As an actor appearing in a handful of features directed by Al Adamson, Greydon Clark found himself in the right training grounds as far as the art and technique of making independent, low budget exploitation movies. By the early 1970s, Clark would find himself directing and sometimes producing and writing B-level efforts aimed specifically for drive-ins and grindhouses, something he would continue to do well into the 1990s. VCI (who had previously released DVDs of the Clark fan favorites SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS and BLACK SHAMPOO) now salutes the man with a “Greydon Clark Drive-In Double Feature,” a pair of flicks from the 1970s, presented here with a surprising amount of extras.
In HI-RIDERS (1978), young, attractive blonde couple Mark (Darby Hinton, WITHOUT WARNING) and Lynn (stuntwoman/actress Diane Peterson) cruise up and down Van Nuys Blvd. looking for thrills. Scamming a pudgy, temperamental drag racer named Billy (Roger Hampton) with an on-purpose loss, their second race results in a win, but he takes off without paying up the stakes. Wanting to recoup their winnings, Mark and Lynn end up at the hangout (actually the Paramount Ranch) of Billy’s car and bike racing gang, The Hi-Riders, which they learn is lead by the level-headed T.J. (Wm. J. Beaudine), whom they become very friendly with. When T.J. picks up a cute waitress (Karen Fredrik, NIGHTMARE CIRCUS), it’s a foursome made in heaven. But trouble brews for the Hi-Riders when one of their drag exploits accidentally claims the life of a local rich kid; his powerful father (familiar TV character great Stephen McNally) comes looking for vengeance with his rifle-toting redneck cronies.
A film driven by wild races and over-the-top stunts (so much so that 29-year-old stunt coordinator Vic Rivers lost in life during the shoot), HI-RIDERS has plot similar to your average 1970s motorcycle picture and it was obviously trying to cash in on the hot rod movie craze of the late 1970s, which even the major studios had latched onto. The young cast is energetic and appealing, but as usual Clark casts a number of veterans in small but impressive roles to even things out. The venerable Mel Ferrer (BLOOD AND ROSES) is the unexpectedly upright sheriff, while Ralph Meeker (who seems a bit sloshed delivering his lines) is his suspiciously shady deputy. A restrained Neville Brand (at least when compared to other exploitation films he appeared in at the time) plays an uptight barkeeper known as Red. Dean Cundey (who would later shoot a number of John Carpenter’s cult films) provides the Todd-AO cinematography, and the soundtrack is padded with a number of Dave Mason non-hits as well as David Essex’s 1974 top ten smash “Rock On.” The ending provides a few twists and another doozy of a car crash stunt performed by Diane Peterson.
Shot in 1972 and released under a different number of titles until it was picked up by Dimension Pictures in 1976, THE BAD BUNCH (aka NIGGER LOVER) which uses footage from what is credited as Clark's first feature: MOTHERS, FATHERS & LOVERS. Co-written by Clark and frequent collaborator Alvin L. Fast (EATEN ALIVE), Clark himself is cast as Jim, who as a soldier in Vietnam, sees his African American friend blown to bits. Returning home from the war, Jim visits the Watts home of the late friend’s father so he can deliver his last letter, but is faced with violent opposition by his radical brother Tom (Tom Johnigarn, SWEET JESUS PREACHER MAN) who is all about Black Power, reinventing himself as “Makimba.” As Tom gauges his feelings towards his sweetheart Nancy (Tom Johnigarn, aka Jackie Taylor, Clark’s wife) and whether he wants to settle down with her or not, continuing hostility is brought on by Makimba and his small radical gang, as well as two stubborn cops so racist that that their banter makes Archie Bunker’s impertinent remarks look like the moral lessons of Mr. Rogers.
A sort of blaxploitation film that blends social messages with gratuitous T&A, THE BAD BUNCH bears what turns out to be a “what goes around comes around” premise and is entertaining in its own right. Shot entirely on location in L.A. (showing off everything from the streets and people of Watts to a psychedelic head shop still stuck in the 1960s), the Afro-centric effort is carried by Clark’s performance, as well as a colorful cast of characters (both good and terrible actors) providing support. Clark’s penchant for casting old Hollywood actors is in check with the duo of junk food scoffing plain-clothed cops played by former stuntman (and occasional Shemp-era Three Stooges sidekick) Jock Mahoney and the incredible scene-stealing Aldo Ray, here on a downhill tread of appearing in nothing but exploitation pictures. Ray is convincingly over the top in his ultra bigoted part, delivering his lines with such an unmatched gusto that he’d be cast in similar roles a few more times throughout the remaining years of his life.
Although she’s passive during the skinny dipping pool party scene, Bambi Allen is cast as Jim’s second lover, a job-seeking carefree hippy chick always ready and willing to jump in the sack. Allen was an incredible presence in sexploitation films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and she was known for keeping her long dark red hair in pigtails and flaunting her silicone enhanced bust to the lip-smacking horndogs who couldn't resist. Sometimes cast in R-rated biker films (including several directed by Al Adamson) and often using various pseudonyms, here she not only charms us as would-be exotic dancer Bobbie, but has two great topless scenes and looks amazingly sexy wearing nothing but pink panties. Why Allen isn’t more of a cult figure (at least she should be in the same vernacular as Rene Bond) is beyond me, but we do know her life was cut short when she died of cancer in 1973 (not long after this film was shot) at the age of 34.
Both HI-RIDERS and THE BAD BUNCH arrive on DVD with serviceable transfers courtesy of VCI Entertainment. Opening with the Dimension Pictures logo, HI-RIDERS is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The film looks fairly good with adequate colors, with several scenes looking a tad too dark and occasional softness. The mono audio has some scratchy parts, but nothing too severe. THE BAD BUNCH is presented in a letterboxed 1.85:1 aspect ratio (non anamorphic) and looks pretty sharp with nice colors and detail, and only limited amounts of grain. The mono audio is without any noticeable defects. Both print sources rarely display any dirt or debris.
The double feature set has been furnished with a number of welcomed editions, first and foremost, audio commentaries from Greydon Clark for both films. Clark is a joy to listen to and really has a knack for giving solid commentaries without the aid of a moderator. He has an impressive memory for names, faces, locations and all other details, giving his recollections about the guerilla filmmaking approach that went into these two productions, and his observations are often scene-specific. Clark is back for a video interview (14:17) in which he talks about his early days as an actor and screenwriter, meeting and becoming involved with Al Adamson, and how he got into making his own movies. "An Interview With Diane Peterson and Darby Hilton" (28:42) is another video segment that has the HI-RIDERS co-stars reunited and all-smiles as they enthusiastically recall the making of the film, the dangerous stunts involved, and their interaction with the cast and crew. Peterson and Hilton also appear in “Once a H-Rider, Always a Hi-Rider” (3:02), a car-themed shorter featurette. Fleshing out the supplements are trailers for SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS, BLACK SHAMPOO and MASTERS OF THE GRIND, which looks to be a fascinating new documentary on exploitation filmmakers. For more about Greydon Clark, don't hesitate to check out www.greydonclark.com. (George R. Reis)
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