A medieval reenactment troupe, favouring motorbikes over horses, present a travelling show. Their group starts to fall apart under pressure from the police and financial restraints, not to mention mounting tensions within the group.
On the surface, this seemed a surprising follow-up to Dawn Of The Dead for George A. Romero. However, it does share something intrinsic to his zombie films - just as they deal with the breakdown of society, so does Knightriders in its own way. In microcosm, Romero examines the various relationships throughout this group and how they untimately lead to divisions.
In his first lead role, Ed Harris is the troupe leader "King" Billy, fighting off competition for his role as leader as well as resisting all attempts to commercialise the venture. The rival for his crown is the show's "Black Knight", Morgan, as played by Tom Savini who, as well as being an effects maestro was already an experienced actor. Morgan is all too ready to take the corporate dollar, and a split of some kind seems inevitable. Various underlying plot lines dig deeper into the relationships and loyalties between the troupe members.
Ultimately, whilst Knightriders is quite heavy going in places (probably best enjoyed in two halves), it also has plenty going for it. Its main issue is that, even in this 146 minute cut, it feels like so much is going on and so much has been crammed in character wise, that it jostles for space with the action taking place in the jousting arena. However, it's never less than interesting to watch. Occasionally brilliant, occasionally frustrating, I get the feeling that this was a very personal film for Romero, and anyone fascinated with the world view of his other work will find much to enjoy.
Blu-Ray Notes: Arrow Films' BD release adds an insightful commentary from Romero, Savini, John Amplas, Christine Romero and Chris Stavrakis, along with interviews with Savini, Ed Harris and Patricia Tallman. It's a nice transfer, which occasionally shows up some extra grain from optical frame zooming but is otherwise consistently impressive (one of Arrow's best so far). The soundtrack reproduces dialogue and Donald Rubenstein's pleasing score crisply.
PURPLE RATING: 6.8/10
USA 1981 - United Film Distribution/United Artists
Certificate - 15 (UK), R (USA)
Blu-Ray/DVD: Arrow Films (UK), Shout! Factory (USA - due November 26, 2013)
Original Theatrical Trailer: