Knightriders


2h 25m 1981

Brief Synopsis

A company of entertainers perform at country fairs in jousting tournaments, wearing armor, riding on motorcycles and using maces to knock each other off the choppers. The troupe parallel the knights of the court of Camelot in many ways, and their leader, Billy, is their King Arthur. When their act g

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1981
Location
Pennsylvania, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 25m

Synopsis

A company of entertainers perform at country fairs in jousting tournaments, wearing armor, riding on motorcycles and using maces to knock each other off the choppers. The troupe parallel the knights of the court of Camelot in many ways, and their leader, Billy, is their King Arthur. When their act gains the attention of big promoters, it looks like commercialism will change the team they have created, and Billy becomes undone at the idea of losing his "Camelot."

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1981
Location
Pennsylvania, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 25m

Articles

Knightriders on Blu-ray


Three years after the success of Dawn of the Dead, George Romero stepped out of his defining genre to direct something more unexpected. Based solely on the film's original poster, painted by famed fantasy illustrator Boris Vallejo and featuring Ed Harris striding a motorcycle in medieval armor, handlebars in one hand and a spiked flail in the other, you might expect Knightriders to fall in line with the Roger Corman drive-in genre of futuristic barbarian movies, an upscale Deathsport with a middle-ages theme.

Romero's film couldn't be farther from it. Knightriders does indeed offer riders in suits of armor over tunics and tights, jousting on motorcycles and battling with swords, maces, ornate axes and other ancient weapons, but it's part of the spectacle they provide for local audiences with their traveling Renaissance Fair. To the crowds it's just a show but for this community of cycle-riding gypsies and old-school artisans and craftsmen, it's a good-natured competition undertaken in the spirit of their Arthurian inspiration.

The screenplay echoes the King Arthur legend but stops short of attempting to recreate it in literal form. Ed Harris took his first leading role as Billy, the benevolent king of the troupe and an idealist who aspires to the chivalric code in the modern world. He created this scruffy nomadic community and struggles to hold on to his singular vision as the troupe grows. The supportive Merlin (Brother Blue) is the troupe's medical doctor, a man who dropped out of the traditional medical culture to be a healer, shaman, storyteller, and Billy's most trusted advisor. You can pick out a Guinevere in his Queen Linet (Amy Ingersoll) and a Lancelot in the loyal Alan (Gary Lahti), the heroic and handsome right-hand to Billy, but there is no betrayal of vows between them. There's a Percival in the silent Native American local (Albert Amerson) who challenges Billy during an exhibition and then becomes his devoted shadow and protector. There is even a fall of their Camelot in the form of the temptation of money and fame, which draws out a faction of riders led by Morgan (Tom Savini), the resident black knight who undertakes every competition with a little more competitive aggression and physical gusto than most.

But the parallels only go so far and the members of the troupe bring their own flourishes to this communal ideal. Morgan is a gearhead rather than a romantic who joined for the rush of the jousting. He has no investment in the Arthurian ideals and the joke around the campfire is that he took the name Morgan without realizing that in the Arthurian tales it was the name of a sorceress. Yes, the macho Morgan took the name of a girl. And there's a blacksmith named Little John (Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead) and an advance man who becomes their Friar Tuck, a happy hedonist who distills his own wine. It's not a matter of adding the Robin Hood legend to the story, simply members of the community bringing their own flair to the mix.

This Camelot is a sixties holdover, an alternative commune as travelling medieval tent show and fairground spectacle, and Billy is the inspiring leader and the moral rock that centers the group. He recalls another Billy that rode into theaters the year before, Clint Eastwood's Bronco Billy, who led a group of dreamers in a travelling wild west show. This Billy is more devoted to his vision of the court of moto-knights and the ideals of the code and he can be unbending and at times fanatical, which takes its toll on the individuals who joined this collective ideal for reasons of their own.

Just as important as the individual personalities and motivations within the group is the social dynamic they create together. This is the most naturalistic ensemble of Romero's career and they have a rapport that confirms their communal identity through the competition on the field and the teasing in the down time. They hold out for an ideal of justice and fair play in a world of corruption, greed, and racism, but they also negotiate the practical world of fairground permits and insurance waivers and medical coverage, the legal details that allows the show to go on. Romero sometimes fudges the safety details and decisions for the sake of dramatic flashpoints, but he's committed to keeping them firmly in the material world where making accommodations to modern society is a matter of degree where opinions differ.

It's all accomplished on a low budget and Romero is true to the scope of the story. The stunt work is excellent but down to earth, executed with a mix of circus showmanship and gearhead sportsmanship. Getting rough is part of the deal, but it's all in fun. For all the medieval throwback of clashing swords, suits of armor and knights on motorbikes, however, Knightriders isn't a fantasy. It's a modern film about the difficulties of sustaining an idealistic alternative to the material world - sixties values meeting human nature in the modern world - and that story plays out on a more intimate, human scale in scenes between the shows, where Romero explores the dynamics of idealists in the real world with affection and admiration. Nothing lasts forever, but the film's greatest affirmation is the embrace of an evolving ideal and the effect it has on everyone who respects it.

The Blu-ray debut is quite beautifully mastered with vivid color (it brings out the rich greens of the forest scenes that set the idyllic tone of the film) and a clean image with only minor signs of wear. It features the commentary track recorded by director George Romero, actors Tom Savini, John Amplas, and Christine Romero, and carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD released over a decade ago. It plays out like a kind of reunion moderated by film historian Chris Stavrakis, stronger on stories and reminiscences and softer on production details, but enjoyable company nonetheless. Also carried over is 8 minutes of vintage footage of the motorcycle stunt riding, shot on home video cameras of the era so it's low fidelity quality. Mostly it offers alternate angles on scenes viewed in the movie.

New to this edition are three new video interviews. Ed Harris, modest as always, notes that it was only his third feature and has fond memories of the production, noting the gypsy unit became a community not unlike the community seen in the film. It turns out that Harris learned to ride a cycle for an episode of CHiPs. Tom Savini recalls his long association with Romero, both as a special effects artist and an actor, and notes that he was tournament fencer from college, a skill he was able to bring to his character. Both interviews are under ten minutes, while the new George Romero interview runs 17 minutes and takes us through the film from its inception (as a drama built around more traditional Renaissance Faire setting) through the production and release. He says it remains his second favorite of his films, a close second to Martin.

By Sean Axmaker
Knightriders On Blu-Ray

Knightriders on Blu-ray

Three years after the success of Dawn of the Dead, George Romero stepped out of his defining genre to direct something more unexpected. Based solely on the film's original poster, painted by famed fantasy illustrator Boris Vallejo and featuring Ed Harris striding a motorcycle in medieval armor, handlebars in one hand and a spiked flail in the other, you might expect Knightriders to fall in line with the Roger Corman drive-in genre of futuristic barbarian movies, an upscale Deathsport with a middle-ages theme. Romero's film couldn't be farther from it. Knightriders does indeed offer riders in suits of armor over tunics and tights, jousting on motorcycles and battling with swords, maces, ornate axes and other ancient weapons, but it's part of the spectacle they provide for local audiences with their traveling Renaissance Fair. To the crowds it's just a show but for this community of cycle-riding gypsies and old-school artisans and craftsmen, it's a good-natured competition undertaken in the spirit of their Arthurian inspiration. The screenplay echoes the King Arthur legend but stops short of attempting to recreate it in literal form. Ed Harris took his first leading role as Billy, the benevolent king of the troupe and an idealist who aspires to the chivalric code in the modern world. He created this scruffy nomadic community and struggles to hold on to his singular vision as the troupe grows. The supportive Merlin (Brother Blue) is the troupe's medical doctor, a man who dropped out of the traditional medical culture to be a healer, shaman, storyteller, and Billy's most trusted advisor. You can pick out a Guinevere in his Queen Linet (Amy Ingersoll) and a Lancelot in the loyal Alan (Gary Lahti), the heroic and handsome right-hand to Billy, but there is no betrayal of vows between them. There's a Percival in the silent Native American local (Albert Amerson) who challenges Billy during an exhibition and then becomes his devoted shadow and protector. There is even a fall of their Camelot in the form of the temptation of money and fame, which draws out a faction of riders led by Morgan (Tom Savini), the resident black knight who undertakes every competition with a little more competitive aggression and physical gusto than most. But the parallels only go so far and the members of the troupe bring their own flourishes to this communal ideal. Morgan is a gearhead rather than a romantic who joined for the rush of the jousting. He has no investment in the Arthurian ideals and the joke around the campfire is that he took the name Morgan without realizing that in the Arthurian tales it was the name of a sorceress. Yes, the macho Morgan took the name of a girl. And there's a blacksmith named Little John (Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead) and an advance man who becomes their Friar Tuck, a happy hedonist who distills his own wine. It's not a matter of adding the Robin Hood legend to the story, simply members of the community bringing their own flair to the mix. This Camelot is a sixties holdover, an alternative commune as travelling medieval tent show and fairground spectacle, and Billy is the inspiring leader and the moral rock that centers the group. He recalls another Billy that rode into theaters the year before, Clint Eastwood's Bronco Billy, who led a group of dreamers in a travelling wild west show. This Billy is more devoted to his vision of the court of moto-knights and the ideals of the code and he can be unbending and at times fanatical, which takes its toll on the individuals who joined this collective ideal for reasons of their own. Just as important as the individual personalities and motivations within the group is the social dynamic they create together. This is the most naturalistic ensemble of Romero's career and they have a rapport that confirms their communal identity through the competition on the field and the teasing in the down time. They hold out for an ideal of justice and fair play in a world of corruption, greed, and racism, but they also negotiate the practical world of fairground permits and insurance waivers and medical coverage, the legal details that allows the show to go on. Romero sometimes fudges the safety details and decisions for the sake of dramatic flashpoints, but he's committed to keeping them firmly in the material world where making accommodations to modern society is a matter of degree where opinions differ. It's all accomplished on a low budget and Romero is true to the scope of the story. The stunt work is excellent but down to earth, executed with a mix of circus showmanship and gearhead sportsmanship. Getting rough is part of the deal, but it's all in fun. For all the medieval throwback of clashing swords, suits of armor and knights on motorbikes, however, Knightriders isn't a fantasy. It's a modern film about the difficulties of sustaining an idealistic alternative to the material world - sixties values meeting human nature in the modern world - and that story plays out on a more intimate, human scale in scenes between the shows, where Romero explores the dynamics of idealists in the real world with affection and admiration. Nothing lasts forever, but the film's greatest affirmation is the embrace of an evolving ideal and the effect it has on everyone who respects it. The Blu-ray debut is quite beautifully mastered with vivid color (it brings out the rich greens of the forest scenes that set the idyllic tone of the film) and a clean image with only minor signs of wear. It features the commentary track recorded by director George Romero, actors Tom Savini, John Amplas, and Christine Romero, and carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD released over a decade ago. It plays out like a kind of reunion moderated by film historian Chris Stavrakis, stronger on stories and reminiscences and softer on production details, but enjoyable company nonetheless. Also carried over is 8 minutes of vintage footage of the motorcycle stunt riding, shot on home video cameras of the era so it's low fidelity quality. Mostly it offers alternate angles on scenes viewed in the movie. New to this edition are three new video interviews. Ed Harris, modest as always, notes that it was only his third feature and has fond memories of the production, noting the gypsy unit became a community not unlike the community seen in the film. It turns out that Harris learned to ride a cycle for an episode of CHiPs. Tom Savini recalls his long association with Romero, both as a special effects artist and an actor, and notes that he was tournament fencer from college, a skill he was able to bring to his character. Both interviews are under ten minutes, while the new George Romero interview runs 17 minutes and takes us through the film from its inception (as a drama built around more traditional Renaissance Faire setting) through the production and release. He says it remains his second favorite of his films, a close second to Martin. By Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring April 10, 1981

Released in United States April 1981

Released in United States Spring April 10, 1981

Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) April 2-23, 1981.)