George Romero’s modern-dress ‘Morte d’Arthur’ fuses medieval chivalry and post-’Easy Rider’ utopianism to glorious effect. Ed Harris is King Billy, head of a roving troupe of motorcycle stuntmen and rennaissance-fair re-enacters who travel America’s backroads entertaining the masses. Living by a strict code which combines old-fashioned chivalry and newfangled communal ideals, Billy and his merry band of brothers (plus a few sisters) eke out a living staging jousts, battles and games of skill, all on bike-back. But there’s trouble in the ranks, as a big-time promoter latches on to the group, convincing Morgan (Tom Savini) and his Black Knights to strike out for wealth and fame.
More than his movie-brat contemporaries, the fiercely independent Romero was influenced by documentary and DIY cinema, and there’s a refreshingly low-rent feel to all his best work. ‘Knightriders’ is no exception: the stunts look nailbitingly real, the characters feel raggedy and lived-in, and the film’s core message – that independence is paramount, that corporate America eats its young – is one close to Romero’s heart, with strong echoes of his own ‘Dawn of the Dead’. The result is a scrappy, overlong but enormously loveable film, featuring perhaps the most enticing, believable depiction of outsider living ever seen on screen, and a truly heartbreaking climax. Keep an eye out, too, for one of cinema’s great celebrity cameos, as Romero’s number one fan Stephen King turns up as an obnoxious, loudmouth slob.