Long John (Scott Glenn) is arranging a drugs deal out in the desert, and agrees to meet up with his contact later because he thinks the police are on his trail. The cops are indeed watching, and when Long John rides off on his motorbike, they are in hot pursuit, but John shakes them off and meets up with his two friends, Juicer (Don Carrera) and Monk (James Inglehart). They're at a gas station when they're approached by two Hell's Angels who invite them to visit Lost Cause, a ghost town inhabited by the Hell's Angels and a group of peace loving hippies. When the three show up there, John is challenged to a race, which he wins, and later on that evening, when the party is in full swing, he's challenged again - but the night will have terrible consequences for him and his friends...
Obviously patterned after the success of the Wild Angels, this entry into the biker movies genre was written by the director Joe Viola and future Oscar winner Jonathan Demme, and reputedly patterned after Rashomon. What it resembles more is a western where the horses have been replaced by bikes, but the law of the west is still very much in effect. In spite of that, there's plenty to root Angels Hard As They Come squarely in the early seventies: it's full of self-consciously hip dialogue ("Boy, are you heavy!"), featuring the word "man" about a thousand times, and the drugs element becomes an important aspect of the plot.
Long John has struck up an acquaintance with Astrid (Gilda Texter), with whom he shares a semi-meaningful conversation about the state of society for hippies and Hell's Angels alike. Astrid brings up what must have been on many viewers minds at the time, the recent violence at Altamont, as an example of how the Angels are perceived, but John counters her argument by bringing up the Manson family to illustrate how the hippies have been tarnished. The movie doesn't take sides; the hippies are good natured, and John and his biker friends are solid, basically decent fellows. It's just the unruly Dragons, the gang who the hippies share the town with in an uncertain culture clash, who are the problem.
This is apparent when Astrid is unexpectedly raped and murdered early in the story, and the Dragons, although to blame, pin the attack on Long John's gang. The three are captured, locked in the jail cell, and a kangaroo court follows in the morning. Despite living outside conventional society, the Dragons, led by Manson lookalike the General (Charles Dierkop), come up with their own version of it, and the accused are condemned to be punished via the Hell's Angels' "fun and games". This involves being dragged around behind bikes, and then tied up and beaten up by bikers out in the desert. When they get away, Juicer and John don't get far, but Monk makes it to set up the finale.
Although there's violence and gratuitous nudity to keep you watching, the film has a streak of humour, too. One Angel named Crab shows a girl who's body painting him why he got his name (it's not because of his star sign), and a scene which appears to show the General enjoying blow job actually has him admiring some bike polishing. But mostly this is exploitatively grim action all the way, building to a confrontation between the terrified hippies, the Angels, and the group that Monk has fetched (after a meeting in the wilderness with two seriously unhelpful dune buggy riders). Angels Hard As They Come isn't too distinctive, and now is mostly remembered due to Demme's writer and producer credits, but its aggressive posturing is entertaining enough, even if the expected nihilistic ending is closer to a happy one. Music by Richard Hieronymous.