There was a time that roller derby was one of the most popular sports on UHF TV, vying with pro wrestling for ratings and attendance. And much like its cousins in the squared circle, it had predetermined finishes and storylines. Don’t blame me for breaking kayfabe — Unholy Rollers does this right off the bat, explaining how everything has to go according to the game plan and how fights and falls really work!
Karen (Claudia Jennings, Truck Stop Women, ‘Gator Bait) wants a better life than working in a canning factory, but has no idea how to do so until she discovers the glamourous and oh so dangerous world of roller derby (there was a rival film that followed a similar storyline, Kansas City Bomber starring Racquel Welch).
Unlike any other rags to riches story you’ve ever watched, Karen might be the hero, but she’s a horrible person. She uses and abuses everyone in her way. And the fact that she becomes a star by going against the script goes to her head, leading to her never listening to anyone.
Along the way, Karen battles her team’s star, Mickey Martinez (Betty Anne Rees, Sugar Hill), a tough, muscular lesbian who comes on to her. This leads to the entire team stripping Karen in a bar and her having an affair with the team captain, Nick. That affair starts with her riding on his motorcycle, shooting his gun at LA landmarks and then kicking his ass on the track and then getting ass on said track.
And the ending! Karen knows she’s on the way out, so she flips out on everyone. Her opponents, her team, the audience, cars in the parking lot and even raises her fist to the police as the credits roll.
This is a grimy, tough little movie with plenty of fun to be had. Roberta Collins (Death Race 2000, Eaten Alive) is in it and so is Joe E. Tata (Nat from the Beverly Hills, 90210 Peach Pit). It’s directed by Vernon Zimmerman, who also wrote Teen Witch and directed Fade to Black. And its editor? Martin Scorsese!
If you’re looking to see it for yourself, Shout Factory has put it out on one of their multiple movie releases. Roller derby has come a long way — with leagues and teams across the country playing actual athletic contests. But if you’re ready to see the exploitation version of where it came from…Unholy Rollers has you covered.
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