24th Apr2013

‘Knightriders’ Blu-ray Review

by Mark Allen

Starring: Ed Harris, Gary Lahti, Tom Savini, Amy Ingersoll, Patricia Tallman, Ken Foree | Written and Directed by George A. Romero

knightriders

Have you ever heard of Knightriders? Because I sure hadn’t when I got the screener from Phil in the mail. The name’s something of a red herring and made me think that it’d be a hokey TV movie starring David Hasselhoff, but I was pleasantly surprised to find not only that there were no talking cars in the movie whatsoever, but also that it was written and directed by master of horror himself George A. Romero. But even knowing that I’d no idea what to expect, being that the first five minutes of the movie consist of Ed Harris waking up in a forest with a princess, flogging himself in a river and kneeling – naked – in front of his sword before putting on a suit of armour and riding a motorbike back to his renaissance fair/stunt jousters in rural Pennsylvania.

…Yeah, me too. Anyway, getting over the fact that Romero had clearly made a conscious decision to make Knightriders between Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow I settled into the feel of the movie, which is decidedly lighter than most of his other fare, but not without moments of darkness: for every hick line spouted by hoagie-eating hicks (ably played by Stephen King and his wife Tabitha) there’s a mother who gets pranged by a rogue bike; for every sex joke Tom Savini’s pretender to Harris’s throne Morgan makes there’s a heartfelt discussion about the troupe announcer’s confused sexuality; and for every clumsy flirtation between Harris’s Lancelot and a local girl there’s, uh, some uncomfortably-placed domestic violence between her parents that’s never resolved or even mentioned ever again.

So the movie’s not exactly sure what it wants to be, but that’s okay because it has plenty of fun trying to figure that out. Romero’s films have never been know for high production value or spectacular action sequences but Knightriders gives them a good enough go, with ramps, motor-lancing and a pretty ingenious sidecar/chariot-style hand weapon battles actually making for pretty entertaining fare – up to a point.

With a high-concept, low-budget film like this, you’d imagine the shorter the better, and Knightriders’ 150-minute runtime proves your imagination right. King Harris’s court becomes something of a soap opera fairly quickly, with the group falling apart due to outside interests and Ed’s own Arthurian delusions which see him hallucinating and putting his life in danger to protect the ideals he thinks wearing plastic armour and smashing melons with cardboard axes represents.

This was Harris’s first lead role in a movie and he plays King Billy (yep) as straight as a ruler, which is pretty much how the movie sticks together. Regular Romero players Ken Foree and Tom Savini (on top rambunctious form as ever – a bizarre photo shoot involving him and lots of leather is particularly enjoyable) turn up and there’s a great deal of humour to help the chubby pot plod along, which ends exactly as you’d think from the first 15 minutes.

…Well, apart from when (Spoiler alert, but it is 32 years old) King Billy finally flies the coop and kisses the fender of a speeding semi truck at the very end. Seriously. The last scene is his funeral and everyone else moving on to the next town. It’s f***ed up.

So yeah, it’s far too long and is never too sure what its own message is (other than being an analogue for its director’s career), but it’s just enough of an oddity to stay on the right side of charming/interminable. Oh, and the accountant from Jurassic Park is in it as basically the same asshole but ten years younger and equally slimy, which is kind of almost worth the rambling second half. Much like this review.

If you’re a hardcore Romero fan and you haven’t seen Knightriders then you really ought to check this out. If you just want to see what happens when The Once And Future King looks like in leather? Well, I guess it beats Excalibur there.

Knightriders is out on Blu-ray now from Arrow Video.

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