Director: George A Romero
Starring: Ed Harris, Tom Savini, Patricia Tallman, Stephen King, Christine Forrest, Gary Lahti, Warner Shook . USA . 2h 25m
While Romero is well known for his ground-breaking horror movies, it is his change of pace movies like Monkey Shines (1988) or Knightriders that really spark the imagination and allowed him some personal exploration, this drama about a travelling renaissance fair troupe is not only deeply personal for him and it’s cult followers but a chance to express some of his moral code into an imaginative story.
Seemly inspired by age old tales from Medieval Europe and a man dealing with his own strict moral code, there’s an amazing battle between good and evil temptations in this action drama and it all starts with Billy (Harris), who leads a travelling troupe of motorcycle jousts. Billy styles himself according to King William’s ideals, and is constantly balancing these internally within the ruins of the modern world. His battle, financial pressures and the strains from the group becoming so popular start to fracture the group apart.
The film opens with the group setting up and preforming their motorbike jousting for a local crowd, their popularity is growing and they get a reasonable crowd out in the hot fields outside of a small American town. Replacing horses for motorbikes amps up the noise and energy for the show which still has trumpets and an announcer as well as thrones and all the decorum of a Medieval Joust.
The trouble all kicks off when Billy has to spend the night in the cells watching one of his troupe getting beaten by the local corrupt cops, for not paying additional fees to perform for the public. On returning, the group have moved on, something Billy didn’t tell them to do but the show must go on, this starts a chain reaction of him getting more frustrated and violent with the group. And the wedge between Billy and the Dark knight (Savini) increases in a tough power struggle.
Romero knows how to make a damned fine horror movie and his dramas are incredibly detailed and filled with so much warmth, which is incredibly present here as everyone had worked with Romero in some form before and again after this film, it’s a great who’s who of Romeo movies.
There’s so much more going on in the film, it’s not unlike Romero to touch on some taboo and sensitive subject as if they were nothing in a time when people were generally outraged by them, in Nightriders it’s all about love and honour. The announcer, Pippin (Shook) comes out as being gay and finds love with Punch. A young girl Julie falls for Alan, and runs away from home to escape her abusive father, and everyone is doing a whole bunch of soul searching.
There’s a need for everyone to reset themselves in the movie, everyone gets distracted by fame, a new pretty face, fear of the unknown and just like their brilliant king and leader they have to stop, take a moment and make things right, especially Alan who has a epiphany and alters the path of everyone in the troup when he realises his heart’s desire..
It’s a deep portrayal of a personal philosophy which takes me back to the very same spot each time I watch it, an hopeful being with a sense of righteousness and courage, I just need a bike and some like minded people to play with.
R: Excalibur (1981), Kantemir (2015),Monkey Shines (1988)
5s: George A Romero, Ed Harris, Tom Savini, Patricia Tallman, Stephen King,