Color, 1984, 87 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Tina Louise, Adam West, Ross Alexander, Frank Millen, Renee Harmon, Frank Neuhas, Bill Luce, Shawn Klugman, Chris Haramis
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Though he's best known in horror circles for the insane backwoods cheapie Don't Go in the Woods, director James Bryan has had a truly staggering exploitation career spanning everything from action to goofball comedy to erotica. Some of his most astounding achievements were created in tandem with Renee Harmon, resulting in titles like Frozen Scream, Jungle Trap, Run Coyote Run, Boogievision, Lady Streetfighter, and The Executioner, Part II. To that list you can add Hell Riders, a very trashy biker opus that belatedly rode the wave of grungy '70s hog-wild films like The Peace Killers and Satan's Sadists. Except crazier.
Driving through the desert from Las Vegas, blackjack dealer Claire (Gilligan's Island's Louise) decides to stop off at the desolate town of Ramsburg. Outside the city limits she pulls over to help an ailing woman by the side of the road only to get ambushed by a psychopathic gang of bikers, the Hell Riders, who are run by the particularly unhinged Snake (Alexander). Their members also include the cross-wearing Father (Neuhas)-- who's just had his hand cut off by Snake and who likes to lead naked women around on a chain. As bikers tend to do. Claire manages to get away, roughed up a bit but still alive, when the Hell Riders have a split with their ride-along gang who don't take kindly to terrorizing civilians. The bikers kill some time trying to prove who's toughest by burning off their skin on exhaust pipes and jamming knives in their legs - as bikers tend to do - while Claire makes her way to Ramsburg and gets called a "$200 hooker" by the lazy, idiot sheriff. Far more helpful is Dr. Dave (Batman's West), who patches her up and, while out running, comes upon the bikers and throws a cog in their plans after they slaughter a married couple. Of course it's just a matter of time before the Hell Riders descend on poor Ramsburg and cause mayhem by attacking the waitresses, tossing townspeople in jail cells, and tearing down all the signage. As bikers tend to do.
Pure Bryan junk food from start to finish, this one also has the Harmon touch since she served as producer and co-writer -- not to mention appearing in a supporting role as biker chick Dutch. It's amusing to see West and Louise appearing in violent trash like this, though West actually seems to be taking it pretty seriously; Louise isn't quite as committed, but she has a few good moments and even does some of her own stunt driving. The amusing soundtrack features riffs clearly inspired by songs around the time by Adam Ant and Devo, and the film manages to cram a lot of action into its running time with plenty of attack scenes, chases, and insane dialogue to keep you entertained.
Barely released on VHS in the '80s, Hell Riders made its disc bow in 2020 as part of the Vinegar Syndrome Archive Blu-ray line, only available via the company site and select retailers in a limited 3,000-unit run (complete with a double-sided poster and reversible cover art). The new 2K scan from the 35mm original camera negative looks excellent with gorgeous colors and excellent detail from the foliage to the shag carpeting inside one character's van. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono audio is fine with no significant issues, and the optional English SDH subtitles have some really odd transcriptions at times. ("Queen B?") In addition to a storyboard gallery you get a fun video interview with Bryan, "Straight to Hell" (15m16s), who chats about how some of the rent-a-gang amateur actors were recruited, the less than cooperative attitude of his time-obsessed leading lady (as opposed to the "jolly" West), his enjoyable collaborative process with Harmon, and Harmon's ingenious location scouting that nevertheless required some crafty sound recording to catch all the dialogue.
Reviewed on April 10, 2020.