Vinegar Syndrome’s ‘Hell Riders’ (1984) 2k Restoration Blu-ray Review

It’s Vinegar Syndrome time again! For March/April 2020, we were a bit spoiled, getting 4 separate Blu-rays to review from the film restoration company. We started with a review of Vin Syn’s Deadline (1980) 2k restoration DVD/Blu-ray (you can read that review here), and now we’re here with a look at James Bryan’s scenery-chewing romp, Hell Riders (1984).

Hell Riders 1984
Vonegar Syndrome’s Hell Riders (1984) 2k restoration alternative cover art

From Vinegar Syndrome’s Hell Riders page:

Limit 1 per customer.

We are pleased to present the Vinegar Syndrome Archive line, celebrating forgotten cinematic oddities from the video store era. This collection was inspired by our own video store, The Archive in Bridgeport CT, and is designed to be extra appealing and affordable for all local brick and mortar video stores by offering them below market wholesale pricing. Click here to view a list of all participating VSA retailers. Add your store by contacting: james@vinsyn.com.

Unique to this line, each hand numbered limited edition release will come fitted in a specially designed, bottom loading VHS inspired slipcase, featuring the original video art used for the film, while also including a double-sided poster.

These releases will ONLY be available on our website and at participating brick and mortar retailers. Absolutely no other online stores will be stocking them. This release is strictly limited to 3,000 units and will never be re-released in another version. We are allocating 2,500 units to sell here on our website and 500 units to be sold at participating retail video stores (see list).

Also, due to an uncertain release schedule and our mission to support local retailers by offering them extremely low wholesale rates, these VSA releases will not be included in the yearly packages, however, you should have received a coupon in your email.

Hell Riders 1984
Vinegar Syndrome’s Hell Riders (1984) 2k restoration original cover art

Hell Riders synopsis:

The Hell Riders are the most vicious members of a southern California biker gang; so extreme in their activities that they’ve been pushed out of their gang and are now on their own, roaming the countryside on the lookout for people to terrorize. After attacking a stranded woman, who manages to escape to a nearby town, the Hell Riders decide to pursue her, eventually ending up in the town as well and begin violently taking out anyone who has the misfortune of ending up in their bloodthirsty path.

A spectacularly trashy and weird 80s biker film from the exploitation dream team of James Bryan (Don’t Go in the Woods 1981, Executioner Part 2 1984) and Renee Harmon (Frozen Scream 1975, Escape From the Insane Asylum/Night Of Terror 1986), Hell Riders is loaded to the gills with jaw dropping, head scratching, and mind numbing thrills. Featuring Adam West (Batman) and Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island) and co-produced by exploitation legend Lee Frost (A Climax of Blue Power 1974), Vinegar Syndrome Archive proudly presents the world disc debut of Hell Riders, newly restored from its original 35mm camera negative.

Directed by: James Bryan

Starring: Adam West, Tina Louise, Renee Harmon
1984 / 88 min / 1.85:1

Special Features

• Region Free Blu-ray
• Newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm original camera negative
• “Straight to Hell” – an interview with co-writer/director James Bryan
• Original storyboard excerpt gallery
• Limited edition of 3,000
• Double-sided poster
• Reversible cover artwork
• English SDH subtitles

What Works

I would be remiss if I didn’t start off this review with the fact that Adam freaking West is in this movie. Yes, the original Batman is in Hell Riders. No, he isn’t a biker. He plays a mild-mannered doctor who just wants to save his town and get the girl. The girl in question is Tina Louise, better known as Ginger the movie star from Gilligan’s Island. This movie was shot 20 years after the debut of both of those shows, so everyone looks a bit older than we’re used to see them. But really, who cares? Seeing Ginger and Batman beat up bikers is worth the price of admission every time. Of course, the bikers themselves are where all of the action is. When I say, “action,” I mean “cheesy, stereotypically enhanced one-liners and exploitive, ridiculously over-the-top fight scenes that would fit beautifully on the screen of any B movie drive-in.” Hell Riders is like a big ol’ mud pie of Dukes Of Hazzard and Laslo Benedek’s The Wild One (1953), and I mean that in the best way possible.

Hell Riders 1984
The biker priest and his muse, Angel. For some reason, she actually seems to like him.

The characters are certainly memorable, especially the pervy Sheriff (Jerry Ratay: The Executioner Part 2 1984) who talks his future son-in-law, Joe (Frank Millen: Lady Street Fighter 1981), into creeping on his daughter, Suzy (Chris Haramis), while she changes into her waitressing uniform in the restaurant bathroom, and the biker priest who keeps a naked girl he calls Angel (Melanie Scott: Roller Blade 1986) chained to his bike at all times. There’s even a gang member named Bikers, who’s played by an actor named Rent-A-Gang, natch. These guys show how tough they are by injuring themselves on purpose to see who can get the biggest scar. That just goes to show what kind of brains we’re working with here. Not that the townspeople are much better. Everyone in this flick is fried. Tina Louise’s Claire and West’s Doctor Dave are the only ones with nary a brain cell left, and even that’s pushing it. They certainly are fun to watch, though.

The deaths were pretty tame, mostly stabbings and shootings, although there was one guy who died by car hood, which was pretty cool. I love the rocky chase scenes, climactic car jumps and biker gang vs. Doctor Dave dust ups. The whole thing screams ’60s exploitation biker flick. The only thing that could have made it better was a few well places cigarette burns, but I digress.

Hell Riders 1984
Have you ever wondered what Batman would look like trying to flirt? Well, here you go.

What Doesn’t Work

I have no idea if this is true for all copies of Vinegar Syndrome’s 2k restoration Blu-ray of Hell Riders, but in mine, the first ten minutes are choppy and muddled. There was a lot of tearing, analog and TV snow grain and static lines. The sound was also a bit garbled. Knowing the excellent work that Vin Syn usually puts out makes me think that this only happened on my copy.

The Hell Riders gang in full regalia

Final Thoughts

Despite the choppy beginning, Vinegar Syndrome’s 2k restoration of Hell Riders is an excellently cheesy trip through nostalgia and road dust. Note that there is only a Blu-ray included in this release, but the 16.5 x 22″ reversible poster showing both versions of the cover artwork is gorgeous and more than makes up for it. The hokey dialogue and General Lee-esque car jumps are worth the price alone. Be sure to grab your copy of Hell Riders since Vinegar Syndrome is only offering 3,000 copies and, as of this writing, they are down to just over 500. You won’t regret it!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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