“The Girls from Thunder Strip”: Dynamite action, souped-up cars, illegal whiskey, wild women & souped-up thrills!

By on September 19, 2016

The Girls from Thunder Strip — an exploitation biker/moonshiner flick that we’ve collected in our Something Weird selections now streaming over on Night Flight Plus — features “dynamite action, souped-up cars, illegal whiskey, wild women and souped-up thrills!

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Some sources — including Something Weird — list this movie as coming out in 1966, while others have it screening in theaters in 1970, which actually makes more sense to us, since we’ve learned that the movie was shot on “short-ends,” which are short lengths of film left over when a partially-used camera magazine is unloaded at the end of a day’s shooting.

Given this explanation, it’s possible that the footage was shot, off-and-on, between the years 1966 and 1969 — in one scene a character is seen looking at the September 1966 issue of Playboy so perhaps that’s where the ’66 date comes from — but it’s pretty clear based on all of the evidence that the movie was not distributed to U.S. theaters until 1970.

The Girls from Thunder Strip was also shot in Techniscope, which we’ve seen described as “a two-perf pull-down creating a 35mm frame split in half, horizontally, and later squeezed in the optical printer to create an extra-wide picture when projected.”

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Director David L. Hewitt had started making movies in 1964, after first traveling as a teenage illusionist in “Dr. Jekyll’s Strange Show” during the early 60s.

He’d been wanting to write, produce and direct his own movies for some time, and paired up with sci-fi literary agent and monster magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman in Los Angeles, and it was Ackerman who then paired up Hewitt with a writer-director named Ib Melchoir, who like Hewitt, also had an interest in magic and illusions.

After seeing what was involved in film production on their first project, The Time Travelers (which features Forry Ackerman in a cameo role), Hewitt tried making his first film, directing the short film Monsters Crash a Pajama Party, in which he played a monster himself.

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While traveling around the country with the film, Hewitt ended up meeting a group of vending machine operators who wanted to partner with him to make girlie films that they could then distribute, but Hewitt convinced them to instead invest in sci-fi movies, which is how his first feature-length directorial effort, Wizard of Mars, came about in 1964.

The low-budget ($33,000) film used an optical printer to create a number of special effects and featured John Carradine’s floating head throughout the film.

The vending machine operators loved it, and then formed a short-lived Poverty Row production company called American General Pictures (AGP) in order to make more movies like it, and Hewitt was now put in charge of creative decsions and would handle future film production.

The first film they ended up distributing was Jack Hill’s memorable black & white horror flick Spider Baby, which had been shot a few years earlier but the film company hadn’t been able to pay the expensive lab fees, and so AGP rescued the film from obscurity by paying the lab processing bill and distributing the film, often as a second feature to AGP’s color features.

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Hewitt then decided to branch out into movies that focused on hot rods and motorcycles, and tried to acquire a movie called Hot Rod Action, but the deal fell through over disagreements about its distribution, and so he then turned to sub-distributor from a company from Texas, Thunder Pictures, owned by Robert M. Hartgrove, in order to make his next film.

This one came about after he’d already purchased a Hell’s Angels story from writer John K. McCarthy, but then Hewitt realized it would be to expensive to make and he had to set it aside.

He began to look around for a film that focused on an outlaw biker gang, and struck upon the idea to combine two short films he’d acquired the rights to on a percentage deal, a short, lavishly-produced religious-themed movie called Diary of a Teenage Bride, and a 16mm biker movie by Titus Moody called Outlaw Bikers, and after filming a few connecting scenes (with the actor who had appeared in the religious film), he ended up creating a new biker film of his own, which was then titled Hell’s Chosen Few and distributed in 1968.

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That film proved to be relatively successful and so for his next biker film, Hewitt decided to direct a film which evolved out of a screenplay written by Texas filmmaker Pat Boyette, who had written and directed a few movies of his own (including the unusual Dungeons of Harrow) — he would later end up abandoning filmmaking to pursue a successful career as a cartoonist and comic-book artist. Boyette and Hewitt (using a pen-name) would share the screenplay credit.

Boyette’s and Hewitt’s screenplay would involve California bikers heading down South and getting mixed up with moonshiners. AGP agreed to co-finance the film, and Hartgrove’s Thunder Pictures agreed to put up the rest of the capital investment — a total of $50,000 (all of the cast and crew worked on the film on a deferred-payment basis).

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The plot chiefly concerned three hillbilly-hating bikers — named “Teach,” “Animal,” and “Todd,” all members of a sadistic biker gang — and three moonshine-making sisters — named “Lil,” “Big Red” and “Jesse” — who go from being enemies to allies, mainly because they find a reason to team up to fight off a redneck sheriff, his deputy, and a constipated “revenue” man from the government, i.e. a federal agent whose been sent down to put an end to the region’s rampant moonshine syndicate.

In addition to capitalizing on the outlaw biker genre’s popularity, The Girls from Thunder Strip could also be claimed as a direct descendant of the moonshine b-movie craze that likely started in 1958 with Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road, which typically found itself billed second or third with other car-themed movies at drive-ins across America in the 1960s, particularly down in the South, although there’s more “backwoods” in Girls from Thunder Strip than there is any real moonshining or fast cars outrunnin’ the law on curvy country backroads.

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Casey Kasem — probably best known as the popular deejay and host of the weekly radio show “American Top 40″ (where he counted down the top 40 hit songs in the United States) in the 1970s and 1980s, or for providing his distinctive voice to characters in several animated cartoon series, including “Shaggy” on the “Scooby-Doo” cartoon — plays the fed in the flashy suit, named “Conrad,” while Jack Starrett plays the good ol’ boy sheriff (Starrett would later go on to direct a bunch of great 70s movies, including Race with the Devil, The Losers, and Cleopatra Jones).

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The Girls from Thunder Strip was mostly shot on location around or near Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property located in the Santa Susana Mountains above Chatsworth, California, northwest of Los Angeles and not too far from the beaches of Malibu, just twenty-five miles away through the steep, picturesque canyons.

Cinematographer Gary Graver’s widescreen cinematography-on-a-shoestring-budget really captures the rural beauty of the rolling hills, especially during the credits in the first few minutes of the film (he also edited the film and appeared in a small cameo role).

Now part of the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, Spahn Ranch is now, of course, also somewhat notorious for having been the primary hangout of Charles Manson and his creepy-crawly followers (“the Family”) for much of 1968 and 1969, and according to actor Gary Kent in an interview he did for Brian Albright’s Wild Beyond Belief!: Interviews with Exploitation Filmmakers of the 1960s, they who would come over to where the cast and crew were taking a break and eating at lunchtime and beg for food, they were so hungry.

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In that same interview, Kent (who plays “Teach”) also says that Hewitt’s low-budget film had the bikers riding around in a car for most of their scenes because they weren’t able to afford to rent motorcycles, which we do get to see in the early scenes (at least one of them is wearing a patch on his jacket which proclaims the name of their outlaw biker gang is, get this, “Hells’ Chosen Few”).

The Girls from Thunder Strip also features actress Megan Timothy as one of the hillbilly moonshine bootlegging sisters, “Jesse.”

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Her first on-screen appearance credit was in Russ Meyer’s Good Morning … and Goodbye in 1967, who would later tell her not to appear in any more softcore films because he thought she had talent, and besides that, she says, Meyer told her that her boobs weren’t big enough to be in his movies.

Her first film for Hewitt was 1968’s Hell’s Chosen Few, the first of three movies of his in which she’d appear, followed by 1969’s The Mighty Gorga, which is considered one of her better movies despite it being a King Kong rip-off. In it she plays “April Adams,” a female trapper who teams up Anthony Eisley’s “Mark Remington,” on a mission to search for a 50-foot gorilla.

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For The Girls from Thunder Strip — the filming had begun years earlier but not completed and released until 1970 — Timothy recalled that Hewitt gave the actors vague instructions on what was happening in the scene they were shooting (“even more vague after he’d had a little marijuana” she says in her interview for Albright’s Wild Beyond Belief), but nevertheless, her memorable jailhouse striptease and her character’s final scenes in the film are surely ones you’ll remember long after the last reel of the film has unspooled.

You’ll also want to pay attention to actor Jody McCrea, the son of more famous acting father Joel, who appears here — fresh off his appearance in the Beach Party movies — in one of his last films, playing the role of “Pike,” the movie’s hillbilly hero.

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The Girls from Thunder Strip also features a pretty good hippie bluegrass banjo score (which is why Something Weird have jokingly said this one is “sort of like Hee-Haw with death”).

Check out The Girls from Thunder Strip — and meet the girls, “three moonshining, bootlegging, hellraising sisters that turn the bluegrass red with blood” — over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, 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.