Monday, January 16, 2017

The Jesus Trip (1971)

          The virtues of this biker flick are relative. Firstly, the picture gets points for being slow, moody, and understated, since most movies about scooter trash opt for noisy collisions of raucous music and unsavory behavior. Secondly, the film has an unusual look, even by the standards of other low-budget ’70s flicks, because to my eyes, it seems as if virtually no artificial lighting was used. Nearly the entire story takes place outside, often during dawn or dusk, and the few interior scenes involve practical lights, such as candles and overheads. Combined with some imaginative camera angles, this visual approach gives The Jesus Trip an appealingly handmade quality. It’s worth noting that director Russ Mayberry spent most of his long career directing episodic TV, so the style of this movie is about as far away from his work on, say, Ironside or The Partridge Family as one could imagine. The downside to all this praise is that, ultimately, The Jesus Trip is just another biker flick. The title refers to the fact that a biker gang hides out in a church and kidnaps a nun. Otherwise, from the long montages of guys driving their hogs down open highways to the subplot about a humiliated cop stalking bikers so he can exact revenge, the beats of the storyline are as ordinary as the look is unusual.
          Led by Waco (Robert Porter), a gang of bikers cruises through a small town and gets into a hassle with highway patrolman Tarbaro (Billy “Green” Bush). The particulars are murky, but the gist is that the bikers accidentally stole motorcycles filled with heroin, making them targets for both corrupt and legitimate cops. The bikers seek refuge with nuns, and Sister Anna (Tippy Walker) bonds with Waco while nursing him for a gunshot wound. Later, after the bikers abduct Anna during a getaway, she develops romantic feelings for Waco even as Tarbaro, who’s hung up on her, chases the bikers. Many viewers will lose patience with The Jesus Trip, and understandably so—for long stretches, nothing much happens. Those who stay with the picture will encounter some interesting things, notably a horrific scene during which Tarbaro buries people in the sand, leaving just their heads exposed, then leads his buddies in riding their motorcycles past the buried people’s heads with just inches to spare. (Kudos to the stunt players for their fearless work.) The Jesus Trip also gets darker and darker as it goes along, portraying bikers as victims and cops as savages, so it gains a certain crude toughness by the time the grim ending arrives.

The Jesus Trip: FUNKY

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