Microbudget Texas Film Attempts to Blend Western and Horror Genres
by Joseph Perry
Low-budget regional filmmaking has provided us with drive-in fare and direct-to-video titles, with the quality ranging from classic (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead) to mesmerizing (Messiah of Evil) to downright dreadful (no need for me to bag on specific titles here). Ghost Riders, a 1987 film previously released on VHS but receiving a new DVD and Blu-ray release from Verdugo Entertainment, is one such example of regional films, shot in central Texas with local cast members that attempts to mash up a western film with supernatural horror to varying degrees of success.
The plot concerns a group of outlaws whose leader Frank Clements (Mike “Dusty” Ammons) was hanged by an overzealous reverend in the late 1800s. Vowing vengeance before he is executed, the outlaw and his band of baddies return 100 years later to terrorize the preacher’s descendants, who happen to be an expert on local history (Bill Shaw as both Professor Sutton and the reverend) and his Vietnam vet son (Jim Peters as Hampton Sutton). Along for the thrill ride, which starts out as a simple visit to the professor but turns into a fight for life, are Hampton’s mechanic buddy Cory (Ricky Long), university student/waitress and Cory’s love interest Pam (Cari Powell), and mechanic assistant/attempt at comic relief Tommy (Roland Bishop).
There’s a bit of action movie thrown into the hybrid mix, probably more so than horror or even western. Our quartet of protagonists does its best to flee from the cowboy villains, with lots of running in the daylight through rural trees, brush, and bodies of water, with gunfights. The spectral outlaws, who look like normal ones with no makeup or special effects of any kind to make them look non-human until a certain point in the film, can be injured with real bullets, which makes little sense — but Ghost Riders is the sort of light entertainment for which you will want to suspend disbelief throughout for maximum enjoyment.
Pam is the most interestingly written character and the only one that rises above cliches, and Powell does a nice job assaying her role. Pam is the brains of the bunch, figuring out that Our Heroes have seemingly shot and killed the same people multiple times, and she notices that the professor uses a Shakespeare quote that tips her off that the proceedings are of supernatural origin. The male characters are rather stock, from the jealous sidekick Cory to the grizzled vet Hampton, and the performances other than Powell’s range from serviceable to corny.
There’s not a lot of western action other than a group of villains dressed in cowboy garb, and not a lot of horror — those expecting gore effects, jump scares, or nail-biting suspense will come away disappointed — but plenty of gunplay and even an explosion. There are some nice homages to other fright-fare films, including Night of the Living Dead.
Overall, Ghost Riders makes up for in enthusiasm what it lacks in shocks and scares. There’s enough going on to hold interest throughout, along with some head-scratching moments and gaps in logic that could make for some fun post-watching conversation.
Ghost Riders, from Verdugo Entertainment, is available on DVD on February 8 and on Blu-ray on February 15, 2022.
Directed by: Alan Stewart
Written by: Clay McBride and James Desmarais
Produced by: Alan L. Stewart Productions
Genre: Horror, Western
Starring: Jim Peters, Cari Powell, Ricky Long, Arland Bishop
Runtime: 85 minutes
Release Date: April 19, 1988
"Ghost Riders is the sort of light entertainment for which you will want to suspend disbelief throughout for maximum enjoyment."
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast. He also writes for When It Was Cool (whenitwascool.com), the film websites Diabolique Magazine (diaboliquemagazine.com), Gruesome Magazine (gruesomemagazine.com), The Scariest Things (scariesthings.com), and Horror Fuel (horrorfuel.com), and film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope (videoscopemag.com) and Drive-In Asylum (etsy.com/shop/GroovyDoom).
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