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Hell Riders (1984)

Directed by James Bryan
Cannon Video VHS

Adam West! Tina Louise! Renee Harmon! All three starring in a James Bryan film about bikers attacking a small town! And it has sync sound. Well, well, aren’t we top of the line? After the high insanity of Bryan and Harmon’s Lady Streetfighter and the hazy, delirium of their The Executioner Part II, I was ready for perfection. I took a long gander at the VHS tape depicting a super-buff Adam West attacking Mad Max-style bikers and hunkered down for fun.

Oh well.

It is always nice to have Renee Harmon and James Bryan teaming up. But, the underlying crazy of their first two films together, and their solo efforts Don’t Go In The Woods and Frozen Scream, is gone. Hell Riders is very much like a regular exploitation film. The addition of the sync sound just makes it seem even more like a low-budget Cannon film of the time. There are moments when the freewheeling madness appears. About every 10 minutes or so, I sat up thinking “Here we go. Brymon is Back!” Then, nothing would follow that moment of hope. The encroaching thrill would drain away.*

With the draining of that thrill, the constant Dukes of Hazard-style country music would continue playing. The bikers would ride around, a lot. Snake, the head of the Hell Riders, would continue to sneer and channel Mr. Fig from Jimmy the Boy Wonder and Billy from Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. Adam West and Tina Louise would appear now and then. Sometimes, their doubles would appear. Adam West played Bruce Wayne and Batman brilliantly in the 1960s. In a similar vein, this film contains an Adam West and a Not-Adam West. West is generally wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses. So, when he’s not around, the Mighty Not-Adam West (or simply Not) appears.

The headlining stars actually do things in the film. They don’t just walk on and off barely registering, like Aldo Ray’s strange appearances in The Executioner Part II. The duo of Louise and West dive in and become part of the slightly dull tapestry on display. Oddly enough, Renee Harmon is barely in it. She plays Knife, a Hell Rider with a fixation on her lost son Timmy. She has maybe three scenes, mostly brief. I wanted to see more of her. Honestly, I always do. Her accent, however, is as pronounced as ever. So fans of that will get their fix. There is a Fat Sheriff. He’s kind of a jerk but he comes up shooting when the Hell Riders start their rabble rousin’. There is a naked lady. She doesn’t do much. But, I suppose, being naked can be enough. And, Dick from Don’t Go In The Woods, and many other films by Bryan, appears as a mechanic named Joe. It’s always nice to see him.

Hell Riders doesn’t feel like it’s made by the same Harmon and Bryan who made Lady Streefighter and The Executioner Part II.  When Renee speaks, I’m home. When Joe says “Can you feel my love for you grow?” as he fondles a woman around a shower curtain, I feel safe. When Not-Adam West dives headlong into the final shootout, it’s Christmastime. But, these moments come few and far between.  The duo has made a rather professional looking movie. A movie, in fact, almost any low-budget filmmaker of the time could have made. I am happy that they got the chance to make a film with more resources. But, I believe it was that lack of resources that led to the large number of endearing and individual moments in their previous films. I miss them.

*One of the moments where I sat up and took notice was during a scene when a couple gets assaulted and killed by the Hell Riders. The whole film is punctuated with bluegrass/ country music that makes me think someone’s going to leap into a car full of moonshine and squeal off into the woods at any minute.  During the assault scene, however, strange synth horror music plays. It’s appropriate and inappropriate at the same time. Appropriate because it is a scene of horrible violence. Inappropriate because it gave the film a sudden, scuzzy, intense atmosphere that immediately vanished when the Moonshine music appeared again.