Billy (Ed Harris) is the king of his own renaissance fair, a travelling troupe of players who entertain the masses by setting up in a field and driving around on motorbikes, knocking each other off them for sport, and all with an Arthurian theme. Billy is very committed to this idea, but there are complications when the outside world does not allow events to go smoothly, such as when a local cop demands a bribe to let them carry on. Yet there are grumblings within his ranks as well, as Morgan (Tom Savini) wishes to take Billy's place...
Knightriders was a misstep in director George A. Romero's career, as what everyone was expecting from him in 1981 was more of the same zombie carnage, but what they got was an achingly sincere examination of what it was like to hold noble values in a modern world that was corrupting and possibly even banal. Where were the heads getting cracked? asked moviegoers, or the few who actually went to see this at any rate, as everyone else had gotten wind of this being a rather silly melodrama with the cast dressed up in armour and pretending to be Knights of the Round Table.
Yet with the Romero name attached, this was not going to be neglected for long, and after a while a cult grew up around it, not simply because they appreciated him giving something different a try, but also because they responded to its dignified standards, as if this travelling fair was a small pocket of proponents of a lifestyle that was worth saving but not popularising. After all, if everyone was out jousting on motorbikes and dressing up as if they were in a Robin Hood movie then it would not quite enjoy the same exclusivity about its attractions.
So if that sense of a cult movie about an actual cult (though not in the Reverend Jim Jones or Charles Manson kind of way, Billy is keen to point out) was what appealed, you could see why Kinightriders had its fans, almost as if they were partial to joining this "King" and his followers themselves. If you thought of Romero himself as that kind of independent thinker in his field, then there was another reason to appreciate this, perceiving something about his oeuvre that the mainstream never would get; he was one of the most thoughtful of the horror directors after all, and his work, including Knightriders, was worth watching just to see what he was saying about society should you be so inclined.
For everyone else, on the other hand, it was hard to understand why they should take this with a straight face, in spite of Harris putting his heart and soul into the role and practically salvaging the production from what could have been fairly daft. In his performance, where Billy is consumed by the morals of his lifestyle to the point where he risked physical injury and losing all around him to boot, that obsession was personified, and you wanted him to succeed in his goals rather than see it all fall down around his ears. The danger comes from outside, as Morgan is attracted by the promise of fame from showbiz parasites and takes many of the troupe with him, and from those who would wish to disrupt their action-packed idyll, from corrupt police to bikers itching for a fight. Trouble with this arose when it reached a perfectly decent ending half an hour before the credits rolled, and the fact that it was hard to catch what the big deal was at times with this whole medieval thing, but there was very little like it, and if they were preposterous at least they had something to believe in. Music by Donald Rubinstein.
American writer/director and one of the most influential figures in modern horror cinema, whose ability to write strong scripts and characters match his penchant for gory chills. The Pittsburgh native began his career directing adverts before making Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This bleak, scary classic ushered in a new era of horror film-making, but Romero struggled initially to follow it up - There's Always Vanilla is a little-seen romantic drama, and Jack's Wife was butchered by its distributor. The Crazies was a flop but still an exciting slice of sci-fi horror, and while the dark vampire drama Martin again made little money but got Romero some of the best reviews of his career and remains the director's personal favourite.