Blu-ray review: George A Romero’s Knightriders

Making its world wide debut on Blu-ray is the George Romero directed cult classic Knightriders. This restored release courtesy of Arrow Films not only affords the opportunity to view the film with an image that has greater depth and a broader colour palate than at any time since the theatrical release but after decades of truncated versions being screened on TV we can now see the movie as the director originally intended.

Filmed in 1980 and released in 1981, appreciation of Knightriders has over the years been tempered by some erroneous critical commentary which either misplaced the film’s position within Romero’s body of work or was based upon one of the heavily edited TV screenings that removed many subplots and made the narrative incomprehensible.

This very welcome issue of the uncut print is accompanied by a wealth of high quality bonus content which sweeps away much of the misconceptions about the film’s production that have circulated over the years and enables it to be appreciated, for possibly the first time, as one of Romero’s finest, if atypical, films. In addition to an attractively designed booklet containing a well written essay by film critic Brad Stevens and an archive interview with George Romero, Arrow Films’ restored release of Knightriders is enhanced by the inclusion of several audio commentaries, including one from Romero, and three featurettes which makes this an essential purchase for fans of Romero’s movies and cult media enthusiasts.

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After satirizing consumerism in Dawn of the Dead Romero turned his attention to Renaissance fairs and examined the inherent contradictions in staging a public performance of mythologised versions of European historical events as a carnival spectacle. Having attended several Renaissance fairs over the last decade I can attest that it’s an experience that leaves one with an overwhelming sense of discontinuity for not only are such events celebrating fundamentally corrupt political regimes built upon ideological belief systems that are diametrically opposed to those which America’s founding fathers intended for the country but the revisionism perpetuates a false narrative of a time when societies were supposedly free of excessive materialism and operated within a barter economy under the watchful eye of a benevolent ruler. The levels of historical accuracy in these events varies but all too often they owe far more to Errol Flynn and Disney than David Starkey.

With Knightriders Romero focuses on a band of revivalists who are retreating from distasteful commercial exploitation and desire to return to what they consider to be a more just form of society, one in which an individual may become King should he defeat the present ruler in tournament. It’s relatively poor performance at the box office might be due to the audience rejecting Romero’s attempts at moving away from the horror genre but oddly the film’s out of synch quality makes it feel more relevant today than it did back in 1981.

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In his first starring role, Ed Harris plays a self-styled “King William” who leads a troupe of jousters, lives by Arthurian ideals, and self-flagellates whilst bathing in ice cold lakes. William regards the staging of jousting tournaments as a personal crusade against eroding moral values in an age that was being transformed, for good or ill, by Reaganomics. He refuses to pay off corrupt police officials despite knowing as a consequence that he will suffer some form of retribution from the local sheriff’s department but would rather risk the permit to perform being revoked than have his moral compass be tainted by making illegal payments. His single-mindedness puts him at odds with his nearest competitor for the crown, Morgan (Tom Savini), and places the very future of this motorcycle version of Camelot at risk. William’s scorn for the debasement of modern sporting tournaments is exemplified in his distaste for the popularity of Evel Knievel and steadfast refusal to follow a similar path to fame and glory.

An added bonus to horror fans is a cameo appearance by Spehen King.

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Film restoration is a subjective art not a precise science and as reaction to the European Blu-ray release of The French Connection proves fans will voice their condemnation if they feel dissatisfied with any digital corrections. That is not the case in this instance and Arrow Film’s work on Knightriders should please all die-hard Romero fans as this disc deserves to be ranked alongside the UK release of Citizen Kane and MGM’s James Bond reissues as being examples of the finest releases of back catalogue titles on Blu-ray.

The deluxe edition Blu-ray/DVD combi release of Knightriders contains the following extra features;

– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations.
– Uncompressed original Mono 2.0 PCM audio.
– Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
– Audio commentary with George RomeroTom SaviniJohn Amplas and Christine Romero.
– ‘The Genesis of a Legend’ – Star Ed Harris remembers his first leading role.
– ‘A Date with Destiny’ – Co-star Tom Savini reflects on the film.
– ‘Medieval Maiden’ – Interview with actress Patricia Tallman.
– Theatrical Trailer.
– TV Spots.
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nat Marsh.
– Collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author and critic Brad Stevens, an archival interview with Romero, and a new interview with composer Donald Rubinstein, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

Knightriders is available to order from Amazon.