Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Hellcats

The Hellcats, by Robert F. Slatzer
No month stated, 1968  Holloway House

If The Hellcats is remembered for anything, it’s for being featured on an earlier episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it warranted its own paperback tie-in courtesy writer-director Robert Slatzer, who per the back cover bio was “not new to writing” and got his start in Hollywood thanks to Bob Hope! One wonders if Slatzer gave Hope a copy of this novel, because folks that “adult reading” tag on the cover isn’t publisher hyperbole: Hellcats is straight-up sleaze, about on the level of the average Beeline porn novel of the day.

I should admit up front that I’ve never actually seen The Hellcats; I’ve got the MST3K DVD release, but haven’t watched it…or if I did it was many years ago and I no longer remember it. I’ll try to rectify this situation as soon as possible. In the meantime I can only judge the book on its own merits. And as mentioned it is unrepentant sleaze, clunkily written sleaze at that: exposition reigns supreme, the author consistently tells instead of shows, description is practically nonexistent (other than when it comes to sex), and character/plot arcs are hamfistedly executed. There’s also lots and lots of stuff that should’ve been cut; the novel runs to an unwieldy 312 pages, and my only assumption is that this exorbitant page length was mandated by Holloway House. Because it’s clear Slatzer doesn’t have enough story to actually warrant such a length; there’s a lot of repetition throughout, a lot of arbitrary detours that have no relevance to anything.

One thing to also clear up posthaste is that the cover – which was also used for the theatrical release – is a lie of the first order. The Hellcats is not solely a female biker gang; it’s made up of men and their mamas, and right now the gang’s led by one of the mamas: a redheaded beauty named Sheila. At least I assume she is pretty; Slatzer seems incapable of much describing anything, and it’s not even for a while that we learn Sheila is a redhead. Anyway Sheila was the mama of former Hellcats boss Big Daddy, whose funeral opens the proceedings; the Hellcats rip and roar on their choppers through a cemetary while a young man and woman secretly watch from afar.

These two will be the main protagonists of the tale: the hunky dude is Monte Chapman, back here in California on special leave from a tour in Vietnam; the pretty young blonde with a “full bosom” at his side is Linda Watkins. They’re here watching the Hellcats because they both have a score to settle with the biker scum: Monte’s brother Dave was an undercover cop trying to figure out how the gang was involved in a heroin pipeline, and he was recently murdered while on the job. Linda was Dave’s fiance. Now they’re here to get revenge, certain that one of the Hellcats killed Dave.

The flashback to Dave’s murder is one of the most hilarious sequences I’ve ever read, because my friends he was killed by a sniper immediately after Linda gave him a blowjob! I’ll pause so you can reflect on this. In fact, let me just go ahead and provide an excerpt, because this is truly one for the ages:

I kinda suspect none of that’s in the movie! Well Linda – who despite burying Dave just a week before – is already getting all hot and juicy thinking about her last day with her beloved, and plus she can’t help but notice how studly Dave’s brother Monte is. Thus when Monte announces his intention to go undercover himself with the Hellcats and to find Dave’s killer, Linda asks to go along with him. Monte’s dialog here is also particularly excerpt-worthy:

Monte and Linda’s transformation into renegade bikers is humorously simple, I mean we’re just to assume that they both know how to handle a chopper. But by next chapter they waltz into the Moonfire Inn, a dive near Los Angeles frequented by the Hellcats; Monte’s now sporting outlaw attire, his face unshaven, and Linda’s his mama, both of them posing as hardbitten outlaw bikers. Absolutely no description is provided of their choppers or of any other chopper in the entire novel; for example we only learn via an off-hand comment that one of the Hellcats (a male one) rides a pink chopper. But for that matter it’s not even until page 80 that we even get a scene of anyone actually riding a motorcycle; the entire novel up to that point is comprised of Monte and Linda immersing themselves into the world of the Hellcats.

Slatzer follows the usual cliché of how you join a gang of bikers: you saunter into a dive they frequent, act all cool and mysterious, give vague non-answers to any questions about who you are or where you came from, and then knock out the gang leader with a solid punch to the jaw. All this Monte dutifully performs within moments of entering the Moonfire; the Hellcat he knocks out is a narrative nonentity named Snake who is temporarily acting as gang leader given the recent death of Big Daddy. But Snake basically disappears after this – save for a brief subplot about him harboring resentment for Monte for that punch to the face – and it turns out that Sheila is the true boss.

She isn’t the only sexy one in the group: there’s also eyepatch-wearing Rita, a busty blonde who immediately comes on strong to Monte. There’s also a couple other gals in the gang, but they really fade into the narrative woodwork, as indeed do the male members. So far as the novel is concerned, the only Hellcats of any importance are Sheila and Rita, who we eventually learn despise one another – in fact, Rita casually informs Monte later in the novel that Sheila knocked her eye out in a chain fight a few years back. This was a fight over the attentions of the mysterious Mr. Adrian, a powerful figure who – Monte learns quickly and easily enough – uses the Hellcats to run heroin in from Mexico.

The helluva it is, despite the exposition, the lack of description, the exorbitant length, The Hellcats is actually a lot of fun to read. But make no mistake, it’s a sleaze novel. This is proven posthaste, as Monte realizes that he can use his natural male mystique to score with these Hellcats women, and to, uh, pump them for info at the same time. So even though he’s got a thing going with Linda – the act itself taking up a few pages of hardcore description when it finally occurs, around fifty or sixty pages in – he capitalizes on the attention he’s shown by horny Sheila and Rita. Oh and I forgot to mention, but none of the female biker chicks actually act like female biker chicks. Rita in particular, despite the eyepatch and the general bad-assery, comes off like the heroine of a Gothic novel, constantly afraid that she’s going to give in to her “female nature” and fall in love with Monte. There’s even a part late in the book where Rita and Sheila tell Monte they’re engaged in “girl talk!”

The confrontation with Snake plays out in a bit where the pseudo-boss challenges Monte to a Hellcat trial: lay between a pair of big three-wheeled choppers and hang on to the axles of each for the count of fifteen; if you can’t do it you get your ass dragged around the track. Well, Snake makes the challenge and can’t do it, but of course Monte can. After this he gets his “award:” sex with Sheila. And it’s done out in the open, too, with Linda forced to watch – true to the era, Linda isn’t allowed to hobknob with any of the male Hellcats, given that she’s Monte’s woman, but Monte himself is free to do whoever he wants. (Oh and by the by – that bit in the excerpt above where Monte says he’ll let one of the male Hellcats do him if it means helping him catch Dave’s killer, well that never pans out, and as mentioned the male Hellcats are nonentities.)

As if marking off his sleaze novel to-do list, there’s also a gang rape early in the book; Monte and Linda ride off with the Hellcats to another hangout area, and on the way they pass by an artist and his model, who is posing nude here in the countryside. The male Hellcats beat up the artist and then gang-rape the woman, all while Monte and the female Hellcats watch on. Monte throughout proves himself to be a rather despicable “hero,” telling a shocked Linda that this is the price the rape victim plays for being a beautiful woman! In fact Monte’s kind of a dick; he constantly refers to Linda as “mama” and gives her frequent pep talks in which he reminds her that he’s going to keep on banging as many of these Hellcat babes as he needs to, whether she likes it or not.

Rita will turn out to be the only other one he spends time with; as mentioned she has an immediate attraction to Monte and is game to tell him anything she can about the secret workings of the gang. It’s through her that Monte learns basically everything: Mr. Adrian uses the gang to run heroin, getting it from some grungy Mexican named Scorpio, and Mr. Adrian retains a pair of flunkies named Dean and Pepper. Monte also comes to the conclusion that Pepper, a sadist who gets off on torturing women, is likely the person who murdered Dave. Rita gives Monte all this info, waiting for the “right time” in which they can finally have sex. And when it happens, it’s another of those moments for the ages, as Rita apparently has mutant nipples:

But it isn’t all bland exposition and hardcore pornography: occasionally Slatzer cuts over to arbitrary, pages-filling scenes with Mr. Adrian, a fifty-something man of wealth who lives in opulence in LA. But Adrian we learn is impotent, and these days gets his kicks hanging around with “dirty women” and giving them baths and then dressing them in expensive clothes(!). So we get a lot of stuff about him and his current mistress, a former Hellcat named Hilde, and then later there’s a lot more stuff about Adrian contemplating the idea of making Rita his new mistress. Actually Rita by far gets the most narrative time of any female character in the novel, so I guess it makes sense that she graces the cover of the novel (and film poster), but still these long sequences with Mr. Adrian clearly exist so as to fill pages.

What makes it even more goofy is that Monte figures everything out before we’re even halfway through the novel – the Hellcats run heroin for Mr. Adrian, and Pepper killed Dave at Mr. Adrian’s orders – but it keeps on going. This is because the cops, who are humorously blasé about Monte and Linda going undercover on their own, pick up Monte and Linda one day after they’ve been choppering around the countryside (and having more explicitly-rendered sex) and tell them they’ve been drafted. The cops will use them for any new info on the heroin pipeline, which the cops of course are well aware of, they just don’t have any concrete info to pin down Adrian. Thus Monte and Linda get secret police backing, but Slatzer doen’t do much with it until the very end of the novel. 

Things don’t really pick up until toward the end. Monte figures out that the female Hellcats do all the heavy lifting so far as the heroin smuggling goes, running across the border late at night under the idea that, as women, they won’t get hassled like male bikers would. Linda gets drafted into such a run and Monte secretly follows them down into Mexico, where he finds the women about to be abused by the increasingly-psychotic Scorpio. Monte comes to the rescue, beating the dude to a pulp, and here learns the truth about what the Hellcats are up to, clearing up any details Rita left vague. But this will be it so far as Monte’s two-fisted heroism goes, as Slatzer basically neuters him in the climax.

For one, we seem to be heading for the finale here, but Slatzer again page-fills to egregious lengths, with more stuff about Adrian – including a goofy part where he even gets Rita a glass eye. There’s also another sleaze novel list check-off with some old fashioned necrophilia; Adrian winds up killing his mistress Hilde and then screwing the corpse, actually able to “get up” for the perverted act. Actually Slatzer’s so caught up in all this other stuff that the big finale’s upon us before we even realize it; Monte coaxes Rita into showing him where Adrian lives, and then sneaks onto the guy’s property – and is immediately caught. And knocked out. He’ll be knocked out twice more before the novel’s over.

Slatzer seems oblivious to the fact that he’s rendered his protagonist useless; Monte’s tied up and Adrian decides to kill him by burning down his own house. Adrian’s gotten sick of the current setup and is going to leave the Hellcats cold – we’ve learned that he blackmailed them into the whole heroin thing, and now he’s gotten to leave them high and dry. Then Rita shows up and frees Monte, and Sheila’s there, too…and then Adrian shows up again and catches all three of them! And Monte’s knocked out again! Instead it’s up to Sheila to struggle against her bonds and call the Moonfire Inn, begging the Hellcats to get here asap before they all burn up in the house fire.

Monte is still relegated to sideline status in the finale, which plays out along the docks, Adrian trying to escape on his boat. Our hero stands and watches as the Hellcats run roughsod over Adrian and his two henchmen: some unknown Hellcat drives his bike over Adrian, killing him, and Sheila guts Pepper with her switchblade…killing the person Monte’s been waiting to kill for the entire friggin’ novel. So Monte must console himself by beating up otherwise-meek henchman Dean, prevented from killing him by the cops who finally show up on the scene.

Slatzer gets even more hamfisted in the final chapter: there’s no final moment with either Sheila or Rita, and we only learn via dialog that they’ve been arrested but will likely be let go without charges. All this is relayed by the cops, who also tell Monte and Linda they’re free to go. The two of course decide they’ll sell their bikes and go off to a veritable Happily Ever After, and this my friends makes for the spectacularly unsatisfying conclusion of The Hellcats. One of these days I’m definitely gonna check out the movie to see how much it differs from the novel, if at all.

Indeed one wonders why Slatzer even thought his story justified a tie-in novel. The tale is barebones simple and the characters are ciphers. Maybe he just wanted to deliver all the hardcore sleaze he couldn’t in an actual general-release film? I mean nothing here cries out “This story must be told!” Yet as mentioned it’s entertaining in its own clunky way, and Slatzer’s writing is so unhinged that it’s on the level of Ryder Syvertsen. Actually if I didn’t know Slatzer was a real person I’d go off on one of my wild theories that “Slatzer” was just another pseudonym of Syvertsen; that’s how similar the writing styles are.

But anyway, The Hellcats is yet another scarce and expensive paperback, one I luckily got for a nice price several years ago, and my overlong review is intended to prevent the otherwise-innocent reader from spending the time and money tracking down a copy.


Zwolf said...

Wow. I've seen the movie, probably even a couple of times (although I can't remember anything about it), but I never guessed that it'd have a movie-tie-in novel. My guess is that Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels book came out the previous year and the fervor for that made people so anxious for any biker-related product that they decided to commission a novel of whatever biker flick was handy. As biker movies go, pretty much anything is better. Even She-Devils on Wheels is better, if only for the theme song - Now I'm wondering what other biker movies might've had novelizations. Somewhere out there could be a Glory Stompers or Chrome And Hot Leather...

Joe Kenney said...

Hey, Zwolf! Man, imagine if there was a "Werewolves on Wheels" novelization! I've been watching some biker flicks lately, and that one's my favorite so far. I've also got "Chrome And Hot Leather" to watch. Right now I'm halfway through "Naked Angels," which has the most fuzzed-out soundtrack ever.

I tried watching Hellcats but bailed after 10 minutes. I see what you mean, pretty much anything would have to be better. I can say though that the film is different from the novel; characters are introduced differently, and the infamous bit where Dave gets a b.j. immediately before his head's blown off doesn't exist in the film...instead it's a G-rated bit of Dave and Linda holding hands, then he walks away and is shot off-screen. But the movie was so lousy I couldn't take it any more.

Guy Callaway said...


Sleaze PB Life said...

I have the paperback. Maybe I'll give it a shot at a read.