I recently received a blu-ray copy of the 1981 George Romero film Knightriders having never seen or even heard of the movie. What I discovered was an entirely unique genre of film that was quite interesting. George Romero is probably best known as the father of the zombie movie genre but in this film he went in an entirely different direction and did a great job of it. Here’s the general plot of the movie: A traveling Renaissance Faire roams the roads of Pennsylvania riding from town to town to stage medieval jousting tournaments with riders in suits of armor brandishing lances, battleaxes, broadswords. Only instead of horses all of the knights ride motorcycles. This isn’t just a show for the members of the court; to them this is their life and they are part of a modern day Camelot. As such, they live by a strict code that rules their existence. The primary characters we follow in this film are King William (played by a very young Ed Harris) and the Black Knight Morgan (played by Romero favorite Tom Savini). After the group gains a lot of attention they are approached by a TV executive to make them a huge sensation. King William (or Billy, as he goes by in most of the film) is strongly against this type of behavior and goes so far as to refuse signing autographs for children because he wants no fame and just has love for the lifestyle. Morgan feels restricted under King William and decides to leave with some of the members and start his own kingdom, but starts to see the real corruption of the corporate world. Ultimately, both men realize there can only be one king and a final showdown between the long-time loyalists and the corporate-sponsored knights ensues.
It’s kind of hard to describe this movie; I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The group’s attention and dedication to detail makes the medieval parts absolutely beautiful. For most of the movie you forget this takes place in modern era and then suddenly we see the reality around their Camelot and are reminded of the contemporary influences they must face. It seems clear to me that Romero is making a statement about our culture again. Just as Dawn of the Dead was a commentary on consumerism Knightriders is commenting on corporate influence; maybe even filmmaking itself with the idealist independent filmmaker in Camelot and the interference in that purity by the studios. Ed Harris does an amazing job in the role of King William. He tries to stick to the code and keep his group together even if it costs him mentally and physically. You really want to see him win. Savini probably gives his strongest performance ever as Morgan in a very interesting choice none of the supporting cast are “throwaway” characters. Each member of the court has their own character development and story arc. This all lead to a very poignant ending where we learn about staying true to yourself, keeping your word, and most importantly: honor.
This movie is definitely not for everybody, but I think most would enjoy it. Some of the violence is pretty extreme, especially in the jousting matches. There is some brief nudity and strong language but none of it ever seems gratuitous or takes from the story. The movie does run a bit long at 2 and a half hours but I cannot imagine what could possibly be removed. Interestingly enough, this film crosses genres in a way that I think it would appeal to fans of medieval films, dramas, and action films like Mad Max equally. As I stated before, I had never even heard of this movie but can’t imagine why it was not more successful. It’s definitely worth a watch if for nothing else but to see Romero step out of the horror genre and take the helm of something entirely unique.
As far as the blu-ray transfer I must state that this is where the film really shines. The movie is so clear, sharp, and vibrant that you could easily believe it was filmed today. There is none of the inherent graininess that comes from older releases. The sound is excellent with the blend of music, dialog, and noise (such as loud motorcycles) keeping everything on a balanced setting.
- Conscience of the King With Ed Harris – Ed Harris reflects on how he became involved with Knightriders and the pleasure of working on the film with George Romero.
- Code of Honor With George Romero – George dives into many details about the production of Knightriders, Morgan Freeman’s strange audition, and more.
- Memories of Morgan With Tom Savini – Savini goes into his excitement of being able to take on such a big role in a film, how everyone involved worked as a family unit, and more.
- Behind-the-Scenes – The Stunts of Knightriders
- Trailer and TV Spots
- Audio Commentary – featuring George Romero, Tom Savini, John Amplas, Christine Romero, and film historian Chris Stavrakis.
Knightriders is available from Scream Factory on November 26th
Fun Tidbit: In the first tournament the spectator eating a sandwich in the audience is a came by horror writer Stephen King