October 22, 2010

Justify My Netflix: Knightriders

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)


Today's movie: Knightriders, 1981 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I have fond memories of catching this movie over and over as a teenager on early-'80s cable television, a bizarre character drama from George Romero of all people -- about motorcyle-riding redneck "knights" who travel with a touring Renaissance Fair, and how the literally medieval "code of honor" they live by is under constant threat by mounting bills, corporate interest, and drunken Hell's Angels who always show up to the fairs looking for fights -- so thought I'd add it to my queue on a whim and see if it still holds up thirty years later and with me as an adult.

The reality: I was shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- to see how well this film has aged, which I now realize is for a very specific reason; and that's because, much like Smoky and the Bandit or Every Which Way But Loose from the same period, what Romero really made here was one of those "good ol' boy" movies from the late '70s and early '80s, in which a group of countrified actors would go location shooting in some backwoods town for a couple of months, turning in a pleasantly loose and slowly-paced film that feels a lot of times like the whole thing is just being made up as it goes along, with the point being less about making a movie and more about all these people getting a chance to hang out in the woods for a couple of months with their buddies. But then, at the same time, you can't really dismiss the nerdier elements of this film either, the whole concept of these pot-smoking Foghat-listening hillbillies who dress up in armor on the weekends and go jousting on their Harley-Davidsons; because under a surprisingly smart script by Romero himself, he uses this milieu and their "code of chivalry" to reflect the more conservative era of moral absolutes in America that was literally just around the corner (this came out the same year that Reagan moved into the White House), heavily implying that these weapons-obsessed hobbyists (and especially Ed Harris as the group's founder and "king," who takes everything WAAAAY too seriously) are all in fact Vietnam vets as well*, who got back to the US and were disgusted by the liberalism and moral relativity they saw around them, and did their own "dropping out" from society by creating their county-fair motorcycle tournament and accompanying code of absolute rights and wrongs, the whole group living and traveling together like some kind of greasy, violent yet close-knit anti-hippie anti-commune.

As a result, the whole thing feels refreshingly real and is also ultimately a great historical document, giving us a fascinating slice-of-life look at rural America at the end of the Carter years, and the Jethro-Tull-like mix of hippie frilliness and metal machismo that defined it; and by never making the dialogue or even storyline anything more than this frankly semi-amateur cast can handle, the film even thirty years later almost never comes off as goofily hackneyed like so many of these movies from that period do, but instead charming and always genuine, more like a documentary than a Hollywood production, despite the inclusion of special-effects guru Tom Savini in a major acting part, as well as a conspicuously over-the-top cameo by Stephen King. Like I said, I was surprised to the point of shock to see just how well the film has held up, and it's definitely a cult classic that deserves to be rediscovered by the latest generation of hipster undergraduates.

Strangest piece of trivia: Romero actually got married on the last day of shooting to Christine Forrest, who plays here the tomboy bike mechanic Angie.

Worth your time? Oh MY, yes

*"I never wanted to be a hero -- I WAS FIGHTING DRAGONS!!!" Greatest. Ed. Harris. Screaming. Dialogue. Ever.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:00 AM, October 22, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |