Helmet Cool: Dark Rider (1991)

Dave dishes up another serving of AIP goodness, with this stunt-laden, small-town surprise.

“Hackneyed dialogue and a droopy narrative” said TV Guide, but you have to give the perennial publication some credit for devoting five-hundred words to an AIP production. They’re wrong obviously, as Bob Ivy’s small town vigilante film that’s been doused in a liberal dose of Western tropes, makes for a satisfyingly diverting watch.

This is the sole directorial outing for Ivy, the in-demand stuntman who fell in love with falling over as a kid when he sat hypnotised studying the daredevilry in early movie serials. Entering the business with small screen gigs like The Dukes of Hazzard, he eventually became the go-to stunt guy for Fred Olen Ray, David A. Prior and Don Coscarelli.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Ivy shoehorns his peers into DARK RIDER, with roles for David ‘Shark’ Fralick, Frank Torres, and risk-taker supreme John Stewart, who all combine to tick every box on the stuntman agenda. It’s Doug Shanklin who’s the star though, giving off young Chuck Napier vibes in the role of Jim Wilson: a sheriff who’s informed by the town’s Mayor (Cloyde Howard) that Desert Springs is about to be flattened by developers wanting to run a new freeway through it. But Wilson’s a smart cookie, and after the arrival of Mr. Sandini (Joe Estevez) and his two goons (Fralick and co-writer Chuck Williams), it becomes clear to him that this is an ambitious ruse to cover up a potentially litigious toxic waste spill.

Before you can say ‘Buford Pusser’, Dark Rider takes an unconventional twist with Wilson hot-tailing it out to his secret lair in the desert to don his crime-fighting wares: a motorbike, bulletproof leathers, and a voice modulator to maintain his disguise. “It looks like we underestimated the Sheriff,” says a weary Sandini – although I’m not entirely sold on this angle. As Wilson’s sister-in-law, Dani (Holly Floria), remarks in the final reel: “Thank God it’s you! But what’s with the outfit?”

Recondite rider aside, this AIP cut is good enough for it to register in the top tier of David Winters-David A. Prior co-productions. Its ninety-five minute runtime is a tad flabby, but any film that can boast an ecological conscience and blend it with anti-corporate activism deserves a place in all our hearts.

USA ● 1991 ● Action ● 95mins

Joe Estevez, Doug Shanklin, Chuck Williams, Duane Whitaker ● Dir. Bob IvyWri. Bob Ivy, Chuck Williams

Artwork courtesy of http://www.vhscollector.co.uk

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