While Romero's career has had its ups, downs and dry spells, he's always had a fertile imagination that has worked well over a number of films a few varied genres. In many cases you have to buy in to what Uncle George is selling. In most cases, it's not that hard. In the case of Knightriders, Romero seems to be out to show that he can make a very different kind of movie than most of those that have preceded it. He's done such things before, of course. 1971's There's Always Vanilla certainly doesn't qualify as horror and 1972's Season of the Witch, while certainly containing scary elements, isn't truly a horror flick either. Hell, his 1974 TV Documentary O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose is only scary in hindsight, am I right?
However, with Knightriders the audience is asked to buy in to something that's a little hard to chew. This is possibly because this movie about Motorcycle Riders in a Camelot-style traveling show dressing up in Shining Armor and jousting for thrilled spectators is just too close to reality to really feel like anything but reality. Demented and sad Nerd Land reality, but reality nonetheless. It takes a big stretch of the imagination to not feel like the characters on the screen are really just fanboys waiting for the next Dungeons and Dragons game or Tolkien convention.
That goes especially for their fearless leader and fearful king, "Billy Davis" (AKA: "Sir William the Knight", played by Ed Harris). This guy takes this life of chivalry and rivalry incredibly seriously to the point that he regularly offers up soliloquies on living for what he believes in and following "The Code". Clearly that code involves ramping bikes and racing hilbillies while wearing tights and feathers. Does that wear a little thin in a film that overall feels like a mix between Timerider and The Sidehackers? Not throughout the entire run time, no, but when Billy catches wind of the modicum of hero worship following him around out there and he responds with "I'm not trying to be a hero! I'm fighting the dragon!" all serious like I wanted someone to give him a shrink's business card.
Clearly it wears a little thin for his "Subjects", who range from the Evel Knievel type to the leather mug maker at the renaissance faire type. That goes especially for his main rival Morgan the Black Knight, played by a buff Tom Savini. Morgan declares himself the "Next King" and will do what he can to take the crown, even if it includes starting a Camelot of his own.
That goes whether the rest of the crew likes it or not. See, you've got Queen Linnet (Amy Ingersoll, whom we see naked), a lady who would follow Billy anywhere. Then you've got the resident pretty boy Alan (Gary Lahti) whose chivalry manages to grant him the rights to see Patricia Tallman's Julie naked (yes, Babylon 5, fans, if you haven't seen Knightriders yet, it's high time!). You've got Tuck (played by John Hostetter) who... I don't know what he does aside from wise cracks and lame disco moves. Then there's Rocky, the lesbian Joust champ played by Cynthia Adler and Pippin, the gay announcer, played by Warner Shook and finally the Angie, the mechanic played by Christine Forrest, (Romero's wife) who is torn between her love for Morgan and loyalty to Billy.
Not enough actors in that paragraph? Well renowned storyteller Brother Blue turns up in his only film role as Camelot's Doctor Merlin. Martin Ferrero eventually slithers on screen as the sleazy agent Joe Bontempi. Reporter Sheila Farrow (Amanda Davies) travels with him and plays an integral role in the plot, but I'm mainly mentioning her because she's briefly naked. Even Scott H. Reiniger and Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead show up in small parts and to top it all off there are cameos by Stephen and Tabitha King.
Romero is the unseen star here and his attempt to make a film different from the rest of his library is a success and still feels effortless. He takes full advantage of his camera here, taking in the scenery and colors very well while still handling the action scenes very well. It's hard to forget, though, that he's shooting a script he wrote about grown men on motorcycles dressed up like medieval knights with colorful plumes flowing from their oversized helmets. It's sort of like having dinner at "Medieval Times" with the Hell's Angels filling in for the usual armored cast.
That's not to say it's a bad movie. It's not. The performances are pretty darned good, and the film feels professional, especially seeing as how this was an independent film. Further, this does feel different from Romero's other work. There is a moderate level of violence, but nothing like his Zombie flicks. Hell, if Uncle Lucio had directed this, there'd be a zombie attack just after the jail sequence. The small amount of blood is tasteful. Although only credited as an actor the "Home Movies" documentary does show Tom Savini mixing up some of his tried and true fake blood for maximum realism. It's just very hard to take this one nearly as seriously as the characters seem to, especially when Billy (or anybody else) goes on a sanctimonious, screaming soapbox about "The Code".
Donald Rubinstein's score is an interesting mix of flute and trumpet-rich Renaissance-evocative King Arthur Fanfares and modern themes with just a sprinkling of rock and roll to spice it up. Though it can be repetitive and, at times, trite, it's a successful accompaniment in most cases.
Any way you slice it, it took courage to make such a strange and different film with obvious pitfalls about being taken seriously and to make it any good probably took a George A. Romero. I'll give it Three Stars out of Five. Remind me to tell you some time about the fat college dudes who used to make Armor out of stolen street signs and would brain each other at the openings of any vaguely "Knight" oriented film opening. Although we thought it was hilarious to see the 310 pound president of the Audio Visual club sliding across the polished mall floor with a mace in one hand and a Yield sign on his back while grumbling curses, now that I've seen Knightriders I realize that all he needed was a Motorbike to make him cool. Silly me. See you in the next reel.
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