DEATH RIDERS follows the Death Riders Motorcycle Thrill Show as they traverse the United States over the course of 1974. Based out of Danville, Illinois (only crazy folks live in the Land of Lincoln), this destruction demonstration was the brainchild of Floyd Reed, Sr. No doubt he sat a home one day and thought, “Demolition derbies don’t do it for me. I know what we need: fire!” Seizing on the 1960s mondo documentary trend, the film opens with a onscreen graphic stating it is dedicated to the stunt performers who died over the years doing the various stunts you are about to see. If that isn’t salacious enough, they then list each performer, the stunt that caused their death, and the date of their demise (some dating back to the 1940s). Ouch. DEATH RIDERS lets you know right up front, this is as real as it gets and you are going to see the real life of a caravan of thrill seekers.
We get our first knowledge of the Death Riders thanks to a monotone voice over by young performer/narrator Larry Mann. He lays out the group’s philosophy right away as they “aren’t like the stuntmen you see on the TV or in movies. We all do our own stunts with no tricky gimmicks, no rehearsals, and no special safety precautions. That’s the way we like it.” This plays over a clip of stuntman Danny Reed doing a car flip that freezes in mid-frame as the title DEATH RIDERS thrusts toward the audience while the Death Riders theme song by rockabilly singer Dorsey Burnette blasts (“Death Rider. I didn’t need to learn how”). Damn, this is gonna be good. We then get a sequence of a car on fire jumping up a ramp and smashing into another car. Yeah, this is gonna be awesome.
Larry informs the audience that the Death Riders show is different because “most of the guys are only 17 or 18 years old.” Ah, reckless child endangerment, another great 1970s staple. Of course, he says, the best part is staying alive so you can meet all the single chicks afterward. As Danny Reed puts it, “a single guy has it made.” The young ladies are just a distant memory soon as the group heads out to their next location in their bright yellow vans with the Death Riders logo painted on the side. We get to see them set up the ramps and pyrotechnics for the show at a fair while Reed, Sr. hires on young rookie Bob Spears. “You just joined the show? I feel sorry for you,” says lanky Russ Smith aka Squeeks the Clown. Squeeks is there to provide comedic relief and keep the audience occupied during ramp set ups. He even gets in on the stunts, like lying on the hood of a car while it bursts through a wall of fire. Poor Squeeks.
Jim’s back and tell him to stay away from motorcycles.” Ah, the 1970s indeed. $50 says that doctor was smoking a cigarette while he dispensed his advice. The group then visits as nudist colony where the People Jump gets the added thrill of being the Naked People Jump as the song “Sunny Side Up” plays. As if that weren’t scary enough, the doc juxtaposes that with a visit with Claire Reed, Floyd, Sr.’s mom. She is quite approving, saying of the show, “I don’t think much of it.” Well, Floyd, Sr. shows her by having Danny a dangerous stunt that he flips end-over-end which causes her to pass out. I guess that wasn’t enough so then he does the Mr. TNT bit where he gets in a box and is blown up. How you like me now, grandma?