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Telling People That You Have Ghosts Doesn’t Make It So
Let’s not waste any time. There are no ghosts in this movie. Zero. Nada.
Okay, that’s entirely not true. There are actually lots of ghosts. They might all be the same 4 guys, but it sure seems like there is a large quantity. The problem is that there is nothing that signifies these ghosts as, well, “ghosts”. It’s just a bunch of dudes dressed like cowboys. When you have cover/poster art featuring skeletons on horses, the lack of actual dead looking guys on horses is rather disappointing. Quite frankly, even for an extremely low-budget, regionally produced, direct to video, 80’s horror flick, that’s some straight up bullshit.
The film opens in 1886 at a graveyard as a series of plots are being dug. Arguably, more plots than the movie itself. The graves belong to the Barley clan, allegedly murdered by notorious local bandit Frank Clements. A grave is being dug for Clements as well, a sign of things to come. There is no score during this sequence, which serves to expound upon the “cheap” feel of the film more so than it does setting a foreboding tone.
A preacher rallies the citizens of some probably fictional city in Texas to lynch Clements for the murders, which they indeed do. The name of the city really doesn’t matter. As Clements is lead to the gallows and the rope placed around his neck, his gang arrives, leading to a gunfight in the town square. As the fight rages, the Preacher pulls the switch, sending Clements to the fate awaiting him at the end of the rope.
Flash forward to 1986. The preacher’s “modern day” descendant is a professor (played by the same actor) still studying the relatively mundane events leading to Clement’s lynching. His son, Hampton, is a Vietnam vet who now flies prop planes at air shows, a fact that has no pertinence to anything. There are a few aerial shots, and these are accompanied by the first music featured in the film. Unfortunately for the viewer, this music is quite reminiscent of the pre-programmed songs found on those electric organs that you used to find in that one organ dealer that every 1980’s mall featured. You know the ones. They were always empty except for the lone salesman who spent every work day playing those infernal things; not so much in an attempt to finally sell one, but more so to drown out the constant voices telling him to eat a bullet and end the dreary daily monotony of playing the same damn organ that no one wants.
Hampton meets up with his young(er) mechanic friend, Cory, for drinks at a local dive bar. Cory is there to impress the waitress, Pam, whom he has the hots for. Pam is a follower of the Professor’s studies. Although she is quite brusque with Hampton when they first meet, she quickly takes a shine to him once she finds out that he is the professor’s son. Enough of a “shine”, in fact, that she goes home with him that night, presumably much to Cory’s disbelief. Instead of the cheap meaningless sex that usually comes with taking home someone you met at a bar, there is instead some brief melodrama about how awful Vietnam was. You know, in case we weren’t already aware.
Cory and fellow mechanic, Tommy, arrive the following morning to pick up Hampton for the trek to see his father. As expected, Cory is dismayed to find that Pam has spent the night with his friend instead of him. This, of course, adds some tension to the outing, but not enough to be of much mention. They eventually set out on the long drive to the Professor’s place, and then make an even longer walk to Clement’s grave, where the Professor has been making some tombstone etchings.
The Marshall Tucker Band Arrive For Their Gig
Despite not finding the Prof., they do find a small pond and decide to take a break. The 3 younger members of the group frolic in the water while Hampton sits on the water’s edge. This is when he first sees the ghosts, although he does not immediately realize what he is seeing. And who can blame him? As I said earlier, they look like just some guys playing “cowboy”. They quickly vanish, but reappear moments later. The “ghost” of Clements raises his shotgun, shooting and killing Tommy before the others have time to react.
Not only do our “ghosts” look like normal living people, but they also shoot normal, everyday, people killing bullets? No ghost bullets? No ecto lasers or some shit like that? Ghostriders, what are ya giving me?
The group are soon ambushed and Hampton fights back, shooting and killing a few of the spectral outlaws. As a 1980’s cinematic Vietnam vet, it would be more surprising if he weren’t packing heat. The bigger question is since when do normal bullets kill ghosts? If that shit worked, John Rambo would have been a fuckin’ Ghostbuster. People would use that shit as a defense in court.
“Your honor, I’m truly sorry that I shot that guy, but I thought he was Patrick Swayze.”
The film follows your standard “run and fight” formula. The “good guys” are attacked. They fight back for a while before looking for somewhere new to hide. They are found and again defend themselves, usually losing one of their rank in the battle before making another retreat. A couple members of the living may secretly be ghosts themselves as they miraculously survive ordeals that should have killed them.
Like losing your virginity, the conclusion is abrupt, disorienting, and disappointing. Seriously, I didn’t know it was over. Same with the movie. Just when things are about to get interesting, it’s over and you’re left looking confused. Just me?
So, yeah… forget those skeleton cowboys on that cover. They aren’t anywhere near here. For that, go watch a Blind Dead film or possibly even Night Creatures. There might conceivably be some spiritual connection to Two Thousand Maniacs, but HG Lewis used gore and a twisted sense of humor to help that one through. Fans of Ghost Town might enjoy this one, but then again, I didn’t really enjoy that movie either.
Ghostbustin’: Vietnam Style