If you wanted to explain to someone the concept of camp classics or so-bad-they’re-good movies, rather than waste time on long-winded explanations all you really need to do is to show them Hot Rods to Hell. This 1967 movie, directed by John Brahm (a director who had at one time been highly thought of) is one of the most astonishingly bad movies ever made. And it’s non-stop fun.
Tom Phillips (played by Dana Andrews) and his family are about to take over the running of a motel in a one-horse town somewhere in the California desert. Their drive to the town of Mayville becomes a nightmare when they find themselves terrorised by a group of juvenile delinquents in hot rods. Apparently these young tearaways have made the once respectable god-fearing town of Mayville into a haven for every kind of wickedness imaginable, so much so that the previous owner of the motel is only too anxious to sell up and leave.
Tom had been involved in an auto accident some time before and he’s lost his nerve for driving, so much so that much of the time he has to leave the driving to his wife. Which naturally makes him feel like he’s no longer a man. When he’s taunted by one of the youthful rebels at a gas station he decides he has to prove his manhood by taking over the driving again. There is of course nothing to equal the shame of being seen being driven around by a woman. When the juvenile delinquents realise Tom is the new owner of the motel in Mayville (which includes a night spot that is the social hub of the town) and when he unwisely threatens to call the cops and talks about cleaning up the sink of vice that the motel has become, the stage is set for a final showdown.
The acting is uniformly atrocious, but every single performance is delightfully entertaining. Dana Andrews fumes impotently at the moral corruption of the world. He just doesn’t understand these crazy kids today. At one point he is shocked and amazed when his 16-year-old daughter Tina (Laurie Mock) sneaks out to go to the night spot. Why on earth would a teenage girl want to go to a place where they have dancing, music and boys?Jeanne Crain as his wife plays the entire movie in a state of hysteria. She does make a attempt to understand her daughter though because as she says, “There is no woman alive who doesn’t want a man.” Mimsy Farmer is bad girl Gloria, and she’s as wonderfully over-the-top as the rest of the cast.
This movie must have seemed embarrassingly dated even in 1967. The juvenile delinquents look like they’d be more at home at a church youth group than spreading terror on the highway. Everything about the film screams 1950s. The height of debauchery occurs at the night spot, where after downing a few soda pops and listening to some crazy “rock’n’roll” music they start dancing, and some even go so far as to start kissing. As a highway patrol cop remarks to Tom, “These kids have nowhere to go but they want to get there at 150 miles an hour.”
When you consider that this movie was released by MGM a year after Roger Corman’s superb The Wild Angels appeared the extent to which the major studios had lost touch with young audiences becomes frighteningly apparent. But bad as it is, Hot Rods to Hell is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable movies I’ve seen in long time. I loved every campy minute of it.