community, particularly preying on isolated women. True to Meyer fashion, tragedy befalls couples wherein a man is inattentive or just generally a bad lover, but in this case the victims are almost invariably female. Early in the film when a man complains that his wife’s noisy playfulness “ruined the fishing,” she cheekily retorts, “You’ve got the best there is on your line right now!” This kind of banter might be entertaining if it weren’t immediately followed by the woman being physically assaulted by a bunch of young male punks in leather jackets. There’s no particular sense of purpose for the film’s ultraviolence. It just sort of happens without rhyme or reason. By the time Meyer appears in the film himself, playing a cop (of course) & remarking upon the body of one of the gang’s victims (to her grieving husband!) “Nothing happened to her that a woman ain’t built for”, the whole affair feels unbearably sleazy, nothing conceivably being able to redeem it from its own pointless, misanthropic cruelty.
As much as I despised Motorpsycho!, I’m still glad it was made. The story goes that after making the movie, Russ was stricken with a brilliant idea: to retell the story, except featuring buxom hotrod women instead of brutish motorcycle men. Thus, the basic idea for the much superior Faster, Pussycat! was born. Motorpsycho! also saw the first appearance of Meyer superstar Haji, who would go on to star in Pussycat!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Supervixens!, and so on. Haji only has exactly one memorable moment in Motorpsycho! (being shouted at by a male co-star to remove snake venom from a bite on his leg with hilarious, in bad taste shouts of “Suck it!” & “Spit it out!”), but it’s still a start. Besides its historical significance as a Faster, Pussycat! precursor, Motorpsycho! also partially inspired the White Zombie track “Thunderkiss ’65” & provided the name for a Norweigian indie rock band (much like Pussycat! & Mudhoney) as well as being credited as one of the first on-screen representations of Vietnam War-related PTSD (in the gang leader & last surviving member of The Evil Beatles). It also marks the beginning a period of time when Meyer significantly scaled back the nudity in his films (a godsend in this case), possibly due to the exhausting morality case coutroom battles instigated by Lorna & Mudhoney that later Hollywood productions would greatly benefit from. Otherwise, there’s not much else to see here. The best of Russ Meyer was still yet to come, one of his most repulsive works now thankfully behind him.