After years of dominating the midnight circuit with the likes of Night of the Living Dead, Martin, and Dawn of the Dead, George A. Romero took a departure from bona fide horror films to make this naturalistic tale of a t... more »raveling troupe of motorcycle-riding jousters. (Think Hell's Angels on Wheels goes to the Renaissance Faire.) While this may sound ludicrous on the surface, the film emerges as a powerful character study. When the success of their jousting tournaments--in which armor-clad bikers go at each other with real lances for the entertainment of county fair crowds--attracts the attention of bigtime promoters, creeping commercialism threatens to spoil their delicately constructed Camelot. The troupe is a mirror of King Arthur's court, complete with its King (Ed Harris), Merlin (Brother Blue), and Morgan le Fay (Tom Savini). Only they ride motorcycles, and try to knock each other off with maces. Ed Harris turns in a topnotch performance as Billy, the focus of the film, who goes progressively nuts as it becomes apparent he's losing his grip on the troupe (unconsciously playing out the final days of Camelot). Knightriders is thoroughly engrossing during the jousting tournaments and whenever Ed Harris is onscreen, but is less successful in-between, when toeing the line of the Arthurian Legend makes the film too mannered. And at 145 minutes, the film could have been trimmed a bit. But why cavil when presented with the spectacle of Ed Harris spinning slowly out of control? Watch for a cameo by Stephen King himself, playing a spectator debunking the jousting tournaments as "all fake," through ample mouthfuls of his hoagie. --Jim Gay« less
"Back in the 1970's, George A. Romero went to an event of the Society for Creative Anachronism This is a group of folks who study and recreate the middle ages, including the art of combat. At this particular event, something happened that caused a large faction to split off and form Medieval Studies and Restoration, a splinter group. According to legend, Romero said to himself "I gotta make a movie about this!" He went to the sudio heads, but they did not think such a film would have commercial viability. Then in a fit of pique he said "allright, supposing we have them joust on motorcycles?" and that's how the movie got made.The story of this movie is about a travelling renaissance faire that jousts on motorcuycles. There are two factions, one that is doing it for the Arthurian dream of honor and chivalry, and one that is doing it for the action and the money. The group fractures, but the splinter group winds up realizing that they were missing something, and there is a reconcilliation at the end. People who know the real people from the SCA and MSR and the original events can see similarities in some of the characters and situations on screen to the real people and events.I had known this movie from this perspective for years. Reading the other reviews here, its good to know it can be taken on more levels, even if you don't know the original story. I find that it can be enjoyed both by people who take it seriously and for camp appeal. There are several story elements that were typical for '70's road movies, such as the troubles with the law, the local girl who joins the group to escape her family, and so forth. The action is not the greatest of all swordfighting movies, but is passable. For flat-out motorcycle/automobile thrills, nothing beats "The Road Warrior" but the stunts here are at least well done and convincing. The meaning and spirit behind this film elevate it above an ordinary action film."
Great B-Movie with a fine performance by a young Ed Harris
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 09/22/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I discovered this film during the early days of HBO, when the mix was blockbusters and movies the networks did not want. George A. Romero's 1981 film "Knightriders" falls into the latter category. This is about a group of free spirits who combine a Renaissance Faire with knights in armor jousting on motorcycles between the good knights and the bad knights. It quickly becomes apparent that the personas of the main characters follow those of the legend of Camelot: the King (Ed Harris), Lancelot (Gary Lahti), Merlin (Brother Blue), and Mordred (Tom Savini), along with a Genevieve, Galahad and even a Friar Tuck thrown in for good measure. After all, this is a symbolic retelling of the tale and if you want to take it literally you are going to be left behind in the dust.At the beginning there is a good-natured rivalry between the "good" knights and the "bad" knights. The rules of the kingdom say if Mordred and his black clad gang defeat the King or his champion, there will be a new king. However, there are cracks beginning to show in this idealized world. Crooked sheriffs want a cut of the take, the jousts are starting to get out of hand, crowds are becoming unruly, and then a group of promoters come in and want to take over the group. This exploitational commercialism breaks the group apart until they all see the error of their ways. The game has to be played out by the rules, no matter what the outcome.The heart and soul of this film is Ed Harris as Billy, who takes the fable too seriously. Ultimately this curses his character as much as it ennobles him. Billy's "defeat" is proof of his final victory, that the code he believes in is valid and the world he has created will work, even without him. Unfortunately, Billy can not survive for long in the real world, for he really does see himself as a knight on a white charger and reality does not look kindly on such flights of fancy. The final scene of the film, a series of shots of the characters in the rain, is quite moving.Everybody pretty much agrees the film runs long, which makes it something of a hard sell to newcomers, and if you do not find living out a medieval life while jousting on motorcycles for paying customers particularly romantic then you should probably pass on "Knightriders." Certainly it is a different type of film from the guy who brought you "Night of the Living Dead," but you have to admit both films deal with how people deal with a reality that do not like being forced upon them. "Knightriders" is a solid B-Movie, with more heart and soul than you usually find in such things. Even though this is one of his earliest films, Ed Harris provides the dignity that allows the story to be constructed on his character. Not many actors could have pulled this off. The action sequences are pretty creative given the situation, especially is you like choppers. The romantic elements are mere subplots, more echoes of Camelot than anything else. I have a fondness for this film. It is not great, but it is enjoyable and the point it makes is rather worthwhile. How many films today can you say that about?"
One for the B Movie Hall of Fame
Theo Logos | Pittsburgh, PA | 05/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Occasionally, I discover a B movie that is so off the wall, so cleverly quirky, and so perfectly original that it earns a place in my imagination and in the ranks of my favorite films. `Knightriders' is such a film. After the briefest of runs on the drive-in theater circuit, it moved directly to late night airings on Cinimax in the early `80s, and there earned a small cult following. Now, with this fine DVD presentation, this odd B movie masterpiece should continue to garner new fans. `Knightriders' tells the tale of a troupe of odd ball outsiders and their low budget traveling Renaissance fair. The main event in this fair is a genuine jousting tournament between armor clad knights mounted on motorcycles. The troupe is composed of a mismatch of hippie types who dig the romance of the medieval mythos, and adrenalin junkies who are only in it for the bikes and the action. The figure who holds them all together is King Billy (Ed Harris), the group's founder and star, who is driven by an obsessive, nearly messianic vision of the importance of their endeavor. The group's idyllic existence starts to fall apart as financial difficulties and trouble with red neck police play havoc with their ability to continue, and they start to split between those who are committed to the purity of King Billy's vision, and those who want to pursue a more practical and commercial direction for their show. A final showdown between those knights loyal to King Billy and the rogues led by Morgan the Black Knight (Tom Savini) who want to go commercial with their act, is decided by a winner take all grand martial competition between the cycle mounted knights. Ed Harris plays King Billy convincingly as a driven dreamer swiftly descending into obsession approaching the edge of madness in his desire to preserve his vision. Tom Savini takes a turn in front of the camera and proves that he is not only a master of FX gore, but a pretty fair actor as well in his role as Morgan, leader of the rogue knights. Brother Blue plays Merlin as a jive/blues medicine man dispensing wisdom and first aid. Fans of director George Romero, who are familiar with his Living Dead franchise will recognize many of the players here as well who have had roles in numerous Romero zombie flicks. The cinematography in `Knightriders' is surprisingly well done, as B movies are not usually known for their great camera work. It is filmed beautifully, taking full advantage of the scenic landscapes of Western Pennsylvania, where director Romero does most of his work. The commentary track that comes with this DVD is great fun as well. Director Romero, Tom Savini, and others simply chat over the film, having a good time as they informally tell stories and remember the fun they had as they were making it. Listening to them, you get the feeling that you are sitting in a den sharing their beer as they laugh over old times. `Knightriders' runs a tad long, but that is the only gripe I have with it, and not enough to dock it a star. It belongs in the B movie hall of fame and in your collection as well.
Theo Logos "
A Must for anyone into Arthurian or Celtic Mythology!
Leelan P Lampkins | 04/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Knightriders" is the best attempt by any filmmaker to get the spirit and flavor of Arthurian chivalry on the screen! I have been reading books on Arthur and Celtic mythology for well over twenty years. It seems impossible for me to get enough. I will read it or watch it - whether it is history, criticism or fiction. In that time there have been more than a few disappointments and out-right stinkers. But Romero gets it right!I began watching the film with strong misgivings. Knights on motorbikes??? Hippies in period costume in the '80's? PUHLEASE! I did not have a good feeling about it. But the story and the actors drew me in! I could not immediately draw the parallels to any of the story cycles, but the spirit was there! Was it ever! As the story progressed I knew where it had to go. But it was not boringly predictable. Everything was just RIGHT. I was so engrossed by the end that Billy's final scene sent me leaping from my chair and shouting at the top of my voice! How many movies have done that to you?I have the VHS and now the DVD. I am unashamed to tell you that I have had the latter a week and have watched it twice!Buy it NOW forsooth! Thou wilt never regret it."
A quite extraordinary film from George A. Romero.....
Grigory's Girl | NYC | 01/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This, quite possibly, may be my favorite of Romero's films. I adore Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but this one is quite special and is a complete surprise, even to Romero's hardcore fans. I remember renting it a while back because it was by Romero (and it is pretty long, 145 minutes, and I love long films). Many reviews simply stated that it was "a change of pace" for Romero, and yes, this is true, but they missed the depth and substance that this film has. It is Romero's most moving film, completely heartfelt and sincere, one that, should I say this, stirs the soul. Romero elicits incredibly naturalistic performances from his cast. It's made up of Romero regulars, including Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead, and Tom Savini, makeup artist extraordinare and a surprisingly good actor here. It also stars a then unknown Ed Harris, who Romero discovered. Ed shows his intensity and power early on. You really feel like you're watching real people and their travelling show. Nothing feels phony, smug, or "ironic" here. The final 20 minutes is the most stirring thing that Romero has ever done (with the best scene in a school where Ed Harris gives his sword and helmet to a young school boy he met earlier in the film. The kid's performance is wonderful in a film filled with them). So, this film is much more than just a change of pace for George A. Romero. It's a deeply moving, sad film, one that should be appreciated not only for its change of pace (which Romero succeeds wildly), but for its deep, humanistic message. A wonderful piece of filmmaking....