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Published on Nov 4, 2012
Shot independently in Michigan as "Freedom: R.I.P.," the movie which would be known as NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE was the brainchild of young filmmakers Thomas L. Dyke and William Dear. Commenting on how their generation was often stereotyped and judged by their outward appearances, the film was obviously inspired by the carefree counter culture attitude of EASY RIDER, as well as the excessive comic book violence of THE WILD BUNCH, two of the most popular films of their era. The much deserved cult status for NORTHVILLE has been a rather quiet one, and it's almost as if you've seen it, you're part of a private club.
Blonde "hippy" Chris (David Hyry) tags along with the biker club the Spirits (played by real members of the Scorpions motorcycle club) after offering one of them some homegrown weed. When the Spirits hold a rowdy outdoor wedding, Chris meets up with his girlfriend Lynn (Jan Sisk) and they proceed to make love in a nearby barn. After the law arrives on the scene, the corrupt Deputy Putnam (Craig Collicot) knocks out Chris and forces himself sexually on Lynn, warning her not to tell anyone. When Lynn ends up in the hospital, Putnam convinces her furious father (Herb Sharples) that the bikers are responsible for her rape, and the two play sniper against the Spirits with the help of a wealthy hunter (Len Speck).
The Spirits look for clues as to who's been knocking off their people, confronting a rival biker club at a deserted drive-in, and eventually arming themselves with the proper artillery. Everything leads up to a bloody showdown in a cemetery, which has a three-coffin biker funeral interrupted by trigger-happy antagonists hovering over in a helicopter.
Hyped as "The Ultimate Biker Flick," NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE may or may not be that, but it certainly ranks among the most intriguing cycle pictures and is an all-out satisfying slice of exploitation that can even be classified as a modern Western. From the opening moments -- featuring the Spirits toying with an old couple pulled over on the road, only to repair their flat tire -- you know this is not your typical AIP or Crown International biker fare. The bearded, longhaired Harley riders here are posed as misunderstood rebels who just want to have a good time, and the Scorpions of course play them authentically and with pathos. No one's gonna win any performance accolades here, but the rest of the cast is made up of local actors who hold things up well. Interestingly enough, lead actor Hyry was over-dubbed by an easily recognizable Nick Nolte some years before he became a household name.
The film's WILD BUNCH-style violence is displayed in the numerous slow-mo shootings, complete with exploding blood squibs, all which are impressively photographed. The violence is offset by some clever satire, including a scene where the Spirits are ordered by a judge to ride their bikes through a car wash, and an oddball arms salesman giving a Patton-like speech in front of a hanging U.S. flag. Ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith (an underrated solo artist in his own right) did the country/rock score in a raunchy style that really befits the film (someone should release a soundtrack CD pronto!). It's interesting to note that the film started production in 1971 (pretty much the year that the biker film had died) and completed over a period of a few years, though not released theatrically until 1976 by Cannon