Blu-ray Review: Knightriders (1981)

Knightriders BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: George A. Romero

Starring: Ed Harris, Gary Lahti, Patricia Tallman, Amy Ingersoll, Tom Savini, Ken Foree, Christine Forrest, John Amplas, Martin Ferrero, Scott H. Reiniger, Joe Pilato, Stephen King

Having become known as a horror director – which isn’t surprising considering his main body of work until that point consisted of Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies, Martin and Dawn of the Dead – in 1981 George A. Romero changed direction and made Knightriders which, despite using many of the same cast members as his zombie films, features no gut-munching, bullets to the head or severed limbs. It does, however, feature grown men dressed as knights and knocking each other off motorbikes with very long poles.

Billy (Ed Harris – The Rock) is the leader of a troupe of motorcycling jousters who travel around the country performing battles. Calling himself King William, Billy lives by a strict code of conduct as he plays out his Arthurian fantasies but his overpowering manner doesn’t play well with his colleagues as the outside influences of the modern day begin to creep in. Facing competition for his crown from fellow rider Morgan (Tom Savini – Machete Kills/Creepshow), unwanted attention from a corrupt local cop and autograph hunters, Billy begins to lose his grip on reality as his delusions begin to take over and threaten the camaraderie of the troupe.

Knightriders often gets called a ‘personal drama’ – personal because it’s obviously a labour of love for George A. Romero, but it is quite difficult to see who this film is aimed at because mainstream audiences aren’t going to queue up and pay good money to see a film of about medieval reenactments played out on motorbikes, hence why the film has been largely forgotten since its initial release. However, this is Romero and once you scratch beneath the surface there are plenty of sub-plots and social commentaries to keep your attention from waning, from the obvious police interference and anti-corporate stance to more subtle comments like the cameo from Stephen King, who appears in the crowd at one battle claiming it to be fake and the action set-up for effect. An early comment on the banality of reality entertainment? Doubtful at the time but looking at it now it adds a little something extra.

Boasting a stellar cast of Romero regulars, including Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Patricia Tallman, Joe Pilato and Tom Savini, who gives a strong performance in what is probably his most prominent role at that point, Knightriders is also notable for featuring Ed Harris in his first leading role, and what an intense performance he gives. Harris would go on to work with Romero again in Creepshow the following year in a smaller supporting role but here he really carries the film and shows why he became the highly regarded actor he is today.

So we have an odd but no less intriguing plot, a solid cast with some very good performances and some quite remarkable stunt work but the big gaping flaw with the film is the running time, which clocks in at an epic 147 minutes and it really doesn’t need to. However, once the main plot is underway it flows long quite nicely and although the pace drops here and there it never quite commits the crime of being out-and-out boring.

Arrow have done a particularly sterling job with the Blu-ray transfer, the picture being very crisp and the colours vibrant, adding a certain warmth which marks Knightriders as standing out from most of Romero’s other works, especially from that period. Commentaries are courtesy of Romero, Tom Savini, actor John Amplas and Christine Romero, plus there are interviews with Savini, Ed Harris and Patricia Tallman, trailers, booklet and reversible sleeve with new and exclusive artwork so there’s plenty of material to make this the definitive edition of an obscure and slightly bizarre film from one of genre cinema’s most respected and divisive filmmakers.

Knightriders

Special Features: Audio commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, John Amplas and Christine Romero, The Genesis of a Legend interview with Ed Harris, A Date with Destiny interview with Tom Savini, Medieval Maiden interview with Patricia Tallman, theatrical trailer, TV spots, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nat Marsh, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Brad Stevens, an archival interview with Romero and a new interview with composer Donald Rubinstein, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

UK Release Date: 22nd April 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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One thought on “Blu-ray Review: Knightriders (1981)

  1. Pingback: DVD Review: Sweet Vengeance (2013) | Ancient Slumber

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