Color, 1974, 98 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by Sandy Harbutt
Starring Ken Shorter, Rebecca Gilling, Sandy Harbutt, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Helen Morse, Susan Lloyd, Roger Ward, Tony Allyn, Vincent Gil, Reg Evans, Slim DeGrey
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NSTC), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia R0 HD/PAL), SchröderMedia (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), King Records (Blu-ray & DVD) (Japan RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Aussie exploitation cinema isn't really loaded with old school biker movies, but it certainly started out of the gate with a bang thanks to 1974's Stone. A road action thriller that somewhat anticipates what was to come with the Mad Max films (which featured several of the personnel here), this somewhat psychedelic and cult-ready project was directed by and co-stars Sandy Harbutt, lifting techniques from the brief "electric western" fad and giving it all a quirky Aussie spin. There isn't really another biker film out there quite like it, though you could easily program this with other oddities like Psychomania, Mad Foxes, or The Pink Angels for a double feature to remember.
When spaced-out biker Toad (Mad Max: Fury Road's Keays-Byrne) happens to more or less witnesss a political assassination, he and his biker gang, the Gravediggers, end up being the targets of a shady criminal organization trying to bump them off one by one. Enter Stone (Shorter), an undercover cop who slips into the gang to find out who's responsible. While his true identity isn't something they'd normally accept, Stone expalins "that's the way I make my living... don't get heavy" and, after a bar fight that turns into an attempted crossbow slaying, ends up being initiated anyway. The lifestyle choice has a big impact on his real life in the process as he learns about this subculture that works as a kind of society within itself.
While the murder plot weaves in and out of the film, the real meat here is the impressionistic look at biker culture including its occult tendencies, bar customs, and gender relationships. The actors are well cast with a lot of real Sydney Hell's Angels brought along for the ride, which gives it a gritty realism that balances nicely with the acid rock soundtrack and pulpier moments. Harbutt actually does well in front of the camera as the gang leader known as the Undertaker, and it's all shot with a hyper-colorful style that would've made this a big midnight movie if the right crowd had found it. The film was still a big hit in Australia anyway, coming along at just the right time with the wave of genre films that would flourish well into the 1980s.
Harbutt claims that he didn't have much editorial input in the theatrical domestic release of this film, which clocked in at a very bloated running time anywhere between 126 and 132 minutes depending on the source. Eventually it was pared down for international sales and ended up hitting home video in a revised director's cut running just under 99 minutes. The cut material was impossible to see for years, and it was the director's cut that Severin released on DVD in the U.S. and U.K. in 2008 as a single-disc edition (with just a trailer) or a double-disc set adding on a great black-and-white archival featurette, "The Making of Stone" (23m12s), featuring extensive chats with the real bikers and various crew members. Also on that release are "Stone Forever" (63m1s), a 25th anniversary look back at the film with over 30,000 bikers gathering in 1998 in Sydney to celebrate, as well as a silent batch of makeup tests (8m33s), the trailer, and a slideshow of production stills with Harbutt commentary (21m19s). In 2021, Umbrella bowed the film on Australian Blu-ray featuring all of those extras along with a huge heaping of extended interviews from Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood (125m37s) with Harbutt, Shorter, Rebecca Gilling, Roger Ward, editor Ian Barry, and executive producer David Hannay sharing tons of anecdotes from the shoot involving arrests, makeup mishaps, the real bikers, the scripting process, and more. In a very welcome gesture, it also features the deleted and extended scenes (37m57s) from the longer theatrical cut including more skinny-dipping, more riding, more chatting, and more funeral-ing. It's easy to see why the director wanted to pare this material down for pacing reasons, but the presence of this material here as a bonus is great to have. You also get a brief Quentin Tarantino appreciation for the film. In 2022, Severin released its own region-free Blu-ray edition featuring the same excellent HD scan (approved by the director just before his death) and all of the extras from the its earlier release and the Umbrella edition (except for the Tarantino bit, which is no significant loss). The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is in excellent shape as well and features optional English subtitles. The Severin Blu-ray also comes with a 15-track CD soundtrack, featuring the fuzz-laden score by Billy Green in all its glory and clocking in at 44m47s.
Reviewed on May 15, 2022