George Romero’s reputation as a director is predicated on the Dead films. Although this may sound like a resolutely conventional introduction to Romero, this is an observation which has been determined by a specific discourse privileging the processes of film cannonisation that have in turn created an ellipsis of sorts in the way we discuss the careers of certain directors. In other words, anomalies and oddities that have usually failed either at the box office or with critics, quickly become mere footnotes and are largely forgotten. Although Romero has never openly fought or resisted the label of zombie auteur, his body of work does show attempts to challenge such directorial typecasting with excursions into sub genres but such range has often been ignored. The on going culture of reception studies is a significant one, permeating the approaches to research and film analysis. Reclaiming films from the past then recontextualising and reincorporating them into a contemporary discourse is especially for the critical reputation of the film auteur.
DVD film labels like Masters of Cinema, Arrow and Second Run, to name just a few, are one variant in helping to reclaim a past. Arrow’s recent home video release of Romero’s 1981 political fantasy Knightriders asks us to reconsider the authorial status of Romero as a director of horror and retrace a wider thematic interest with politics that runs through much of his work. Knightriders is Romero’s most ambitious film and the film’s appearance at the start of the 1980’s with its vehemently anti establishment and anti capitalist sentiments looked forward to Reagan’s nightmarish divided America. Bikers as Knights (inspired by Arthurian legends) roaming rural America adhering to a quasi Marxist medieval code of honour, solidarity and nobility uses the potent ideological sentimentality of a commune to reject the mainstream. The galvanising figure in Knightriders is Billy (Ed Harris in his first leading role), the reigning king and mythical rebel whose refusal to integrate into mainstream society and become subsumed into the system gives this idiosyncratic fantasy piece a fascinating political edge. Billy’s anti establishment views positions him as an outsider and his repeated conflict with mainstream institutional power such as the police recalls a latent Marxist preoccupation representing American capitalism as diversionary, parasitic and destructive. Billy’s hatred for a system demanding ideological compromise points to a fatal flaw that cannot be compensated or accommodated by an untamed, ancient radicalism. This might in fact be a key film from the 1980’s.