When most people hear the name George Romero they immediately think of the zombies. The walking dead of his films have made this writer-director famous in the history of the horror genre. His films were more than just horror flicks, they each were satirical looks at modern society cloaked in brain eating monsters. While the ‘Dead’ series of movies comprise the vast majority of his work they are not the entire portfolio. Romero, like most imaginative people felt the need to explore other means of expression and made a few non-zombie flicks. The one under consideration here is Knightriders. Made in 1981 this film concentrated on a group of people who wanted to revive the high ideas of Camelot. There are no monsters here, no lumbering creature out to eat your brain or infect you with their undead fate. In this film all the drama derives from all too real human emotions and conflict. ‘Knightriders’ looks at the modern world through they eyes of an updated version of the Arthurian legends. While the fundamental premise is intriguing the execution is not up to the standards that Romero has set for himself throughout his illustrious career. This is best seen as an experiment for Romero. Like many such experimental cinema you should give credit for the attempt at something different even if the results are less than successful.
The film was originally released to DVD by Anchor Bay back in July of 2000. Now, under the new corporate name of Starz / Anchor Bay they are releasing the title. As of this writing the old version is still listed as out and available. Considering this new release appears to be exactly the same I suspect that the old version will soon be discontinued. This is a re-branding rather than a true new release. While not the best Romero has to offer it is still entertaining and worth watching. You will probably see more of this re-branding in the not so distant future.
The plot of the film is concentrated on a group of bikers that travel around the country. Instead of terrorizing the public they put on shows. They have the persona of medieval knights. In place of the fine steeds they use motorcycles. They joust and fight for the entertainment of the people in whatever town they visit. To the members of the troupe this is not just an act they present to the public. They started out genuinely wanting to revive the honor and righteous lives of the knights of King Arthur’s day. They live their parts even when off the clock so to speak. The take on names and attributes of the men and women of these legends although they mix Arthur with Robin Hood and most of the other famous stories of medieval times.
The troupe is headed by King Billy (Ed Harris). He tries his best to rule the group in the image of fairness and open discussion of King Arthur. Among his knights is one that would take the throne from him, Morgan, played by regular for Romero films, Tom Savini. Morgan is a younger and a much better fighter than Billy. The King has barely been able to prevail in combat and hold on to his reign. One of Billy’s staunchest supports in Alan (Gary Lahti) who is instrumental in helping Billy retain his position. Billy’s queen is the lovely Linet (Amy Ingersoll). In the first scene of movie they awake in a forest naked. Billy goes into a lake to wash himself while Julie prepares his armor and their crowns before they take off on a motorcycle.
Initially life seems idyllic for the traveling band of bikers. They work in their camp, which looks like any little hamlet in Arthur’s time. Men prepare the lances for the joust, making little cuts to ensure they will snap rather than kill. Things begin to change when Morgan defeats Billy in one the jousts and Billy is injured. The reigning king begins to feel that his time in charge is coming to an end. Morgan solidifies his own base of power when they troupe is approached by a profit minded agent who ensures them they can make it big and gain fame and fortune. Billy feels that this is completely opposite of the honorable code they live by. Soon the troupe breaks in half, those who want the money following Morgan and the idealist staying with Billy and Alan. Naturally it all leads up to a reunion and showdown to determine the future of the knightriders.
Clocking in at just over two and a half hours this is one of Romero’s longest films, I think even the longest. Most of his zombie flicks are in the 90 minute range, a much better format for him. The film could have used a tighter editing. Romero paces things alright; there is always some action when the film begins to drag too much. It is just that some of the scenes go on a little too long. The first act suffers from this the most. Romero is at his best when things get moving. In his other flick that was simple, a group of people see zombies, the zombies give chase and the people try to hide. Here he had to allow more time to get to understand the characters. One good point in this area is Romeo just has them accept the situation. There is really no need to go into why they all gathered together other than the initial common ideals. Like his other films this one offers a social commentary. This is the age old battle between ideals and commercialism. Usually it is a performer who loves music and sells out but in this flick the message is more sweeping. Romero cuts between slow downtime between jousts and the action. They real message comes about organically with the introduction of greed infiltrating the troupe ruining the idyllic setting the first act establishes. The cinematography here is stunning, the best of any Romero films. For a film costing very little to make this is amazing well done.
Ed Harris is one of my favorite actors to watch. I really can’t think of him giving a bad performance even in a less than stellar film. He gives one of the best performances of the film with this role. He somehow seems kingly and goes a long way to sell his character. Tom Savini. May be best known as an actor and make up supervisor for many of the Romero flicks. He deports himself very well here Morgan. It is not so much that he is portrayed as a villain; Savini portrays him more as a man who wants to be realistic with regards to his future. The chemistry between him and Harris is great to watch.
Starz / Anchor Bay do well with the technical specifications of the DVD. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is bright and nearly flawless. Considering the age of the source material the color palette and tonal balance is excellent. The original mono sound track was remixed to a fairly nice Dolby 2.0 mono mix. There is a commentary track featuring George Romero, Tom Savini and film historian Chris Stavrakis and occasionally Christine Romero. It is a bit technical in nature but there is some behind the scenes gossip to be had. The only other extra is about fifteen minutes of some home movies in lieu of a making of featurette. This is a must have for the die hard Romero fan and worth while for anyone looking for an interesting flick.