Viking Night: Knightriders
By Bruce Hall
July 20, 2017
The late George A. Romero was a titan of cult cinema, so on his passing it seems logical for me to examine one of the zombie films for which he is best known.
The Zombie craze has come around at least twice in my lifetime, and I haven’t been able to get into it on either occasion. Zombies just never did it for me. Maybe it’s because they’re usually presented as a metaphor rather than the primary threat, and I’m happy to consider almost any metaphor as long as I don’t have to think about cannibalism, too. It’s distracting. That’s not to say I haven’t seen Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and Everything Else of the Dead - I have. I get it. It’s just...not for me.
What IS for me is the kickass one-sheet for Knightriders, with the one and only Ed Harris swinging a mace from the back of a flaming motorcycle. I’ve seen it a million times, and Harris is one of my favorite actors, but for some reason I never pulled the trigger, despite my love of spiked weapons AND flaming motorcycles. Knightriders doesn’t get a lot of press, being sandwiched between Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow in the Romeroverse. When you’re considered one of the founding fathers of modern horror, a two and a half hour film about geeks playing dress up might seem like something you’d want to overlook.
I’d advise against that. You may not be aware of this, but there are groups of people in the world who make a living dressing up in period costumes and hitting each other with fake swords. I have personally watched a couple of coworkers bring their armor to work and lumber around one another like crippled dinosaurs to the point of heatstroke. I was less impressed with them than they were with themselves, so I guess the synopsis for Knightriders always kind of turned me away. The film revolves around a traveling troupe of Medieval performers who joust, yes, and fight with swords, yes, but they do it on motorcycles.
Hmmm. I’ve seen modern day amateurs try to fight with Medieval weapons on foot and come away looking like chrome plated manatees on Valium. The only benefit to seeing this on a motorcycle would be if you enjoy watching people suffer from road rash. Also, for the opening minutes of Knightriders, I couldn’t get my mind away from how logistically implausible it IS to effectively joust on a bike, let alone while wearing armor. And, for the first few minutes of the film, this is obvious. I’m fairly certain what ended up in the film may have been Ed Harris nearly laying down his bike with a girl on the back.
Bill Davis (Ed Harris) is the leader of that troupe of performers I told you about. In fact, he’s more than that, he’s literally the “king,” and his girlfriend Linet (Amy Ingersoll) is the “queen.” The group lives by the ancient code of knightly chivalry, and Billy is so serious about it that he flagellates himself in the river every morning. I know that sounds like I’m saying “he farts in the water” but no - it means he whips himself in the back with a tree branch to keep his edge. You could say that Billy is a little intense, and that Linet is more than a bit put off by this. It becomes kind of funny in light of the fact that after his morning ritual of self-whipping and getting the stink eye from his queen, Billy puts on a suit of armor - including a gigantic foam rubber helmet, and hops on his bike.