Retro Review: Knightriders
George A. Romero took a break from his Zombie trilogy to make this movie about a motorcycle gang of Live Action Role Players. And I watched it. You’re welcome.
With his Night/Dawn/Day of the Living Dead movies, George A. Romero claimed his niche as the go to source for low budget zombie scares. Apparently Georgie really likes being a niche director. If you’ve been to a renaissance fair, you’ve probably seen LARPing in action. But probably not on bikes. With a new interpretation of King Arthur due in one month, we decided to take a look at all things Arthurian. And what better way to kick things off than with Knightriders: a movie that imagines Camelot still lives… in rundown fields… in rural Pennsylvania.
King William (Billy to his friends) runs a traveling troupe of Knights. They travel the land, performing medieval tournaments, but with a twist: all of the Knights ride motorcycles instead of horses. Not all is well in Billy’s (Ed Harris) kingdom, however. The troupe barely makes enough to get by, and this pinch is compounded by corrupt police officers threatening to shut their show down if not adequately bribed. Billy’s Knights are a fractious bunch, and tempers routinely flair. Especially Morgan, the resident hotshot and Black Knight of the group. The Queen has eyes for Alan, Lancelot to Billy’s Arthur. To top things off, Billy is having Knightmares (hehe) about a black raven, an ill omen that portends Billy’s defeat and possible demise. You know, the standard small business problems.
Billy’s dream of a modern day Camelot attracts a diverse cast of characters, and it is the movie’s best aspect. Some are in it for the ideals, others for the fame, and almost all are adrenaline junkies. They all come with their own personal baggage and it is in the exploration of these societal outcasts that the movie achieves depth. Pippin is the troubadour who is perfectly fine making outlandish announcements, but struggles with coming out to his friends. Rocky is the lone female Knight and both she and grease-monkey Angie struggle with their own concepts of femininity amidst all the gasoline soaked machismo. Merlyn (Brother Blue) is the troupe medic, and retreated to this lifestyle to escape a society that would lynch him as soon as look at him. Lastly we have Julie, who flees her abusive, alcoholic father by running away to be Alan’s groupie.
It is in these character studies that the film find’s a pearl of earnestness amidst the medieval lunacy. They fight and fuck and curse at one another, but they come across as kin, brothers and sisters in their escape from mainstream society. The vibe of Billy’s Camelot is that of a bulwark against a world that has abandoned the high ideals of the sixties in favor of cold hard cash. The faded glory of their cause in the face of capitalism is the backdrop for the war between Billy and Morgan.
This could have elevated Knightriders to something special. Alas, Romero hamstrung this film in two glaring ways.
Knightriders is waaaaaaay too long.
At two and a half hours, this movie is ponderous. It takes the above character study and swerves into a navel-gazing ditch with it. All the action and copious nudity (don’t worry, it’s mostly Ed Harris) in Knightriders couldn’t keep my interest going. Thank goodness it was available for free on VUDU, because I had to watch this film in three discreet sessions to finally get through it.
What do LARP swords and this movie have in common?
They have no point! You’d think at two and a half hours this movie would at least find the time to wrap things up in a way that makes sense. You’d be wrong. Alan decides he loves the Queen, and dumps Julie back with her abusive dad. Hooray for Chivalry! Morgan gets a lucrative deal to save the troupe, becomes king, and rips up the deal. For reasons. Finally, Billy meets a knight flying a black raven sigil, defeats him in combat… and gets hit by a truck. WTAF?
Camelot… ’tis a silly place.
This movie is much ado about nothing. The characters are likeable (Even Morgan), but the writing fails them. The plot is earnest, but facile and meandering. At the end of the day, I just can’t recommend this movie. Watching it would be a fools errand.