Digi-Schlock: KNIGHTRIDERS (Shout! Factory Blu-Ray)

Knightriders has been available on home video throughout the years but it had to wait until 2013 to get the royal treatment it truly deserves.  This year found it earning full-blown special edition blu-ray releases on both sides of the Atlantic.  Shout! Factory did the honors in the U.S. and have turned out an impressive disc that gives it a noteworthy A/V boost plus a quality set of extras.

Things start with an excellent new transfer of the film that gives the colors a new sense of vibrancy and enhances the overall detail of the image.  The results make it easier to appreciate the high level of craft that informs Romero’s home-brewed style of filmmaking.  The film’s original mono mix is presented in lossless DTS style here and it does well by the film’s vintage sounds: the dialogue can occasionally sound a bit cluttered during busy sequences but that’s a quirk of the mix and Donald Rubinstein’s excellent score comes through nicely.

KniRid-bluElsewhere, there are plentiful extras, old and new.  Carried over from the old Anchor Bay DVD is a fun commentary track featuring George Romero, Christine Romero, Tom Savini and historian Chris Stavrakis, plus a brief cameo from John Amplas.  Savini sets the tone for this track early on when he describes the film’s shoot as “the greatest summer imaginable”: it’s overflowing with warm cameraderie that allows the listener to feel like their hanging out with the participants at a get-together, with plenty of anecdotes exchanged about the cast and crew.  The end result touches on a lot of anecdotes mentioned in the inteviews elsewhere on the disc but fans will want to hear it for its fly-on-the-wall quality.

The new material of the extras is represented by a trio of interview featurettes from Red Shirt Pictures. “Conscience Of The King” is devoted to Ed Harris, who recalls what an important learning experience this movie was for him as a film actor.  He offers a sympathetic appraisal of Romero as a stand-alone artist and marvels at how he “created a world” for the shooting of the film.

“Code Of Honor” is an interview with Romero.  Fittingly, it is the lengthiest of the three featurettes and gives the auteur plenty of room to reflect on both the gratification and the sorrow the project brought him.  He talks of the challenges of shooting the film, a strange and sad experience he had auditioning Morgan Freeman for the role of Merlin and his disappointment in how the film was handled when UFD brought it to theaters.  On the happier side, he speaks fondly of the film’s small but loyal following and offers warm tales of his cast members, including how he fought to get Savini a leading role.  The most interesting bit is his admission of how King Billy and his fixation on honoring his own ideals represents how Romero was acting at this post-Dawn stage of his career.

“Memories Of Morgan” offers a nice closer to the featurette trio, allowing Tom Savini to wax nostalgic about his best acting role.  He discusses how the character offered a vehicle for his own interests (like fencing and motorcycles) and tells fun tales of the wild shenanigans at the hotel where the group stayed.  He also offers a touching account of the film’s memorable “passing of the crown” scene.

There is also a behind-the scenes reel of stunt footage taken from Savini’s home video archive.  It shows just how real most of the stunts were – and how the cameramen took risks in getting so close to the action.  The package is rounded out by a theatrical trailer and two t.v. spots that show just how challenging it was to promote this unusual, highly personal film: notably, the t.v. spots purely focus on selling it as an action film.

In short, Shout! Factory has put together an edition that does Knightriders justice.  If you’re a fan or simply curious about this underground cult fave, don’t hesitate to pick this disc up.

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