Director – Alan Stewart, Screenplay – James J. Desmarais & Clay McBride, Producers – Thomas L. Callaway, James J. Desmarais & Alan Stewart, Photography – Thomas L. Callaway, Music – Frank M. Patterson, III, Special Effects – Technimation, Visual Consultant – Mike Michaud. Production Company – Ghost Riders Inc
Jim Peters (Hampton Sutton), Bill Shaw (Professor Jim Sutton/Reverend Thadeous Sutton), Ricky Long (Cory), Cari Powell (Pam), Roland Bishop (Tommy), Mike ‘Dusty’ Ammons (Frank Clements), Gerald Stewart (Baxter), James J. Desmarais (Jake)
The town of Santa Rio, Texas, 1886. A lynch mob led by Reverend Thadeous Sutton drag the outlaw Frank Clements out of the jail cell where he awaits trail and hang him. In Santa Rio of 1986, the Reverend’s descendent Jim Sutton is a history professor who has made a study of the era. Jim’s son Hampton travels out to his father’s ranch with his co-workers Cory and Tommy, along with Cory’s wannabe girlfriend Pam who prefers the older Hampton. Upon arriving, they find that the professor has gone missing. As they search the property for him, they are attacked by the ghosts of Frank Clements and his gang.
Ghostriders was one of a mini-spate of Western supernatural and horror hybrids that started in the mid-1980s/early 90s. This has included the likes of Ghost Town (1988), Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1990), Grim Prairie Tales (1990), Into the Badlands (1991), Uninvited (1993), The Burrowers (2008), The Dead and the Damned (2010) and Bone Tomahawk (2015), as well as House II: The Second Story (1987) with its resurrected gunslinger. There had been sporadic earlier Western/horror hybrids such as Curse of the Undead (1959), Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966), Black Noon (1971), High Plains Drifter (1973), Shadow of Chikara (1977). Also around the same time we started to see the odd science-fiction/Western fusion, including Timerider: The Legend of Lyle Swann (1982), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Oblivion (1994), High Plains Invaders (2009), Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and the tv series’ The Adventures of Brisco County Jr (1993-4) and Legend (1995), although the sf/Western fad had been kicked off by the earlier Westworld (1973). Ghostriders never attained anything more than a video release, certainly nothing in the way of critical attention, and has been almost entirely forgotten today.
Ghostriders is drearily made on all counts. Alan Stewart’s direction is flat and cheap looking. Three-quarters of the film consists of people running around shooting down the phantom gunmen – there is nothing to the film other than that. Even then, the slowness of the pace seems to make the film’s 85 minutes drag out forever. There is never any explanation offered for the outlaws’ resurrection. There is also a conceptual confusion in terms of exactly what the undead outlaws are. The title leaves the implication that they are ghosts but there is nothing ghost-like about their actions – they are regularly downed by standard bullets and, other than their off-screen resurrection, could be standard corporeal gunmen. The problem would seem to be one born of the film’s low budget – that it is easier to show people pretending to be shot down by bullets than having to provide any ghostly optical effects. In the end, the hero abruptly disposes of the ghostly gunslingers by producing a sawn-off shotgun once owned by the head outlaw, which for no particular reason has the power to magically despatch them.
The actors seem to be mostly amateurs – certainly, none of them ever went onto do anything again. Their interactions are played out and directed in cliches. Most of the principal actors play passably but down the end of the cast list there are some extremely bad performances – notably Gerald Stewart and the film’s producer James J. Desmarais as two redneck fishermen with hick accents that are played up to an excruciating caricature. The other lame performance is that of Roland Bishop as the Walkman-head who spends the entire film playing the part as a moron.