Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Hail To The Once & Future King, Baby
Of all modern horror film directors, few have worn their hearts on their sleeves as often as George Romero. Along with consistently delivering the bloody goods his fans require, he is perhaps better known for supplying food more sustaining that simple gore. Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead, Land Of The Dead, Diary Of The Dead, and even the 1990 remake of Night have shown Romero to be distinctly aware of the nutritional balance between blood, guts, brains and heart.
Romero has left the genre several times; once to escape being tagged a "horror" director (see There's Always Vanilla, his follow-up to Night, currently available as an extra on the recent Season Of The Witch DVD) and once more, to commit to celluloid his dream project, a film the international success of Dawn Of The Dead allowed him to make.
Oddly—or perhaps not so oddly—themes and concerns expressed in the Dead films (and nearly all of Romero's films) followed him to Knightriders.
Prime among these concerns is a basic, almost primal, distrust of authority. The wandering troubadours who make up the dramatis personae of Knightriders have broken away from the culutural and authoritative straight and narrow path, having decided to adhere to an ancient, "outmoded" ideal of honor and integrity.
Whereas the characters in the Dead films are often portrayed as initially lost outside the imposition of everyday culture and society, the heroes of Knightriders are lost once they've split off from their tiny kingdom and willingly cast themselves adrift in the larger society. In the Dead films characters tend to flounder madly when attempting to keep a grip on the few vestiges of world before the dead rose up: the Monroeville Mall in Dawn, the illusory authority of the federal government in Day, an imaginary economy in Land, et al.
From the very start of Knightriders, Ed Harris's King Billy is a conflicted man, grooming Morgan (Tom Savini) to assume the crown and leadership of this rag-tag bunch and, simultaneously, providing Morgan, with increasingly and unkingly erratic behaviour, every reason not to. Billy's purpose is stated early on: follow the Code, not the King. The King may often be wrong, but the Code never is. (A message that may contain even greater meaning, the suggestion that, the men who composed the laws adhered to an ideal, a higher purpose, than the men who dictate the meaning of those laws.)
Knightriders's climax is an inversion of the typical climax of the Dead films. In Knightriders, a battle is fought, the winner claiming leadership of the group: a return to stability in the bosom of the aforementioned ancient notions of honor. The new king takes on the old king's responsibilities and the old king, certain now that his ideals will continue beyond the end of his life, wanders off into the wasteland to perform a few good deeds before his death.
A Dead film usually climaxes when the characters therein at last understand that the frayed remnants of the old world that they so desparately and pointlessly cling to are the very things that doom them. Finally letting go—of the mall, the hope of rescue, worthless currency—of these things is what allows the characters to save themselves. King Billy's troupe already understand this, but every once in a while the King has to die to remind them.