Filmburn: Stone (1974)
If you were an American film buff in the 1970s and into your bikes, Easyrider or The Wild Angels would have been your best bet for getting your fill of two wheels on the big screen. If you were in Western Europe, you’d probably have been getting off your Vespa or Triton and stepping into a picture show to see Quadrophenia. But if you were a biker in Australia in the 70s you would have been lining up in spring 1974 to see a naughty little flick called Stone (clip slightly NSFW).
As the cheesy IMDB plot description states: “Members of the Grave Diggers Motorcycle Club are being knocked off one by one, and someone needs to find out why! Sandy Harbutt’s timeless Australian cult film about a bunch of renegades riding Kawasaki 900s.”
Filmed in and around Sydney in 1973, the original script was written for a cancelled TV series that starred the Director, Sandy Harbutt. He reworked the script into a feature film, and also appeared as “The Undertaker”, leader of the Grave Diggers.
“In the first twenty minutes I witnessed:
• Said sniper bloodily gunning down an environmental campaigner as he addresses a rally – slo mo, screaming faces of fleeing hippies as the body falls.
• A classic wire-stretched-across-the-road biker decapitation.
• The most extrordinary piece of driving-over-cliff-edge stuntwork I’ve seen in my life.
• An awe-inspiring biker funeral procession, in which about one hundred riders in mirror-visor helmets ride in precision down a deserted highway, following a specially converted low-rider/sidecar thing bearing the coffin… with the dead man’s helmet sitting on top of it.
• A funeral service in a bucolic cemetery full of bright yellow poppies, that begins with a bikie priest in a top hat, cape and an eye patch yelling “SAAAATAAAN!!!” at the top of his lungs…
• …. before he explains that they’re burying the poor guy upright, “so that ya won’t have to take anything from the evil one lying down”!
• All of the above accompanied by the wildest, most disjointed collection of noise-saturated acid rock-meets-avant garde soundtrack music I’ve ever heard.”
Althought the film was panned by the critics at the time, David Stratton (probably Australia’s top film critic) states that this movie “…bears many similarities to the [later] Mad Max (1979) and is, in a sense, its forerunner. Both deal with anti-social bikie gangs, both have as their title protagonist a policeman who is as rough as the criminals he’s trying to capture, both feature characters with bizarre names…” Even DVD releases of this movie have boasted a tagline suggesting this: “Before MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR There Was STONE”.
As with most 70s cult films it’s a pretty rough piece; but if you turn off your inner critic and just go with the flow you’ll really enjoy the sweet bikes, the fleshy chesticles, and the general hilarity of the whole thing.
Apart from the Kwaka 900s, there’s plenty of British metal on display too – especially in the scenes featuring The Grave Diggers arch rivals, the Black Hawks. The funeral procession mentioned above was padded out using some real Sydney Motorbike gangs of the time. Look closely and you’ll see some pretty authentic Harley choppers – undoubtedly real bikes owned by the gang members themselves.
If I’ve tweaked your nipples interest in sleazy Australian Exploitation films of the 70s, try and catch Stone if you can. You may also want to hunt down a doco on the making of the film called Stone Forever, and a really great film made just recently called Not Quite Hollywood (again, clip slightly NSFW) that features many hilarious Quentin Tarantino interviews and gives an amazing overview of the entire history of Australian exploitation films.