Ghostriders is a fairly obscure 1987 horror-Western. Despite not being as well-known as other genre films of the era, it has nevertheless amassed a cult following over the decades. You don't get a lot of movies that mix horror and Old West elements, so that distinguishes it from the pack. Fans of this curiosity will delight in the new Blu-ray released from Verdugo Entertainment, coming your way Feb. 15. Arriving with an impressive set of bonus features, this independently-produced chiller will probably find some new admirers, as well.
The story begins with a prologue set in the late 1800s. Frank Clements, the most notorious and fearsome outlaw in the West, is hanged by an overzealous pastor. Yes, Frank is a bad guy, but the pastor abuses the word of God as an excuse to play judge, jury, and executioner. A hundred years later, Frank and his now-ghostly crew reappear to terrorize his descendants. Hampton (Jim Peters), the preacher's great-grandson, finds himself in their sights. Stuck in the middle are his friend Cory (Ricky Long) and Pam (Cari Powell), the girl they both have their eye on.
You have to possess some patience to watch Ghostriders. It's an extremely slow-paced movie that takes a while to bring its villains into play. It should also be noted that, despite the poster art, the outlaw gang never appears as skeletons. Instead, they're shot through a gauzy filter that makes them look slightly ethereal. Their method of killing, no surprise, is to shoot anyone in their path. Those scenes have the requisite bloody violence. Giving the characters more depth, however, would have made them scarier.
Several moments of unintentional comedy can be found throughout the movie. If Frank and his cohorts are ghosts, how come they can be killed by bullets? That doesn't make sense, nor does the finale, where Cory tells Pam he's rigged a house with explosives, yet we never get to see the house blow up. (Maybe the filmmakers didn't know what a Chekhov's Gun was.) One also has to wonder about the scene where Cory and Pam swim across a creek that's clearly shallow enough for them to walk through. And why are a couple shots mysteriously out of focus?
Is Ghostriders a good movie? No, not particularly. That said, it is a movie that tries to do something different from anything else that was going on in the horror scene during the '80s. The film has a style and a set of rhythms all its own, and that makes it a work vintage horror buffs will want to take notice of. Clearly made for a low budget, the picture nevertheless boasts better-than-expected production values, as well as performances from mostly-inexperienced actors that have a surprisingly authentic quality.
The Blu-ray comes with a nice assortment of supplementary material. Oddly, I'd almost recommend watching “Bringing Out the Ghosts: The Making of Ghostriders” before watching the film itself. Doing so would increase your appreciation for what the filmmakers pulled off. Writer/producer James Desmarais and cinematographer Thomas Callaway discuss making the movie independently in Texas, far away from the Hollywood studio system. The script, we learn, was written around elements they had access to, such as a Wild West attraction they were allowed to use as a set. How certain shots were achieved is another topic, as is the process of casting non-professional actors who could bring personality to their roles. All in all, this is a solid look at the challenges of low-budget indie filmmaking.
Also on the disc is a vintage making-of that looks like it might have been made for a local TV station, an audio commentary from Desmarais and Callaway, movie stills, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and theatrical trailers. Even if it's not top-tier '80s horror, Ghostriders deserves recognition as a picture made outside the constraints of the studio system. Director Alan Stewart and his team delivered something that went against the grain at the time, and this new Blu-ray release will give more people an opportunity to see their work.
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Ghostriders is unrated, but contains adult language and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.