Schlock producer Bud Fleisher teamed with Vic Alexander to deliver the western ghost story slasher Devil Rider. Now on Blu-ray for the first time from Culture Shock, this long-forgotten gem can be reappraised for fans of simple but creative independent horror. It’s not an award-winning film, but it’s a fun run with a solid A/V presentation and a nice collection of bonus features. Worth A Look
A century ago, a group of homesteaders and prospectors were brutally gunned down by a madman (Tag Groat). When the law caught up to him he was appropriately dispatched to the grave for his crimes. Now as city folk yuppie land developer Tom (Rick Groat) brings his best gal and pals to the land as an investment opportunity, the murderous spirit of the madman, the Devil Rider has returned to kill and protect what was his.
I’ll ride out onto the range and say that no, Devil Rider isn’t a great movie, but it is a fun one and the concept is far better than its final execution. The biggest issue holding back the film is there’s no sense of pacing to build suspense and terror. With some rather flat cinematography, our titular devil rider appears and bad things just sorta happen. The cast does what they can to sell Bud Fleisher’s dialog and give Vic Alexander’s scenery some sense of urgency, but it just doesn’t fully come to life. There are moments where the blood and guts saves the flick, but there are also a lot of scenes of our ghostly antagonist is just staring in through windows peeping in on the voluptuous ladies. As titillating as that may sound, it also drags the pace to a snail's crawl.
Now to speak positively of the flick, I really enjoyed the concept. There are damned too few Western/Horror hybrids out there and it feels to me like the Old West is an untapped mine of potential. Western Vampires! Western Ghosts! Western Zombies! Bring ’em all! I really enjoyed how the film played out and structurally it’s sound. We’re introduced early to the Devil Rider as he knocks off a homesteader claiming the land is his. Then he blows away some prospectors parked on “his” river. When the law catches up to him, they have a devil of a time killing the bastard complete with a curse from beyond the grave! It’s a solid opening and practically perfect setup for the spooky slasher horror to come. Unfortunately, the rest of the film just doesn’t punch playing to expectations and is ultimately unable to overcome its low-budget origins. It’s an amiable effort and there are some truly fun horror setups that give genre fans some payoff for sitting through the show.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Devil Rider travels the dead country with a new Blu-ray release from Culture Shock and Vinegar Syndrome. If you order from Vinegar Syndrome you score a some slick custom slipcover artwork. The disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Despite its video store rental origins, Devil Rider scores a rather impressive 1.85:1 with an alternate 1.33:1 transfer sourced from a new 2K scan of the original negative. Between the two, I gotta say I preferred the 1.33:1 framing. For low-budget rental and late-night cable fodder, the 1.33:1 just feels more “right” somehow. For those who don’t like them pesky pillar-boxed black bars, the 1.85:1 is quite something all its own. Details for both aspect ratios are terrific with a natural grain structure. Colors can be a little hot, whites are a little over-crisp, but overall they’re in good shape. Black levels don’t get a lot of play until late in the film, but they’re fairly close to true black without any cumbersome crush issues to speak of. The biggest hold-back of this transfer is the age-related speckling, scratches, and some blue-ish speckles that flitter about occasionally. None of that is going to keep you from enjoying the flick, but they’re notable all the same.
This release also comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that does its best to keep up, but it’s a bit iffy. You can clearly tell that many scenes didn’t record any on-set sound and dialog and effects were dubbed in later. For these moments dialog can sound a little heavy-handed with a little rubber-lipped syncing to complete the illusion. Sound effects can also sound a bit crispy and crunchy in places as well with a tinny quality. It’s to be expected for a film of this sort, thankfully there isn’t any hiss or other issues to speak of.
Culture Shock continues the good work of delivering these lost and forgotten treasures with a meaningful assortment of bonus features. While there isn’t a ton here the cast interviews are great and the 75 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage is well worth looking through if for no other reason than you can see that this project labor of love.
Fans of old rental shop direct-to-video fodder have another forgotten treasure to check out with Devil Rider. While it certainly won’t pass as the greatest feature film ever made, it’s an amiable effort with a smart concept that simply needed a bigger budget to pull off. Not amazing, but entertaining! Thanks to Culture Shock and Vinegar Syndrome, Devil Rider gallops onto Blu-ray with a fitting A/V presentation and a fine collection of bonus features to pick through. Worth A Look