I see a lot of movies every year. A
ton. But this year I’ve decided I don’t see enough movies, so one of my
New Year Resolutions was to simply see more. And to write about them.
See, that’s the other half of the equation: I see a ton of movies, but
I write about comparatively few of them. There are a lot of reasons,
but they mainly boil down to the fact that I feel the  need to do long
form reviews, and sometimes – like in the midst of Sundance – I just
don’t have the time.

so was born this new blog! I aim to make an entry for every single
movie I see in 2010. Some entries may be very short, some may be
lengthy. Entries may take a couple of days to be posted. Let’s see how
long this lasts.

last  thing: one of my main objectives this year is to rewatch more
movies. I know this sounds like a strange goal, but there are films I
haven’t seen since high school, which means it’s been almost a lifetime
since I saw them. Recently I rewatched Black Christmas for
the first time since the 1980s, and I might as well have been seeing
the movie for the first time. I’m interested in getting a look at some
movies I loved or hated twenty or even ten years ago and seeing how I
feel about them now.

Let’s begin…

#10 Knightriders
d. George Romero

Man, this is almost a great movie. It’s spitting distance from being a classic, or maybe just one pair of editor’s scissors away. Wonderfully conceived, well written, shot nicely and acted with panache, the movie just simply 30 minutes too long and suffers from having three or four endings.

Knightriders is sort of the lost George Romero movie. Martin‘s not well known but it’s a staple compared to this film, which I don’t think has ever been on DVD in the US. While not technically my first viewing it might as well have been, as I had not seen it since VHS in the middle 80s. I recognized a couple of moments, but otherwise this movie was as good as new to me.

The premise is great – Ed Harris is the King of a traveling Renaissance Faire where the knights joust on motorcycles instead of horses. Harris has a specific code, and he’s not in this for the money but the lifestyle. Tom Savini is Morgan Le Fay, the Black Knight, looking to usurp the throne and use the group to become a star. They’re surrounded by a pretty large cast of characters, featuring familiar faces from the Romero rep company, who have their own little stories weaving in and out of the main tale. It’s a big cast and Romero handles them all pretty well, creating a group that you believe in and a world that feels real.

This isn’t post apocalyptic or anything, by the way. That seems to be a common misconception about the film. As the moderator at the post-film Q&A with Ed Harris said, I don’t even know if there is a genre for this movie. It’s filled with medieval style combat on motorcycles, it’s got humor, it’s got romance, it’s got a weird gay coming of age story, it’s got anti-authoritarian sentiment… it’s a hodge podge.

What it really is at the center is a metaphor for Romero himself. Harris is Romero, the guy who doesn’t want to give in to the system and may very well destroy himself and what he loves in the process. Maybe Savini is Richard P. Rubinstein. But it’s all about a guy who wants to live outside the system and still do what he thinks matters and what entertains audiences. This isn’t a pretentious endeavour that Harris has built but one that is based on giving people a good time, just not doing it in the cookie-cutter Hollywood way.

Recent Romero films have suffered from truly atrocious editing; much of Knightriders is edited magnificently. It’s hard to believe that the guy who made Diary of the Dead also made this, and watching Knightriders I began to get the feeling that this might be Romero’s most polished bit of filmmaking. He let the movie’s length get out of control, but the editing within each scene, as well as the cinematography, is terrific. The film’s low budget, but it never feels cheap. What’s so weird is that Romero would lose this very quickly – post Day of the Dead his films look like shit (I’m sure there’s a key crewmember who goes missing in the second half of the 80s, but I don’t have the wherewithal to look it up). The differences between the look of Knightriders and say Monkey Shines are shocking.

Watching Knightriders I felt like Tom Savini never quite got the right break. He’s not great, but he has presence, and holds his own in a role that’s more than his usual cameo. Obviously he’s no Ed Harris (who is more than a little over the top here) but he does well enough for himself in a role that’s less black and white than it seems at the outset. Everybody else is pretty good – there are no real duds here, but I really dug Brother Blue as Merlin. Blue, who recently passed, gives one of those performances that you’re either going to hate or love, but he looked a lot like old Hank Worden to me here, and that endeared him.

The action stuff is excellent, and each of the tourneys feels unique and exciting. Romero gets across the rules of the game well, which means that we never feel overwhelmed by the action but like an invested spectator. The inventiveness of kills in Romero’s zombie movies is reflected by the inventiveness of stunts in this film – lots of stunt people take lots of very painful-looking falls.

But the film gets dragged down by an ending that will not end, and that is intent of finding a downbeat 70s style conclusion. It also shoehorns in some weird, silent Indian for reasons that never become clear. But if the film had ended twenty minutes earlier than it did – cutting just at the start of a final battle between Savini and the heroic good knight over who would wear the crown – I think Knightriders would be looked at as a classic. Continuing on, though, the movie – which had already ended twice by that point – slowly loses all energy, stumbling to a downer ending that has no place in the film.

It’s a pity that Knightriders isn’t more available. While a problem film, it’s a movie that, along with Martin, redefines who George Romero is. This film sort of casts his later career as a tragedy, stuck going back to the zombie well time and again. I’ve heard from more than one person that Romero is sick of zombies, and I can’t blame him. He had more stories to tell, but he never seemed to get the right chance. Oh, and if Knightriders did hit DVD/Blu-Ray, you could simply turn it off at the correct moment and make the flawed film into a great film.