If you’re an exploita­tion film fan and you haven’t explored the work of Greydon Clark, you real­ly ought to do so.  He churned out a string of inter­est­ing low-bud­get flicks dur­ing the 1970’s and 1980’s that dis­tin­guished them­selves by exploit­ing more than one trend or gen­re at once.  For instance, Joysticks cross­es the ear­ly 1980’s video arcade fad with the teen sex com­e­dy and Satan’s Cheerleaders mix­es the cheer­lead­er-themed t&a jig­gle­fest with witch­craft-themed hor­ror.

One of the most unique gen­re-ben­ders in the Greydon Clark fil­mog­ra­phy is Hi-Riders.  This ami­able quick­ie com­bi­nes the car/van cul­ture gen­re that was pop­u­lar in the mid-1970’s with the bik­er flick and also adds in a dol­lop of the Macon County Line-derived “south­ern dis­com­fort” flick.  The fin­ished pro­duct isn’t as bril­liant as that mix of gen­res might sug­gest but it does deliv­er the goods by work­ing its way through all man­ner of exploitable con­tent.

Hi-Riders kicks off with car-crazy cou­ple Mark (Darby Hinton) and Lynn (Diane Peterson) get­ting stiffed by hot­head­ed rac­er Billy (Brad Reardon) after they out­run him in a drag race.  They chase him down the next day, only to end up in the lair of his car club, the Hi-Riders.  Thankfully, Mark and Lynn prove them­selves by beat­ing him in anoth­er race and are accept­ed into the group by their lead­er, T.J. (William Beaudine, Jr.).  The group adjourns to a near­by small town to indul­ge in a bac­cha­na­lian bar­rage of drink­ing, rac­ing and canoodling.

Unfortunately, things take a turn for the trag­ic when Billy chal­lenges a local to a drag race that ends in a fiery crash for both men.  The town­ie vic­tim in the crash was the son of the town’s res­i­dent wealthy con­trol-freak, Mr. Lewis (Stephen McNally).  He swears vengeance and sends out a pos­se of gun-tot­ing hench­men to wipe out the gang.  Lots of chas­es, stunts and crash­es ensue.

This story­line cov­ers a lot of exploita­tion-flick bases and Clark does an admirable amount of work to ensure they’re all cov­ered.  His script hits the ground run­ning, cram­ming sev­er­al race and/or ‘chick­en’ sequences into the first half.  The film’s stop-on-a-dime shift from sleazy good cheer into a more dra­mat­ic, tense style is achieved with gut-punch effec­tive­ness.  He also dis­plays a good ear for quotable trash-talk dia­logue.  On the down­side, the plot­ting stum­bles a bit near the end (a head-scratch­ing moment arrives when the heroes pause for a lakeside roman­tic inter­lude despite know­ing they are being pur­sued by thugs).  However, the finale deliv­ers a few more fun plot twists and a bravu­ra final stunt that caps the pro­ceed­ings with an excla­ma­tion point.

Hi-Riders also boasts a strong cast for a low-bud­get vehi­cle.  Hinton, who would lat­er star in the soft­core pay-cable sta­ple Malibu Express, makes a like­able lead and Peterson (who was bet­ter known as a stunt­wom­an) makes a quick-wit­ted roman­tic foil for him.  Beaudine does solid work as the lead­er of the Hi-Riders and his qui­et­ly charis­mat­ic work makes it sur­pris­ing that he didn’t star in oth­er dri­ve-in fare.  As was usu­al­ly the case, Clark rounds out his cast with some famil­iar names for the sup­port cast:  Mel Ferrer does typ­i­cal­ly pro­fes­sion­al work as the small town’s sher­iff while Neville Brand cameos as a griz­zled bar­tender and Ralph Meeker steals a few sce­nes as Ferrer’s boozy deputy.

However, a car-chase flick lives and dies by two things: the stunts and the visu­als used to cap­ture them.  Thankfully, Hi-Riders deliv­ers strong work on both fronts.  The stunts were chore­o­graphed by Vic Rivers, who trag­i­cal­ly died doing a final stunt at the shoot’s end, and they deliv­er the tire-screech­ing goods (the best is a truck-off-a-bridge crash that recalls Race With The Devil).  All the action is beau­ti­ful­ly lensed by Dean Cundey, who also shot Halloween for John Carpenter around the same time.  Cundey uses the scope for­mat to beau­ti­ful effect, wring­ing max­i­mum pro­duc­tion val­ue from the scenic California loca­tions and fram­ing the car footage for max­i­mum excite­ment.

Ultimately, Hi-Riders doesn’t quite qual­i­fy as a top-tier Clark exploita­tion opus (that hon­or goes to The Bad Bunch and Joysticks)… but it’s pret­ty damn close and def­i­nite­ly worth a look for any fan of 1970’s exploita­tion.  It packs a few trends’ worth of exploita­tion into a tidy 90-min­ute run­ning time and this com­bo-plat­ter approach ensures it’s got some­thing for any­one into this era of dri­ve-in fare.