A small Texas town in 1887 took lynch mob tactics upon a jailed outlaw Frank Clements after a prominent resident and his family were slain. In a last-ditch effort to save their gang boss, Clements’ men come in guns blazing but mob leader, the Reverend Thadeous Sutton, pulls the gallows lever to send Frank Clements to his doom. Fast forward 100 years later to 1987, renowned historian Professor Jim Sutton researches the notorious murdering bandit, even owning a piece of Clements’ property with a cursed sawed-off double barrel shotgun, but the 100th year anniversary delivers good on the Clements’ curse as he and his men return from the dead and gun down all in the rural Texas backland. Walking into a supernatural showdown with the undead is the professor’s son Hampton and his friends on a road trip to his father’s isolated estate where surviving the night of continuously respawning malevolent six-shooters will seemingly never happen.
Ghost cowboys. That small and obscure piece of particular subgenre stemmed from the broad western horror pie can be and has been a hard product to peddle, bucking audiences off its hind side faster than a mechanical bull full of amateur rodeo saddlers. Think about it. Can one even name a handful of horror westerns involving cowboys, especially gunslingers back from the grave? There’s Lee Vervoort “Gun Town” that’s more of a saloon town slasher. “Ghost Brigade” might be the closer to the theme with Civil War soldiers possessed by evil voodoo spirits. However, the relatively unknown TV movie “Ghost Town” from 2009, surrounding a group of college students pursued by ghostly outlaws in an abandoned western town, hits the nail on the head. Again, these titles are rare and if you find one that does exists, more than likely the film’s a waste of cinematic space. In any case, if you’re hellbent on a decent gunslinging ghoul film, Alan Stewart’s “Ghostriders” will saddle up just nicely. Penned by Clay McBride (“Ghetto Blaster”) and James Desmarais (“Victim of Love”), the debut film of Alan Stewart resurrected a ruthless gang of gunslingers for pure retribution set on location at the Texas Safari Ranch in Clifton, Texas and was self-produced by Stewart, under Alan L. Steward Productions, along with fellow producers in cinematographer Thomas Callaway, who went on to be the DoP of “Slumber Party Massacre II” and “Deep Blue Sea 2,” as well as composer Frank Patterson, and Alan’s wife/production manager Susan Stewart.
As you’ve probably noticed, the “Ghostriders” crew is small and wears many large brimmed hats by engaging themselves deeply into this 1987 released indie production. Same can be certainly said about the cast. Actor turned stunt man Bill Shaw was booked for dual performances between two characters stretching 100 years apart with the zealous Reverend Thadeous Sutton and the reverend’s grandchild, professor Jim Sutton. The ancillary gunfighters, led by Frank Clements himself, Mike Ammons, are actually members of a roadside replica of a wild west town. The actors, trained to shoot revolvers, take fake bullet hits, and learn to be rootin-tootin’ cowboys and townsfolk, took to the camera’s key antagonist roles that required them to also do some stunt work. When considering the other cast, “Ghostriders” struggles to emerge a lead out of the various roles. In the role of Professor’s Sutton’s son, Hampton, Jim Peters’ often subtle comedic timing, towering stature, and his cool-and-calm intellect as a stunt pilot points to lead man material, yet there are elements and qualities surrounding his young adopted sidekick Cory, played by Ricky Long, who went on to have a very long and extensive career working on the purple dinosaur kid show “Barney,” that qualifies the often inept and lovesick grease monkey to Hampton’s stunt planes as another candidate for lead man. Even Bill Shaw could be considered principal. Either way, for an 80’s flick, “Ghostriders” campy characters and dialogue flatten whatever substance McBride and Desmarais tries to wedge into their narrative. Whether be the tragic bond that glues Hampton and Cory’s strong friendship or Cory’s inability to read his recent court Pam (Cari Powell) and her fascination toward Hampton, those moments of human depth are cannibalized by “Ghostriders’” round’em-up, shoot’em-down gang of ghosts.
Alan Stewart’s “Ghostriders” might be an intelligible film, but it’s certainly not an intellectual one due to budget and inexperience complications. Pacing is good with the historical backstory opening transitioning into the present’s continued lawlessness of curse-resurrected 19th century killers after building up the prominent players with depth and humanism in order for us to care about their plight, but also in regard to the characters, there’s much left unsaid and undone to nearly every role for a complete and justifiable narrative arc. Point in case, Clements and his gang’s ability to return 100 years after the hangman’s knot tightened around their throats goes very much unexplained along with their connection to Clements’ shotgun that seemingly holds the key to their supernatural slaying. A lack of essence towards the titular antagonists’ return from the pine box to wreak havoc on the Sutton bloodline really has no merit to stand on, leaving a void in the crux that doesn’t serve well within the parameters of an imagination reasoning. We need some sort of resolution for Clements return, whether it’s a deal with the Devil or perhaps stolen Native American necromancy rituals used to cheat an outlaw’s own foretelling of death, to make sense of the senseless driven chaos because, as far as we’re shown, Clements and his gang are no more than just abnormal bad dudes doing normal bad dude things. “Ghostriders” also won’t knock your boots off with high dollar special effects. There’s some superimposing of people and items disappearing and some solid stunt work (again – some of these hombres are moonlight as stunt people), but the most impressive practical special effects used are the blood squibs. If you like firecracker pops making craters and spurting blood off of bodies, “Ghostriders” has you covered with plenty of squibs with a select few in slow-motion.
“Ghostriders” rides into the black sunset with a rare cowboy horror from Alan Stewart and the film is receiving new life on an unrated Blu-ray from Verdugo Entertainment and MVD Visual. Verdugo Entertainment’s an independent cult film distributor seeking to release forgotten retro features of the 70s and 80s, centralizing themselves mainly around westerns, horror, or in this case, a blend of both. The region free Blu-ray converts the 16mm A & B negative into a 4K scan resolution that maintains impeccable image quality with little to fuss about, such as extremely faint and seldom vertical scratches. There wasn’t any noticed forced enhancement or cropping which provides logical evidence to a pristine original negative. Though the original English language mono soundtrack bears the same unblemished qualities as the video, the difference lies within the soundtrack’s weak decibel levels that leaves the dialogue corridor stuffy and muddled behind a curtain a fairly perceivable static interference through the duration. The release labels the audio as remastered, and I’m certain the audio was spruced up from a worser quality, resulting in a much more palpable and persistent outcome that works at your attention rather than leaving caution to the wind. Verdugo offers up a nice selection of special features with an audio commentary with cinematographer-producer Thomas L. Calloway, writer-producer James Desmarais, and moderator Steve Latshaw, a brand-new original documentary “Bringing Out the Ghosts: The Making of “Ghostriders” with Desmarais and Calloway recollecting memories of being on set and talking about the cast and crew, an archived documentary “Low Budget Films: On the Set of “Ghostriders” is a Baylor University funded vintage doc about the makings of independent film, more so about this particular one, feature stills and behind-the-scenes photo gallery, the original trailer, and a new reissued trailer, which you can see below, all packaged nicely in a Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover with a cheeky illustration of three skeleton desperados cladded in cowboy attire and brandishing Winchester rifles. Nowhere near what the film is like but the comicbook-esque cover is eye-catching and whimsical enough to draw you in. Verdugo Entertainment could have easily chewed up this unknown cult film and spat it out with cheap distribution ease into the marketplace spittoon. Yet, the indie distributor dressed the late Alan Stewart film with respect, properly showcasing a neater, cleaner, and far from forgotten meaner spirited square off against the living and the dead.