“Savages from Hell”: No-budget drive-in sleaze from South Florida circa 1968, featuring chicks, choppers ‘n’ cheats

By on September 26, 2016

K. Gordon Murray and Joseph Prieto’s 1968 biker flick Savages from Hell — aka Big Enough ‘n Old Enough — was filmed on location in and around Naples, Florida, and features the “Outlaws” biker gang, migrant farmworkers, a bunch of body-painted babes at a beach party, death by dune buggy, interracial lust and assorted other memorable scenes you won’t soon forget seeing. This fine example of no-budget drive-in sleaze is now streaming as part of our Something Weird collection on Night Flight Plus!

“Cool it dad! Stay out of their way if you can! Their motors are flaming! … Their mamas are on fire! … They’re dogs! … On the loose! Chicks! Choppers! ‘n’ Cheats! Making quick getaways, and getting away with everything! Makes Hell’s Angels look like Boy Scouts. A teen-age story for mature adults. An innocent girl the prize in a dirty game.”

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Florida-based producer and film distro king K. Gordon Murray — “Ken” to family, friends and co-workers — rivaled the West Coast-based American International (as well as other L.A.-centric distributors) and offered up a lot of sleazy features that skirted exploitation genres as well as movies made for the pre-teen and under crowd.

Murray became very successful for buying up European (mostly German-language children’s fairytales) and especially Mexican movies (particularly horror genre fare) re-dubbing them into English — at Soundlab, a Coral Gables studio owned by Cuban exile Eduardo Moré, who transplanted the whole operation — then marketing them for the kiddie matinee theatrical world, where some of the films were not only box-office successes, but became cult movies that were screened annually, including the 1959 feature Santa Claus, which we told you about here.

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Much like fellow Florida filmmaker Barry Mahon, his Psychotronic-lauded films ran the gamut, and as we said, ranged from those aimed at young children to those on the other end of the spectrum, including trashy X-rated girlie films for adults who weren’t looking for high production values in their pornography (we continually wonder if there was something weird in the water in South Florida that caused this kind of behavior).

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From his K. Gordon Murray Productions HQ — located on the second floor of a building known as the Parkleigh House in the 500 block of Biscayne Boulevard in Miami — Murray produced more than twenty films with titles like the Russ Meyer-esque Shanty Tramp, The Bloody Vampire, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, and a basket of deplorable Santa-sploitation films like Santa’s Magic Kingdom and Santa’s Giant Film Festival of the Brothers Grimm, sometimes re-releasing them under different titles, which is why Savages from Hell is also known as Big Enough ‘N Old Enough, a title we don’t think is nearly as catchy as the original.

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On Savages from Hell, distributed by Murray’s Trans-International Pictures, Murray one again turned to director Joseph Pietro, who also used the name Joseph P. Mawra during his career as a writer and director. Prieto is mainly known for lensed low-budget exploitation flicks like Fireball Jungle, and Chained Girls.

One of the interesting backstories about Prieto (who used the name “José” as well) was that he was originally from Cuba — we’re not sure if that’s true or some kind of spurious biography created for a press kit — but that doesn’t seem to be accurate.

He grew up in Queens, in New York City, and went to Hofstra University (1956-1959), and originally started out in NYC as a freelance joke writer for TV talk show host Jack Paar before he ended up in the advertising world, editing trailers for movies.

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That work led him into the world of moviemaking, working for Stan Borden, the owner of American Film Distributing Corp (AFDC), where he spent two years making the quartet of “Olga” exploitation crime-thrillers, starring Audrey Campbell (1964’s Olga’s House of Shame, White Slaves of Chinatown and Olga’s Girls and 1965’s Mme. Olga’s Massage Parlor were all sleazy no-budget black-and-white films that amassed a huge cult following).

Prior to working on Savages from Hell, Prieto also directed All Men Are Apes! (1965), Murder in Mississippi (1965), Mondo oscenità (1966), as well as the aforementioned Fireball Jungle and Shanty Tramp.

Prieto co-wrote the screenplay for Savages, which was based on an original story conceived by Murray with co-screen writer Reuben Guberman.

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Plotwise, you’re not going to find another biker/beach party flick like this one, which in addition to the scant violence and partying on the beach, Savages from Hell just happens to be one of the early portrayals of Hispanic characters in independent film, and also features a rare screen appearance by Cyril Poitier, older brother of legendary actor Sidney (they do look a lot alike).

The nearly 80-minute b-movie opens with an odd title sequence which features a parade of floats and marching bands, etc., and we’re introduced to “Marco” (Diwaldo Myers), who is escorting his younger sister “Teresa” (Viola Lloyd) who happens to be riding beside him in the parade. Teresa’s set her sights on becoming “Queen of the Swamp Buggy Races,” so at least she’s got something to look forward to in life.

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They both live with their parents, who agonize over their children’s futures. They’ve have exiled themselves from Cuba in order to provide a better life for themselves and their kids, working as dirt-poor migrant laborers in South Florida (the film was lensed mostly in Naples and Monroe Station, out in the central Everglades).

Then, Marco’s offered a job at a gas station, where his black friend works, and everyone’s excited that he’s finally moving up in the world.

Unfortunately, his sister Teresa catches the leering eye of a biker dude named “High Test” — this, of course, causes a problem for his girlfriend, “Lucy” (Bobbie Byers, who also appeared in the Florida-filmed The Wild Angels, another biker flick) which down the road, of course, leads to the inevitable catfight. Meanwhile, Lucy ends up flirting with a black dude, and that doesn’t quite sit right with High Test.

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Teresa isn’t very interested in High Test — played by actor William P. Kelley, who didn’t even want his name listed in the credits when he saw the final film — who appears as the “president” of the motorcycle club, but they’re pretty much unidentified as such, most of them wearing a blank white patch sewn into their jackets.

The credits list “the Outlaws” as the unnamed biker gang, and the tag-line for the movie — “Makes Hell’s Angels look like boy scouts” — probably couldn’t be further from the truth but that’s part of the fun, really.

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There’s a groovy beach party scene which seems to go on forever, where we bikers sitting on the sand and pouring beer into their mouths with their arms outstretched.

We also see a handful of jiggly girls shimmy-shaking and twisting to 45s spinning on a portable battery-powered record player.

A few of the hippie chicks are getting their bodies painted, which was probably pretty titillating stuff in ’68.

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You’re also going to occasionally hear dialogue that doesn’t sound too politically correct in 2016, like “I’ll get you for this, bean-picker — you and your black friend.”

The real star of the movie, though, may be the South Florida locale, which features in a lot of sixties exploitation (see our posts for Barry Mahon’s Musical Mutiny, and Doris Wishman’s Hideout in the Sun as two prime examples).

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The film is memorable in some circles for its inclusion of the “Swamp Buggy Race” which apparently took place (hell, it could still be happenin’ even today) in Naples, which shows a variety of bizarro vehicles competing in terrain best described as half mud, half swamp.

According to the narrating announcer — producer K. Gordon Murray himself — over 20,000 spectators came to Naples each year to witness the race.

There’s a lot of great if murky 16mm footage — shot by cinematographer J.R. Remy — of trailer parks and grim-looking roadside clubs and greasy spoon diners (with signs out front painted with “Merry Christmas” and “Barbecured Wild Pig”), but we also loved a lot of the shots of the biker gang rollin’ down the empty highway with their headlights ablaze.

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The soundtrack — provided by K. Gordon Murray and Frank Linali — mixes up groovy and straight tuneage, which seems appropriate for a pretty straight, square flick that purports to show the sleazy side of hippies and bikers infesting South Florida’s sunny climes.

As for K. Gordon Murray, late in his life — before his death from a heart attack in 1979 at age 57 — his IRS-related tax problems resulted in him losing the rights to all of his films (the IRS seized the films and placed them in the public domain).

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Check out Savages from Hell and the rest of our exploitation films from Something Weird over on our Night Flight Plus channel!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.