"It's tough to live by the code. I mean, it's real hard to live for something that you believe in." - Billy
Director: George Romero
Writer: George Romero
Principal cast members:
If the eventual failing of the film King Arthur was in how much it removed from the original Arthurian legend, this George Romero B-movie from 1981 is a cautionary tale of what happens when you try to add too much. Telling the story of a wandering troupe of motorcycle-riding jousters and renaissance fair castoffs, it is a cliché-ridden banquet of cheese - a description which is not only a criticism, but the one saving virtue that makes it worth watching.
Knightriders is the story of a band of middle-ages re-enactors who travel around putting on jousting competitions with motorcycles. Led by renowned actor Ed Harris in one of his earliest movie roles, this band attempts to live by a code of chivalry in a traveling counterculture sideshow that entertains far more than it really should.
Most of the elements of the Arthurian legend are here, hidden behind a somewhat dated façade of hippie/gypsy community. Harris' character of Billy is the Arthur figure while his significant other, Linet, is the Guinevere model. Gary Lahti's Alan is the Lancelot figure - admiring and championing the king while struggling to live up to his code. Brother Blue is the cryptic mystical advisor, Merlin, and the bad guy within the fold, essentially a combination of Mordred and Morgan Le Fay, is Tom Savini's Morgan.
Harris does a good job of being troubled and frustrating as this band's leader. He sets an impossibly high standard for his troupe and is so focused on his ideals that he fails to enjoy the semi-fame and fun they are all having. Alan is loyal to his boss, but privately as troubled by Billy's behavior as his fellow knights. Gary Lahti is engaging and believable in this role, though the sub-plot involving his romance with a townie girl is so utterly cliché-ridden, it weakens his performance. The townie girl, played by Patricia Tallman, is such a caricature it is hard to like her.
Naturally, one of the more enjoyable characters is the bad guy, Morgan. While Morgan clearly takes liberties with the code Billy wants them to follow, in the end he is more a realist. He wants to capitalize on the troupe's growing fame and make something of it. While his direction is sleazier, his common sense is almost admirable. Tom Savini has a wonderful dark charm that makes him appealing in this role. Best known as a special effects master and bit player in Romero's other works, he does a capable job here in a principal role.
In the end, however, this truly is a B movie. The concept is fascinating and fun and very entertaining to watch for awhile. But Romero tries too hard to present a real morality tale and in the end, it takes so long for it all to unfold with Billy's mystical ramblings and strange sort of vision quest, we start to actually lose interest.
At the same time, it is hard to find any other movie out there that offers anything as cool as motorcycle sidecar jousting. The melees between the riders armed with axes, maces, and polearms are just outstanding fun to watch. The action seems utterly realistic and there is no doubt more than a few stuntmen suffered for their art with bruises and broken bones.
The jousting scenes also feature a fun cameo with author Stephen King and his wife, Tabitha, as local yokels sitting in the crowd. How fun is that?
The IMDB resumes of most of the cast and crew are knee-deep with zombie flicks so it is no surprise that this film sometimes looks a little cheap and amateurish. But Ed Harris clearly shows the skills as an actor that we would come to expect from his later career and the stunts are enormously entertaining. There are worse things to watch while downing a tub of buttered popcorn.
Coolness factor: 7
Overall entertainment: 6