When RIDERS stormed the Earth


Shoot. Where has 2016 gone, dearest readers? (Some of you would no doubt reply, “To hell.” We feel you but respectfully disagree. Continue…) C-U Blogfidential plans to close out December with a mad posting dash to cover a few topics we allowed to slide; after all, the semi-dreaded 2017 arrives on Sunday! Per a Confidential Almanac entry from earlier this year, the B-movie studio Crown International Pictures issued the documentary DEATH RIDERS in regional release 40 years ago, beginning the Independence Day weekend of 1976. This James Wilson-directed picture follows the entrepreneur Floyd Reed, Sr., and his Death Riders Motorcycle Thrill Show as they travel and perform during a 1974 summer tour. Photographed by Wilson and the late Vilmos Zsigmond in the vein of Bruce Brown’s famous sports films, THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1966) and ON ANY SUNDAY (1971), a dusty palette and copious slow-motion emphasize the terrible Midwestern beauty of motor vehicles being hurtled into the air or through walls of fire by mostly teenage young men. Certainly a product of its era, DEATH RIDERS hit easy obscurity once America’s bicentennial “car culture” phase, defined by everything from CONVOY and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT to GRAND THEFT AUTO and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, had burnt out. VidAmerica released a prerequisite VHS way back in 1985, after which the film’s sole digital home video release has been a spot on the out-of-print 2010 collection by Mill Creek Entertainment, “Savage Cinema,” packed with 11 other drive-in and exploitation flicks that hail mostly from the Crown catalog. Rights have apparently moved to Lionsgate as one can now watch a clean transfer of DEATH RIDERS at membership-based Amazon Prime as well as the studio’s free-to-view YouTube channel “Lionsgate Unlocked;” we embedded the latter stream right here for your convenient retro enjoyment! [It seems the Lionsgate stream has been deleted in the six weeks since we posted this article. A static shot it will be, then. – ed.] CUBlog looks fondly at this curiosity given that Reed, a Danville native, based his stunt team operation in his home town while booking a decade’s worth of public and television appearances; a fairground track in nearby Cayuga, Indiana, played host to their practices and local performances. It is unclear how much of the footage in DEATH RIDERS was captured in either location, although a stunt gone wrong is placed at Cayuga via voiceover and the city of Danville is thanked in the end credits, or whether the finished film even played theatrically in the area. (Your humble editor sat for several hours total at the Champaign County Historical Archives and combed through six months of Urbana Courier and Daily Illini editions, ending at Christmas ’76, without finding a single ad mat or press piece for it.) We hope to someday revisit the Death Riders and the Reed family in order to detail this wild footnote in east central Illinois cultural history. Be sure to come calling when we honk our death-defying horn!

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. As we’ll discuss in the coming weeks, ephemera outside of local media coverage is not so easy to come by regarding the movies of Champaign, Urbana, and the cities beyond. Yet, we have been slowly collecting marketing materials for both the live Death Riders and movie DEATH RIDERS by casually searching eBay every now and then. When we have a good excuse to share our bounty, we shall!

p.s.2 Below is a piece we have yet to land – the Crown one-sheet poster for DEATH RIDERS – and we can’t wait to hang this bad boy in the Secret MICRO-FILM Headquarters when we do. Ye Ed considers it the most striking artwork he’s seen to date that was created to advertise a movie du C-U. He also advises us to advise you that, for once, his opinion on the current subject matter is not humble.

[Updated 2/9/17, 6:45 p.m. CST]


Comments closed.