I always dug the Billy Jack pictures. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re low budget independent movies about a half white/half native ex green beret badass with hippie values. He and his wife (the director and producer of the movies, respectively) run “The Freedom School” where they teach kids to be themselves and stand up for minorities and strum guitars and crap. Billy Jack lives one of those lives where, you know, he’s always out trying to ride a horse or a jeep or something, just minding his own business, but inevitably he’s gonna see some racist assholes picking on an indian or some rapist assholes picking on a girl or something along those lines. And he’s gonna walk over quietly and interject himself into the situation. This sometimes means beating some ass, but also sometimes means getting his own ass beaten and ending up in jail. But the important thing is he stands up for the downtrodden. That’s his primary interest and hobby, I guess. He stands up to rich kids, corrupt cops, even the energy industry in the last one, Billy Jack Goes to Washington, where he becomes Senator Billy Jack and makes his stand in an exciting filibuster climax.
(if you REALLY haven’t heard of Billy Jack you probaly assumed that last part was a joke, so I should make it clear that it is not.)
Well this is the VERY FIRST Billy Jack movie, even before the movie Billy Jack. Apparently they wrote Billy Jack and it sat around for ten years, because they couldn’t get anybody interested in making a movie about “a half-blood indian,” even if the dude playing him is a white dude who’s only down because he’s married to “a half-blood indian.” So they put the character into this biker movie, called up Samuel Z. Arkoff, and the shit was on.
I never seen this one before and early on I was thinking damn, I saved myself a real treat here. The tone feels a lot like the other ones but to make it more obviously commercial they got all these cute girls in bikinis. The main girl they got has her hair cut real short, and she rides around on a motorcycle wearing white sunglasses, bikini and go-go boots, talking tough when she gets surrounded by the biker gang of the title. These assholes have been terrorizing this little beach town.
The biker gang seems pretty silly at first glance, a weird mix of hippie, mod and beatnik. Some of them look new wave years before there even was a wave at all. But apparently these dudes are the real deal, only a couple of them are actors. So I assume they know what they’re doing. I wish I could bust out with a load of biker knowledge right about now but the truth is I was kind of what you call a “poser.” I went through a phase when I first got out, I thought that would be a real cool way to experience the freedom of the outside – the fresh air, the open road and the funny looking half helmet. But I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. You know those friends you have, they go through about ten hobbies in a year, you got no idea what they’re trying to do. Some lazy fatass, all sudden shows up at your apartment on a mountain bike he just bought that day, but he has to go all out. He’s got the full yellow outfit with the biker shorts, helmet, gloves, sunglasses… you’re going what, did you just kill a real bicyclist and steal his clothes? Where the fuck did this come from? Two months later you get him a subscription to Bike Fancier magazine for his birthday, come to find out he sold his bike and now he’s obsessed with luge or rug weaving or teaching basketball to russian orphans or some shit like that. Bikes was just a phase. Well, that was me. I’m no expert on bikes is what I’m saying. Sorry.
Anyway, the way Billy Jack gets involved is he’s sitting in a little cafe drinking a milkshake when the Born Losers surround a guy and start beating him to death. He stumbles into the cafe covered in blood, wanting to call the police, but the owner makes him leave.
Billy Jack does his trademark silent, smoldering outrage, then gets up, gets his shotgun and takes on the bikers. I was hoping he’d do his famous take-off-the-boots-to-foreshadow-a-serious-asskicking routine, but I guess that hadn’t been invented yet. And Tom Laughlin had very little karate training at this point so there’s not alot of that. Still, so far so good. And since there has to be some kind of serious injustice in a Billy Jack movie, they all get arrested and Billy Jack gets a harsher sentence than any of the bikers.
So I’m into this movie at this point. And no offense to Delores Taylor, who is the producer of the movies, and Tom Laughlin’s real life wife, and who plays Billy Jack’s wife in the other three movies. But it was fun to see young Billy Jack with this cute little looker in the go-go boots instead of the usual overly serious hippie mama. Unfortunately, this movie in general is not alot of fun. Because it turns out to be about a series of gang rapes. The Losers rape young girls, then threaten their friends, family and witnesses, preventing anybody from doing anything about it. Laughlin and Taylor say they were inspired by reading about similar incidents with the Hell’s Angels. (So then they got real bikers to be in the movie?)
Maybe it’s a double standard, I don’t know. I can enjoy watching many forms of violence and murder as long as it’s done right. But rape in a movie to me is a deal breaker. It’s just gonna make any movie a bummer. I know the Billy Jack movies are serious and they’re about things that outrage Tom Laughlin, and this is obviously something to be outraged about. But you gotta have some kind of fun watching the badass cinema, right? I mean Stander is definitely a bummer on many levels, and it’s about apartheid for crying out loud. But it still manages to have a fun time with all the bank robberies and disguises and making fools of the apartheid-supporting cops. It’s serious and political but mostly it’s fun. You can do both. But not if your movie is about multiple gang rapes.
So this is not my favorite in the series. But I still enjoy seeing the character, especially seeing his origins. And there’s a pretty interesting appearance by an older Jane Russell, going pretty over the top as the mother of one of the victims.
Give me a racist bad guy any day, I’ll watch you beat him up Billy Jack, it will be a good time at the movies. I promise.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.