Fans of George A. Romero’s work will have him pegged as a serious fan of the macabre; think Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead and, you know, all those other iconic horror films about the shuffling undead. So it may come as a surprise to hear that absolutely no zombies appear in Knightriders whatsoever – this is not a film about good versus evil. It’s about a man versus his own time.
Okay, fine. It’s actually a film about Arthurian knights on modern-day motorcycles – which means there’s absolutely no way Knightriders can be anything short of pure, unadulterated entertainment at its best.
The plot follows Billy (Ed Harris), who has styled himself as “King William”, and his gang of motorcycling knights as they tour with a run-down Renaissance fair. But, while it may seem like these armoured stuntmen are simply putting on a show, it quickly becomes apparent that, when the audience dissipates, they’re living their lives according to the rules of Medieval society. Which, as far as I can see it, means sleeping naked in the woods with a fair maiden or two. So obviously things are going really well, until wannabe-king Morgan (Lahti) rides into town…
… and then it all goes horribly wrong, in all the ways possible. Queen Linet (Amy Ingersoll) hints at infidelity, cops turn up looking for bribes and the threat of bankruptcy looms ominously overhead like a big black money-grabbing crow. Can King William keep his troupe together in the face of impending disaster? And, more importantly, can he keep his dreams for a peaceful Arthurian society alive?
Let’s get the negatives out the way first, shall we? The film is two and a half hours long. It’s TWO AND A HALF HOURS long. That’s a very long time to spend watching a group of biker knights on a half-assed quest against the debt collectors – and, as a result, a lot of filler seeps into the script. There’s also the fact that this film has been made on a limited budget – it’s pretty obvious the armour is homemade and the helmets have been fashioned atop regular motorcycle helmets.
But, to be honest, that doesn’t matter as you find yourself getting drawn into the story. The hokey armour is in keeping with that rough-looking fair, the long timeframe allows for plenty more motorcycle stunts. Think lances, think swords, think maces being shoved in wheelspokes and think “oh no, is that an oncoming truck?!”. Two and a half hours of twisted steel, battered bodies and tangled engines almost isn’t enough.
There’s also the outstanding cast to contend with; Ed Harris plays his character with such conviction that you truly believe, for him, the lines between medieval life and the twentieth century have been blurred. It’s an impossible dream to live out his creative vision, in spite of the demands of reality and the corruption of corporate society, that suggest Romero (another big dreamer on the Hollywood circuit) has based more than a little bit of this character on himself. Throw in a sub-plot about homosexuality between Warner Shook Randy Kovitz, a mini cameo from legendary author Stephen King and a memorably eccentric cast of characters (think Brother Blue as Merlin!) and you definitely have Romero’s warmest, funniest and most personal film to date.