Knightriders (1981)

George A. Romero

Ed Harris - Billy
Gary Lahti - Alan
Tom Savini - Morgan
Amy Ingersoll - Linet
Patricia Tallman - Julie
Christine Forrest - Angie
Warner Shook - Pippin
Brother Blue - Merlin

Year - 1981

Score - 3 Howls Outta 4

If you want to watch a great zombie movie, you pretty much go to one director: George A. Romero. Romero has pretty much invented the zombie sub-genre with his 1968 classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, his even better 1978 masterpiece DAWN OF THE DEAD, his underrated 1985 DAY OF THE DEAD, and his very good 2005 LAND OF THE DEAD. With a new film out on DVD [DIARY OF THE DEAD], Romero is still captivating audiences by using zombies and the humans who have to battle them as metaphors and analogies for his social commentary on the world.

But Romero hasn't always directed zombies or horror films like his 1982 anthology-film, CREEPSHOW. Romero has tried his hand on non-horror, although to much lesser success financially. One of these films is 1981's KNIGHTRIDERS, which is a take on the King Arthur legend and the fall of Camelot but in modern times. Starring a young Ed Harris in his third film, KNIGHTRIDERS was barely a blip on the box office radar but has managed to create a somewhat small cult following ever since its released 27 years ago. Is it Romero's best? No. But it's definitely a film that mainstream film viewers should try and check out because it's an extremely well made low budget film. Just don't expect Michael Knight and the Knight Industries Two Thousand to be anywhere near this movie.

A group of travelling performers who dress up as knights and anything else medieval related joust on motorcycles and do serious stunt work to entertain small crowds across the country. The group is led by Billy (Ed Harris) who is idealistic and believes himself to be a modern knight. Others like Morgan (Tom Savini) feel as if they should be King and could do more with the troupe. While attracting crowds with their action jousts, the troupe's popularity begins to grow to the point that they're actually idolized in magazines. While the group is happy about their success, Billy is less so and feels that fame would only ruin his values and ideas for the group. It gets worse when a promoter offers the group lots of money in exchange for arranging larger events to entertain bigger crowds. Billy wants nothing to do with it, but Morgan and a few others feel that they have every right to money, security, and the fame. This leads to a division amongst the group members, recreating the Fall of Camelot in modern times.

is an interesting film. It's one of those films that looks really ridiculous, from its cover, to its trailer, to the very synopsis I just wrote above. However, there's a lot of substance and depth to this film if you take the chance to look between the lines. Even though this is no zombie film [believe me, it's FAR from it], Romero still injects his personal commentary on society through the very well-written story and nicely developed characters.

For me, not sure for anyone else, I felt Romero used the whole King Arthur/Camelot history for this modern group of "knights" to give us a sense of how badly the world of commercialism, materialism, greed can corrupt a well woven society. The troupe goes well until a child asks Billy to sign his autograph over a photo in a motorcycle magazine. Billy, wanting no recognition, refuses to sign. Morgan, wanting to be a big shot, signs - starting the dissention within the group. The group barely has any money to spend, especially when props and weapons are constantly breaking down. And when they're offered money that they could use to make a life for themselves, members of the group begin to argue amongst themselves until half of the group leaves on bad terms. But those who leave for the fame and money soon come to realize that they're being marketed as characters that they feel no connection to and feel miserable until they decide to come back to their home. It's something we all see every day in our own lives, and with celebrities as well. We try to be someone that's not really us just to fit into the popular crowd. And while that's great for a while, you soon realize that you're popular for all the wrong reasons and you just want to be yourself again, even if it does cost you friends and popularity. Money and fame are two very powerful things that put people in far out situations. Reality TV is probably the biggest evidence of it and it isn't going anywhere any time soon. So for a film that came out in the very early 1980s, KNIGHTRIDERS holds up well because we're still stuck in the same phase.

Also for an early 1980s film, the subject of homosexuality is brought up, which I'm sure wasn't as acceptable back then as it is now. And while it's not really dug deep into, the fact that the group has an actual conversation about it [that actually starts out as an insult but soon turns deep and serious] is actually quite fascinating. And while some films nowadays can pretty much devote the entire film on the issue without much flack [even though there is still some] and some pretty much use the whole gay issue as a joke to lead to multiple punchlines, Romero treats the issue with just the right amount of respect and time it needs. It shouldn't be the focus of the film and it's not. The character in question, Pippin, accepts his sexuality and actually becomes lovers with another member of the group. Nothing more, nothing less. It is what it is and Romero moves on. Very classy, I think.

As for the characters, they're all very different personalities. Billy is pretty much the ideal one who doesn't want to compromise his beliefs in this troupe and what it stands for in order to gain some kind of notoreity from it. He's the leader and he makes sure he's heard, which sometimes leads to conflict. Especially with Morgan, who is the hot-headed flashy one who believes he's better than everyone and wants to be the leader because he feels he could take the group to a new level. Then you have the loyal sidekick, Alan. You also have very strong-minded women in Queen Linet, runaway and naive Julie, and mechanic Angie. Plus Merlin, the medical/spiritual doctor is the one with the advice and knowledge. There are so many different characters here that you can relate to. None of them seem like stereotypes or caricatures. Even with somewhat cheesy dialogue [well a film about motorcycle knights isn't gonna be exactly serious now], you totally believe the characters and the situations they're put in. The fact that I found the characters and the story compelling at times surprised me very much.

George A. Romero directs a fine film here as usual. The film does have its share of pacing and editing problems but you can tell Romero enjoyed making this film. With a very low budget, Romero made it all work and the film looks great. He really gets intimate visually with each character so that we can know who they are through their body language, actions, and especially they're facial expressions. Plus he shoots the motorcycle jousts and stunts very well. You're never out of the loop, as you can always keep up with the action as it builds and builds to its climax. Romero has a great eye for storytelling and it's no exception here. He knows how to make chaotic sequences look absolutely breathtaking. I can't say that about many directors. Nice to see he can direct more than just zombies or anything outside the horror genre.

The music of the film by Donald A. Rubinstein is pretty cool too. Very majestic in tone that creates an almost epic feeling for a film that's involves realistic people leading fantasy lives and proud of it. It just pulls you in and it almost makes you feel like you should ride a motorcycle and knock some other bikers off you come across with jousting sticks. Very cool.

The acting is also fantastic in this film. Ed Harris in his third film is awesome as Billy, the King of the troupe. He has great scenes where he just goes off on people when they try to destroy his dreams and is actually convincing in his performance. You'd really think he was Billy, because he commands every bit of dialogue he has in the film. If I had watched this film back in 1981, I would have been telling people that Harris would become a big star in the future. He had 'it' back then and he still has 'it' now. Tom Savini as Billy's foil, Morgan, was surprising in his performance. Known more for his make-up work in horror films, he was pretty damn good here. He was a total ladies man with that prickish, arrogant attitude. You wanted to kick his ass but at the same time wanted to be him and/or hang out with him. And I'm sure after seeing him in a speedo, women will want him. He's too cool here. Gary Lahti as Alan was very good as the sidekick. He had more of a subtle performance that really worked well against the more vibrant characters in the film. Liked him alot. Also like Patricia Tallman as naive Julie, who ran away from her abusive family to be with Alan. She was pretty funny and cute, adding much comic relief and boobage [yay!] to the film. You also get cameos from Ken Foree, Stephen King, and his wife Tabitha. Everyone is great here. Nice emsemble as usual in a Romero film.

My major gripe is that at 145 minutes, the film is just too damn long. I think some of the ending could have been tighter and edited a bit. Same goes to some of the action scenes and interlude scenes. Europe actually cropped the film down to 102 minutes, which makes me curious as to what was taken out. Honestly, I'm not really sure what I would take out here. Everything worked, even if it wasn't really needed to move the film along. Not sure if the shorter version makes the film a better one, but it definitely needed some clipping in my opinion.


1. A knight always practices his fighting techniques in the nude. How else would one practice thrusting his sword?

2. Chicks can't get enough of men who ride motorcycles. Why? Because if the sex is bad, they can still get off from the vibrations of the ride. Harley Davidson - the real Viagra.

3. Stephen King says the knights jousting are like professional wrestlers. Not true. Wrestler jousting lances are probably smaller, dude to that massive steroid abuse. Allegedly...

4. It's bad luck to give a chain to someone you like that was given to you by your ex. Yeah, it's inconsiderate but at least you can pawn it. Money talks, right?

5. Pippin doesn't know if he's gay or not. Clay Aiken has the same conundrum. Or so he claims...

6. King Billy doesn't believe in compromising his beliefs for the almighty buck. Sigh...the coda of the poor and homeless.

7. Crowds don't like internal strifes within a group. No shit. Billy and his group's disinegration is worse than all those Van Halen breakups combined!

8. Morgan got heckled while posing in a fashion layout wearing only underwear. I'm sure David Beckham didn't have this problem during his shoot. Then again, who would dare make fun of Becks when he's the master of kicking balls?

9. Alan dumped Julie and dropped her off at her house, even though she didn't understand why. No wonder she went off on those zombies in the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake. Bitch was pissed!

10. William went back to beat up the cop that abused him and one of his group members. Now that's how you smoke ham!

isn't a film for everyone. You'll either like it or you won't. There's no in between with this one. I, however, really enjoyed this unique and interesting movie. Instead of blood, guts, and total violence, I got a story about characters who struggle with compromising their fantasy world for the luxuries of reality. And I don't know anyone who can't sympathize with that idea. If you're a George A. Romero fan and have never seen this film, I would definitely recommend it so you can see a different side to the man. Anyone else who is willing to take a chance on KNIGHTRIDERS should because I think it's a pretty cool flick. Color me knighted!


  1. Thanks for the review...I have been looking for a link to watch this film, a distant cousin I met when I once, or maybe never, Chris Jessel played Billy...and my Uncle was in a mob scene. I have never seen the whole thing...bu the review makes it seem like a film I'll like...anything Romero or Savini touches is gold to me!! Thanks again.

  2. I LOVE this movie...yeah, it's a bit long, but I wouldn't change anything.
    I had to buy a VHS copy of this off ebay years ago because my original VHS copy wore out, lol.
    All the characters are well written and well developed, and their interaction between one another is real and engaging, with my favorite interactions being between Billy and Merlin. I always loved the character of Rocky...never doubting who she is, not willing to take any crap, able to kick some serious butt...now she was cool!
    Sigh, the chick in me still gets misty at the ending...
    I was just reading that there are talks of a big budget sequel, which I read over on JoBlo.com. NOOOOOOOOOO! Please, Hollywood, please leave this movie alone!!! It's perfect, to me anyway, in it's unique-ness, it's idealism, it's story...let alone! Back...back I say!!
    Great review, as always, Wolfie!
    Dreaded Dreams
    Petunia Scareum


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