The Gravediggers are a drug-taking, beer-drinking, Satan-worshipping, badass Australian biker gang. While attending a political rally, the speaker of the party is assassinated, and one of the members of the gang named Toad sees the shooter. What the shooter doesn’t know is Toad is tripping his brains out, and doesn’t know whether what he saw was real or hallucination. Attempting to silence loose-lips, they begin picking off members of the Gravediggers one-by-one, including a decapitation via a strategically placed wire across the highway.
The uprising of violence against bikers catches the eyes of the PD, and they assign an undercover agent named Stone to infiltrate the gang. The Gravediggers don’t take kindly to pigs, and sniff him out almost instantly. Stone uses his wit however to coerce the gang’s leader, Undertaker, into allowing him to join the gang and investigate further. Stone begins to integrate himself into the gang as best he can, and surprisingly finds himself enjoying the life of a free-wheeling biker. But he can’t lose sight that above all else he’s an officer of the law, and that fact may end up costing him everything.
Stone is a film that just oozes gritty, down-and-dirty toughness. The Gravediggers are amazingly believable as an actual, true-to-life biker gang, and you’ll likely forget that you’re watching actors playing bikers. The only person you’ll ever second-guess as being an outsider is Stone himself, and that’s to be expected. As a cop going undercover, he never seems fully integrated into the gang, and is the least believable aspect of the group. The fact that when he isn’t with the gang, he prances around in foofy t-shirts that look like something 80’s hair-metal bands wore doesn’t exactly help matters. In the grand scheme of things it’s not too big of a deal, and not completely accepting him as a biker works just fine, as I doubt any member of the Gravediggers ever fully does either.
The stunts in the flick are incredible. Early on, when the bikers are being picked off, one unfortunate victim is driven off of a cliff and plunges a couple hundred feet into the ocean. There’s no camera trickery at work though; it’s straight-up killer stunt work, and it’s breathtaking. There’s some great-looking bike riding as well, including some nail-biting wipeouts and an amazing funeral precession through the Australian heartland.
It wouldn’t be a biker film without some brawls, and Stone doesn’t slouch in the action department. Outside of the aforementioned hard-riding, there’re some quality fisticuffs on display; one of the Gravediggers scuffles against a rival posse is actually made up of legitimate members of Australian biker gangs! It also wouldn’t be an Aussie biker film if there weren’t some hot-looking sheilas around, and they’re served up as well, in multiple states of undress.
One of the more impressive aspects I found in Stone is that every member of The Gravediggers is unique and memorable. In a lot of films that deal with gangs, there are a few members that the focus lies on, and the rest are tossed into the background and are given nothing to do to make them meaningful. While there’re certainly members of the group that have much larger roles in Stone, even the bit players have at least one standout scene, and they all have a different look and particular personality. By the end of the film, you’ll think of The Gravediggers as a cohesive unit, not a gang of dudes that backup the handful of top dogs and are meaningless to the film as a whole.
My one and only complaint about the film is the middle drags on a little too long without much happening, and certain shots and scenes would have retained the exact same impact had they been shortened a bit. Things could have been much worse though: the original Australian theatrical release was over 30 minutes longer. Director Sandy Harbutt, upon seeing the film during the premiere (which was the first time he saw the film from beginning to end in one sitting), realized there were some pacing problems and things that he could have edited better. So once the right to the film reverted back to him after the original theatrical run, he edited the film to his liking before shopping it around at Cannes for international distribution. This cut of the film, while much shorter, is the actual “Director’s Cut”, and Harbutt’s preferred version. The original 132 minute cut hasn’t been seen since its original release back in 1974. I liked Stone enough that seeing the original version is now a curiosity of mine, but with the small pacing issues I have with this cut, it might be for the best that it’s been forgotten in a vault somewhere.
That small grip aside, Stone is just too full of hard-nosed bad-assery to deny. The bikers are tough, the chicks are hot, the stunts are great, the fights are brutal, the music is a trip, and the bikes are hot. The tagline for the film upon its original theatrical release was “Take the Trip!”, and I’m happy to say it’s a trip well worth taking.
Severin’s 2-disc special edition of Stone is, simply put, awesome. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks really good. It’s pretty grainy, but that certainly works in favor of the film’s gritty feel, and for a 35 year old flick, there’s hardly any print damage to speak of. The Dolby Digital Mono track is nice and clear, and it’s never hard to make out any of the dialogue, even with the thick Australian accents.
The second disc is packed to the gills with extras, the main one being the hour-long “Stone Forever” documentary, which covers the 25th anniversary celebration for the film where over 35,000 bikers showed up to show their love for the film. It looked like it was a hell of a party, where all of the bikers recreated the funeral scene from the film in a massive bike ride down that same stretch of highway. The piece also includes interviews with cast and crew of the film, and they tell a lot of funny stories about the production, including how they used actual members of Sydney’s Hells Angels for one of the fight scenes and things nearly got out of control. It’s also revealed that all the pot smoked in the film wasn’t stage stuff…it was the real deal!
Also included is a making of feature, which was made at the time the film was made, and seems to have been from Australian TV. A narrator gives some good information about what went on to get the film made, and includes the standard cast and crew interviews (some directly from the set with the cast in full costume!) Closing out the extras are a 20-minute montage of production stills that Sandy Harbutt gives commentary over top of, some make-up tests, and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
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