• Hell Riders (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: March 24th, 2020.
    Director: James Bryan
    Cast: Adam West, Tina Louise, Renee Harmon, Jerry Ratay, Ross Alexander, Frank Newhouse
    Year: 1984
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Hell Riders – Movie Review:

    If late seventies-era David Allan Coe had washed down a handful of Quaaludes with some cheap whiskey and made an R-rated episode of The Dukes Of Hazzard by way of The Wild One, it might have turned out something like the 1984 biker trash epic, Hell Riders. After all, it’s got rhinestones and broken hearts and country music and bikers and hippies and drinking and fighting and even a Confederate flag. It’s also got a fake hand covered in plastic ants, a plastic retractable knife and a whole lot of dress ripping. But The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy had nothing to do with this one, and it was in fact directed by James Bryan, who co-wrote the picture with the German-born whirling dervish of B-movies herself, Renee Harmon, who once again used this film as a vehicle for students in her acting class.

    When the movie begins, a woman named Claire Delaney (Tina Louise – yep, Ginger from Gilligan’s Island) is driving through the sticks of California when he pulls off the main road only to get harassed and attacked by Snake (Ross Alexander) and his biker gang, The Hell Riders! They’ve got names like Convict (Dan Bradley), Knife (Renee Harmon), Father (Frank Newhouse), Angel (porn star Melanie Scott, credited as Melissa Christian) and Rocky (Shawn Klugman). One guy wears a necklace made of animal fangs and another guy dresses like a football player. Before things go too far, a rival gang led by Big Ed shows up and puts a stop to it. Big Ed has his right hand man, Ben, help Claire get on her way and tells everyone else to meet up with him later – then he splits. When he does, The Hell Riders harass Claire – even going so far as to pee on her windshield! - until she gets her car started and makes her escape, and then they drag poor Ben around, tied to the back of a hog!

    Claire takes refuge at the small town nearby, but the Sheriff (Jerry Ratay), rather than deal with the biker problem, would rather it just go away on his own. He also accuses Claire of being a hooker and basically tells her to get out of town. Instead, she goes to the local doctor, Dave (Adam West!), while a goofball named Joe (Frank Millen – who appeared in many of Bryan’s other films) tries to get her car back into working order so she can finish her trip. Claire and Dave – who only ones one outfit and it’s a bad ass shiny track suit – hit it off unaware that The Hell Riders have descended upon the town and are roughing up customers at a diner on the main strip. Dave uses his medical knowledge to take Snake down and tells the bikers to get out of town – they agree, but you know that they don’t mean it. Soon enough, the bikers are back and raising Hell, Suzy (Chris Haramis), the Sheriff’s daughter, is questioning whether she really wants to marry goofball mechanic Joe and a biker chick named Angel can’t be bothered to find her clothes, which to the chagrin of a Polaroid enthusiasts tourist named Alan, but not so much his wife!

    Those hoping that Ms. Harmon would have starring role in this might be disappointed. Despite the fact that she’s way up there in the credits, she only has a handful of lines and spends most of her time in the background. Still, her wacky stamp is all over this in much the same way that it is on her other collaborations with Bryan (like Lady Streetfighter and The Executioner II) and at least she has the good sense to wear a camouflaged cowboy hat that looks like it might have been picked up a Ted Nugent’s garage sale. There’s not really much of a story here and much of the film is taken up by scenes of The Hell Riders beating one another up and proving how tough they are to each other by burning their forearms on tailpipes and things like that, but it’s pretty rad anyway. Father, who looks like a weird cross between Tom Skerritt and Dave Hill from Slade, walks around spouting lines from The Bible at people, all while keeping lovely angel naked and chained to his arm – it’s quite a sight. Ross Alexander, the guy who plays Snake, has appropriately disgusting teeth and a Robert Crumb Mr. Natural ‘Just passin’ through’ patch on his jacket. Alexander doesn’t just chew the scenery, he obliterates it. Subtle is not in this man’s vocabulary and the movie is all the better for it. Jerry Ratay is pretty funny as the fat Sheriff, given that the Sheriff is actually a complete prick and all. He eats a lot of Butterfinger candy bars, plays inappropriate jokes on his daughter and her friends when they’re changing and, when the chips fall, is an attempted rapist – so not exactly an upstanding officer of the law. Ratay is amusing though, that’s for sure.

    But what about Adam West and Tina Louise? West is clearly having a good time, jutting about in his shiny sweats and playing the hero. Sure, he might look a little awkward when he ‘beats up’ on Snake and the site of his wearing a white doctor’s coat over his sweats is definitely a giggle-worthy moment, but he’s got that charm and that charisma that made his so likeable, even if it is dialed down a bit here. Louise… not so much. She might have been fifty when she made this movie but she still looks good – the issue has nothing to do with her appearance or age at all (which, given her sex symbol status twenty years before this movie was made, might be a reasonable first guess). No, the issue is that she’s coasting here. There are quite a few scenes where she’s very obviously being doubled (to be fair, the same thing can be said for West… and the guy who plays Ben!) but even when it is her, you can tell she doesn’t want to be in this movie and was only doing it for the money (something that Bryan definitely confirms in the supplements).

    With all of that said, however, for fans of Bryan and/or Harmon, this delivers. Yeah, it’s dumber than a bag of rocks but it’s got plenty of inane dialogue, bad fights, crazy characters and sleaze. There are also a couple of admittedly cool stunts on display at the end to counteract the plastic knives and toy guns used by the characters in the film. It’s all very silly and at times, seemingly incompetent, but wonky enough to entertain, which is really all you should want from a movie like this.

    Hell Riders – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Hell-Riders to Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative with the feature taking up just over 23GBs of space on the 25GB disc. There’s some white specks noticeable throughout and a few spots here and there where some scratches can be spotted, but overall this looks quite nice. Colors come through very well, nice and bright without ever looking artificially saturated. Black levels are just fine, and skin tones look good too. There’s pretty solid detail here and no obvious digital tampering to complain about either.

    The main audio option on the disc is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is also provided. There’s a few muffled lines or dialogue now and then but overall this sounds fine. The track is balanced well and generally pretty clean. The score sounds nice and twangy!

    The main extra on the disc is a fifteen-minute video interview with Bryan entitled Straight To Hell. He speaks here about working with Harmon on the film, how she did most of the work securing the locations for the movie (most of it was shot at a western themed strip mall!), her tendency to write parts for her students, how Adam West was great to work with while Tina Louise was not and how they used a group of bikers called ‘Rent-A-Gang’ (who are credited in the end credits) for supplying the bikers for the film. Bryan always comes across like a really nice guy and that’s the case here, as you’d expect, and he looks back on all of this rather fondly and with a good sense of humor too.

    Rounding out the extra features on the disc is a still gallery of storyboard art, menus and chapter selection.

    NOTE: This release is part of the new Vinegar Syndrome Archive line, and it comes packaged with a hand numbered slipcase that opens from the bottom, VHS style. A double-sided poster is also included inside the keepcase alongside the disc and we get some cool reversible cover sleeve art as well. Like all VSA releases, this one is ONLY be available on the Vinegar Syndrome website and at participating brick and mortar retailers. This release is limited to 3,000 copies.

    Hell Riders - The Final Word:

    Hell Riders is a patently ridiculous movie but if you’re into Bryan and Harmon’s unique blend of madcap movie magic, odds are it’ll bring a big ol’ smile to your face. Vinegar Syndrome rescues this one from VHS obscurity and brings it to Blu-ray in a very nice presentation and with a fun interview with the director too. It’s not fair to recommend this to just anyone, but those who appreciate low budget nonsense should get a definite kick out of this.

    Click on the images below for full sized Hell Riders Blu-ray screen caps!