Deathlog 2017 – Part 2


© Paramount Classics


American Renaissance man Sam Shepard died on July 27th.  As a playwright he was responsible for Buried Child (1978), True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983), A Lie of the Mind (1985) and others; he acted in movies as varied as Days of Heaven (1978), The Right Stuff (1983), Black Hawk Down (2001) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007); he authored two novels and directed two films; and his screenwriting credits included Zabriskie Point (1970), Renaldo and Clara (1978) and of course Paris, Texas (1984), a movie I can’t think of now without hearing Ry Cooder’s elegiac slide-guitar score in my head.


Other casualties of July 2017 included the masterly horror-movie auteur George A. Romero, who died on July 16th; Welsh actor Hywel Bennett, one-time boyish-faced star of movies like The Family Way (1966), Twisted Nerve (1968) and Loot (1970), who died on July 25th; and Chester Bennington, singer with popular nu-metal band Linkin Park, who died on July 20th – I had little time for nu-metal music generally, but I thought Linkin Park were among the sub-genre’s least offensive practitioners.  Meanwhile, departing on July 15th was distinguished movie and TV actor Martin Landau, who first gained attention as a villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest back in 1959.  I’ll always remember Landau for playing Commander Koenig in the TV sci-fi show Space 1999 (1975-77) and playing a washed-up, drug-addled Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s delightful Ed Wood (1994).


© Toho


Where to start in August 2017?  Old Western movie-star Ty Hardin died on August 3rd, as did hard-working British TV and film actor Robert Hardy, who was still going strong in his eighties thanks to the Harry Potter franchise.  August 7th saw the passing of Japanese actor and stuntman Haruo Nakajima, who filled a rubber suit to play Godzilla in many a giant-monster movie for Japan’s Toho Company in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  Having played Godzilla in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, Nakajima changed sides, donned an ape-suit and played King Kong in 1967’s King Kong Escapes.  Passing one day later was American country-and-western singer Glen Campbell, whom I’ll remember best for one of his occasional acting roles – as La Boeuf, the Texas Ranger who joins forces with Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) and Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 western True Grit.  The last day of August saw the demise of American TV actor Richard Anderson, fondly remembered by 1970s youngsters as Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-78).


Another horror-movie auteur, Tobe Hooper – of Texas Chainsaw Massacre infamy – passed away on August 26th.  The great English science-fiction writer Brian Aldiss died on August 19th; while Gordon Williams, Scottish author of The Siege of Trencher’s Farm (1969), the basis for Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 film Straw Dogs, died on August 20th.  And legendary Hollywood funny-man Jerry Lewis left us on August 20th.  To be honest, I found his comedy movies about as amusing as toothache, but I can’t deny an older Lewis was excellent as the cynical comedian / chat-show host Jerry Langford in Martin Scorsese’s twisted showbiz satire The King of Comedy (1982).


Bruce Forsyth, English TV gameshow host, entertainer and comedian – and supposedly the last person working on British television who’d first appeared on it prior to World War II – died on August 18th.  I found Forsyth’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-joking showbiz schtick hard to take, but I liked him for the guest appearance he made on The Muppet Show in 1976, when he helped Fozzie Bear stand up to those wizened, mean-spirited hecklers Statler and Waldorf.  That was definitely Bruce’s finest hour.


© ITC Entertainment


Len Wein, the great comic-book writer whose many achievements included creating the squishy half-man, half-plant Swamp Thing with the late Bernie Wrightson back in 1971, died on September 9th.  The following day saw the death of Irish-American author J.P. Donleavy.  I loved Donleavy’s 1955 novel The Ginger Man as a teenager, though I wonder if I would find it a bit juvenile if I read it again today.  Grant Hart, who manned the drumkit for the brilliant 1980s alterative-punk band Hüsker Dü, died on September 14th, and one day later yet another Twin Peaks (and Paris, Texas) alumni, the marvellous American character actor Harry Dean Stanton, passed away.  Another American actor, Bernie Casey, died on September 19th.  Casey’s roles included that of Felix Leiter in the ‘rogue’ Sean Connery / James Bond movie Never Say Never Again (1982), which made him the cinema’s first black Felix Leiter a quarter-century before Jeffrey Wright landed the part in the Daniel Craig Bond films.


Boxer Jake LaMotta, whose chequered career formed the basis for the classic Martin Scorsese / Robert De Niro collaboration Raging Bull (1980), died on September 20th.  A week later saw the death of Hugh Hefner, millionaire founder of Playboy magazine.  With his playmate-filled mansion and penchant for pyjamas, pipes and ship’s-captain hats, Hefner struck me as a sleazy and infantile old letch.  But I can’t belittle his literary taste – in between the nudie pictures, Playboy published work by Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Ian Fleming, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joseph Heller, Shirley Jackson, Ursula Le Guin, Norman Mailer, Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut and many more.


September 25th marked the death of English actor Tony Booth, best-known as a cast-member in the controversial but influential BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part (1965-75) and for being the real-life father of Cherie Booth, i.e. Mrs Tony Blair.  Here’s a fascinating fact: Booth claimed his great-great-great-uncle’s son was John Wilkes Booth, who was both an actor and the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.  I wonder if the staunchly socialist Booth felt tempted to emulate his ancestor once his son-in-law had been in office for a few years and shown his true colours.


The music world suffered another blow on October 3rd with the death of the agreeable American musician, singer and songwriter Tom Petty, while the comedy world said goodbye to the ground-breaking Irish comedian Sean Hughes on October 16th.  The same day saw the passing of venerable Guernsey actor Roy Dotrice, whose career stretched from The Heroes of Telemark (1965) to Hellboy II (2008), via 1984’s Amadeus where he played the title character’s father.  Like many a veteran British character actor, Doctrice got a late-career boost when he was cast in Game of Thrones (2011-present).  Other actors to die in October included Robert Guillaume – wonderful as Benson, droll butler to the chaotic Tate family in the American TV comedy Soap (1977-81) – and on October 9th the distinguished French actor Jean Rochefort.  Ironically, Rochefort may be best-known to English-speaking audiences for a role he didn’t play.  He was lined up to be Don Quixote in Terry Gilliam’s monumentally ill-fated and eventually-cancelled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.  In anticipation, Rochefort even learned to speak English.  The 2002 documentary Lost in La Manca tells the story of this epic that never happened.




October 22nd saw the death of Daisy Berkowitz, one-time guitarist to Goth-metaller / shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, and on October 19th the Italian movie director Umberto Lenzi passed away.  Lenzi was prolific in several genres, but I’ll remember him chiefly for his 1974 thriller Spasmo, an elegant if not terribly sensible example of the Italian giallo genre.


November brought a rash of music-related deaths – Chuck Mosely, the 1980s frontman for the great American alternative / funk-metal band Faith No More, on November 9th; Michael Davis (nicknamed ‘Dik Mik’), who in the 1970s operated the appropriately futuristic-sounding ‘audio-generator’ for the legendary ‘space-rock’ band Hawkwind, on November 16th; and Australian-born TV composer Dudley Simpson, who died on November 4th.   Simpson’s career-highlights include the incidental music for Doctor Who during its creepiest phase in the 1970s and the unsettling and pulsating theme tune for The Tomorrow People (1973-79).  Saddest of all for me, however, was the passing on November 18th of Australian guitarist Malcolm Young, co-founder of AC / DC and mastermind behind that band’s mightiest guitar riffs.


November was also a bad month for British TV sitcom actors, witnessing the deaths of Keith Barron on November 15th and Rodney Bewes on November 21st.  In between television work, both men appeared occasionally in films – I particularly remember Barron in 1974’s movie adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot and Bewes (playing James Mason’s son) in the 1970 adaptation of Bill Naughton’s Spring and Port Wine.  Meanwhile, actor John Hillerman died on November 9th.  Hillerman played Higgins, the snotty English concierge of Tom Selleck’s building in Magnum P.I. (1980-88).  So convincing was he in the role that following his death I was surprised to learn he’d actually hailed from Texas.


© Universal Television


Finally, German actress Karin Dor died on November 9th.  In 1967’s You Only Live Twice, the villainous Dor tried unsuccessfully to kill Sean Connery’s James Bond by trapping him in a plummeting airplane.  Then her boss Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) punished her for her failure by dropping her through a trapdoor into a pool of hungry piranha fish – and lo, a cinematic cliché was born.


On December 6th, France mourned the death of its very own Elvis Presley, the Gallic rock-and-roller Johnny Hallyday.  I’m unfamiliar with Hallyday’s music, but fondly remember his acting performance in the 2002 movie L’Homme du Train.  In this, he starred alongside Jean Rochefort, who’d died just two months previously.  Indeed, the film’s ending, where both men die simultaneously and wind up standing together in ghost form on an ethereal railway platform, seems sadly and eerily prophetic now.  Five days later saw the death of English entertainer Keith Chegwin, whose relentlessly cheery presence was a staple of British children’s TV during the 1970s and 1980s, especially in Swap Shop (1976-82) and Cheggers Plays Pop (1978-86).  Later, self-deprecatingly and post-modernly, Chegwin played himself in Ricky Gervais’s TV comedy Life’s Too Short (2011-13) and the movie Kill Keith (2011); but I liked him best for his appearance, at the age of 14, as Fleance in Roman Polanski’s ultra-violent version of Macbeth (1971).


Bob Givens, the veteran American animator who designed the world’s coolest cartoon rabbit, Bugs Bunny, died on December 14th; while Christmas Eve saw the death of American actress Heather Menzies.  She was best-known for playing one of the Von Trapp children in wholesome musical blockbuster The Sound of Music (1965) but I preferred her for playing the heroine of a less wholesome movie, the Joe Dante-directed / John Sayles-scripted Piranha (1978).  Following her death, Dante called her a“lovely person who was immensely helpful and supportive as the star of Piranha, my first solo directing job.”


Finally, December 2017 saw the departures of two men who, in different ways, were excellent ambassadors for the world of science.  Heinz Wolff, the German-born scientist who appeared on British TV shows like Young Scientist of the Year (1966-81) and The Great Egg Race (1979-86) and who, with his bald, domed head and bowtie, looked splendidly like how you’d imagine a scientist to look, died on December 15th.  Meanwhile, space-shuttle astronaut Bruce McCandless, who in 1984 became the first human being to make an untethered flight in space, died on December 21st.  It seems dishearteningly symbolic that their deaths came at the end of a year when the most powerful man on earth was a nincompoop who didn’t just seem ignorant of science, but actively seemed to despise it.





The man who gave zombies brains




There are few things I enjoy more than a good zombie movie.  Thus, since the death of Pittsburgh filmmaker George A. Romero on June 16th, I’ve been wearing a black armband – because Romero was the zombie auteur extraordinaire.


Romero’s 1968 debut was Night of the Living Dead, a movie that’s been stupendously influential in at least three ways.  Firstly, filmed during nights and weekends over a period of seven months for a paltry $114,000 – the famous opening sequence took place in Pittsburgh’s out-of-town Evans City Cemetery for the simple reason that Romero figured he could film there for free, on the quiet, without getting hassled by the police – its success became a lasting inspiration for low-budget filmmakers everywhere.  It showed that with enough ingenuity, determination and talent you could accomplish something out of next-to-nothing.  No doubt when things were getting tough during the shoots of landmark but ultra-cheap horror films like the $300,000-budget Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) or the $350,000-budget Evil Dead (1981) or the $60,000-budget Blair Witch Project (1999), their respective directors Tobe Hooper, Sam Raimi and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez consoled themselves with the thought, “If old George could do it, so can I.”


Secondly, Night of the Living Dead wrestled horror movies away from the gothic costume dramas made by the likes of Hammer Films in Britain, Mario Bava in Italy and Roger Corman in the USA, which by the mid-1960s had become their comfort zone.  It dragged the genre into the present day and made it visceral, nihilistic and properly frightening.  The human characters having to cope with the horrible events in Night were ordinary Joes like those sitting watching them in the cinema audience.  This could happen to you, it was telling them.  And as none of those human characters got through the titular night alive, you really didn’t want it to happen to you.


© Image Ten / Laurel Group


And thirdly, Night introduced the world to zombies as it knows them today.  And it knows zombies very well today.  Popular culture is swarming with them, not only in blockbuster Hollywood movies like World War Z (2013) but in other media like TV shows, computer games, books and comics.  Whereas before Night zombies had been depicted as poor, lost souls brought back to life by cruel, capitalist zombie-masters using the power of voodoo and put to work in flour-mills and tin-mines, as in Universal’s White Zombie (1932) and Hammer’s Plague of the Zombies (1966), after Night they had a new template.  They became apocalyptic.  They rose from the dead in hundreds, then thousands, and then millions, and fed on living humanity – in scenes employing as much blood and gore as the movie-censors would allow.  If they bit you, you got infected, died and became a zombie yourself.  And the only way to stop the shambling, bite-y bastards was to “shoot ’em in the head”.


What I love about zombies of the Night of the Living Dead variety is that though they are mindless creatures, the movies themselves don’t have to be mindless.  Brilliantly, those shambling zombies can be a metaphor for all sorts of things – for proletarian workers, consumers, oppressed peoples, whatever – giving filmmakers endless opportunities for social comment.  Thus, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) reflects a modern Britain where anger is an increasingly common social phenomenon and terms like ‘road rage’ and ‘air rage’ have entered the popular vocabulary; its sequel Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later (2007) is an allegory about the post-war occupation of Iraq; and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004) satirises a twenty-something slacker generation who can’t tell if someone’s a zombie or just pissed, hungover or zonked out.  And again, Romero set the agenda with Night, which channels the fears of late-1960s America.  The country’s racial tensions are symbolised by the fate of the black hero (Duane Jones), who survives the zombie onslaught only to be mistaken for one himself and shot dead by a supposed rescue-posse of trigger-happy rednecks.  Meanwhile, the rednecks’ zombie-shooting / burning activities are not unlike things going on in Vietnam at the time.


© Image Ten / Laurel Group


However, Night of the Living Dead wasn’t the first George A. Romero film I saw.  That honour belongs to a movie he made five years later called The Crazies, which turned up on late-night British TV in the 1970s.  The Crazies has similarities to Night but isn’t a zombie movie because it features people turning into murderous lunatics rather than into murderous walking corpses.  The story of the US Army trying, and failing, to contain a virus that gradually infects the population of a small rural town and drives them insane, The Crazies is basically Romero giving the military a kicking.


It’s the army who’ve secretly developed the virus as a potential biological weapon; who accidentally let it escape into the town’s water supply; and who prove useless in trying to maintain order – this is a rural American community and there are a lot of guns, and before long it isn’t just the infected townspeople who are violently resisting the gas-masked, biohazard-suited soldiers.  The army also bring in scientists to try to develop a vaccine but give them hopeless facilities – the local school’s science lab – and when one of them accidentally does stumble across a vaccine, more military bungling leads to his death and the smashing of the vital test tubes.  At the film’s end, they even fail to do an immunity test on the hero, who by now is the only uninfected person left in the town.


© Cambist Films


The Crazies isn’t perfect – its low budget sometimes means there’s a visible gap between what Romero aspires to and what he achieves on screen – but to my 13-year-old mind its blend of anarchy, violence, rebelliousness and, yes, humour was astonishing.  I’ve never forgotten scenes like the one where a soldier bursts into a rural homestead and encounters a sweet old granny doing some knitting, who then stabs him to death with a knitting needle.  A remake appeared in 2010 and, while it has some good moments, it’s ultimately unsatisfying.  This is largely because it focuses on the civilian characters and hardly shows anything of the military ones.  Of course, it’s the soldiers and their half-comical, half-horrifying ineptitude that makes the original so effective and enjoyable.


In 1978, Romero returned to bona-fide zombie moviemaking with Dawn of the Dead.  The shopping malls spreading across the American landscape at the time inspired him to revisit Night’s zombie apocalypse and film a more expensive and expansive sequel.  This has four survivors, led by a black SWAT officer (Ken Foree), taking refuge in an abandoned mall and fortifying it against the living dead.  Romero uses the setting to poke fun at both the sterility of consumerism – the foursome’s lives rapidly grow tedious despite their unlimited access to everything in the mall’s stores – and its idiocy, as more survivors show up and the two groups fight for possession of the building, though it contains enough supplies for everybody.  The zombies, meanwhile, become irrelevant.


© Laurel Group Inc


The shots of zombies shuffling mindlessly through the mall’s aisles and thoroughfares, staring with glazed eyes at the goods on display, is satire of the sledgehammer variety – but hey, it works.  Nearly forty years on, whenever I find myself in a shopping mall, I experience at least one uncomfortable moment where I imagine the shoppers around me not as human beings but as ambling cadavers.  Also, in keeping with its theme of excess, Dawn piles on the bloodletting, courtesy of Romero’s regular special-effects man Tom Savini.  In the opening minutes, Romero and Savini treat us to a close-up of an exploding head and the gore rarely relents after that.


Dawn has been remade too, with a Zack Snyder-directed Dawn of the Dead appearing in 2004.  It’s a film I have mixed feelings about.  On the one hand, the first 25 minutes are terrific and I love the credits sequence, which shows a montage of clips of unfolding zombie carnage accompanied by Johnny Cash singing The Man Comes Around (2002).  On the other hand, the film is devoid of satire – the zombies spend nearly all the film not being in the mall, so there are none of those marvellous shopper-zombie juxtapositions – and you get a general impression of things being played safe.  It’s a shame, as Naomi Klein’s anti-globalisation tract No Logo had been published a few years earlier and a big gory horror movie poking fun at brainless brand-hungry consumerism and mindless corporate greed would have been just the ticket.


© Laurel Group Inc


In 1986, Romero wrapped up his original zombie trilogy with Day of the Dead, which like The Crazies shows his utter contempt for the military – though by now his contempt for humanity generally seems intense too.  Day has the world overrun with zombies and focuses on an elite band of scientists and soldiers holed up in an underground nuclear missile silo, desperately trying to find a solution for the mayhem happening above.  Bitter arguments between the obsessed scientists and the brutish military eventually escalate into all-out warfare – so when the zombies swarm in at the end they seem the least mindless members of the cast.


Admittedly, Day has a couple of sympathetic humans, namely a philosophical Jamaican pilot played by Terry Alexander – Romero’s third black zombie-movie hero – and a slightly alcohol-pickled Irish radio operator (Jarlath Conroy), both of whom realise the battle has already been lost.  They just want to escape the silo, abandon the mainland and start afresh on a desert island.  However, the film’s most likeable character is actually a zombie, one nicknamed Bub (Sherman Howard) who’s been captured by the scientists and domesticated – sort of.  He can listen to music, pick up a phone and almost whisper a couple of words.  He has vague memories of his former life, when he was a soldier, because he knows how to salute and hold a gun.  He’s very fond of the scientist who looks after him and when that scientist is murdered by the repellent Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), he’s genuinely upset and you feel genuinely sorry for him.  And a climactic scene where Rhodes is torn apart by Bub’s zombie compadres while Bub looks on and gives him a farewell salute is one of the most satisfying moments in horror-film history.


© Laurel Entertainment Inc


On a more intimate scale than Dawn, with more talk and less action, Day was regarded as a disappointment by Romero enthusiasts when it was first released.  However, over the years, its reputation has grown.  It’s my favourite Romero movie and one of my favourite horror movies generally.  Meanwhile – surprise! – a remake appeared in 2008.  Unlike the other remakes I’ve mentioned, this one is absolute shite.


After Zack Snyder’s version of Dawn of the Dead made a lot of cash in 2004, Romero got the go-ahead – and considerable studio money – to make his first zombie picture in nearly 20 years.  The result was 2005’s Land of the Dead which, although it received some decent reviews, was disdained by many hardcore horror-film fans who saw it as evidence that Romero had sold out and / or lost his touch.  I think that’s unfair as, to me, Land is three-quarters of a good movie.  Its opening sequence is grotesquely superb, showing an abandoned (by humans) suburb whose zombie inhabitants now potter around in the way they did when they were alive.  A zombie commuter lumbers out of his front door with a dusty briefcase, some zombie musicians abortively try to play their old instruments at the local bandstand and a zombie gas-station attendant shuffles dutifully to his pumps whenever something sets off the motion-sensor bell in his hut.


I also like the movie’s set-up.  Presumably taking place several years after Night, Dawn and Day, Land has Dennis Hopper as a megalomaniac who’s created a human sanctuary (bounded by a river and an electric fence) in the middle of a decaying city.  There, the rich and powerful humans live in a luxury apartment block called Fiddler’s Green while the less well-off live in Oliver Twist-like conditions in the streets below.  To keep his society going, Hopper regularly sends out a military force into the surrounding wasteland in a huge armoured vehicle called the Dead Reckoning, which is half-tank and half-truck, to scavenge for supplies.  Trouble is, the zombies inhabiting the wasteland are developing rudimentary powers of thought and self-organisation and, miffed at getting splattered by Hopper’s military expeditions, they start to march towards his little enclave.  (Their leader is none other than the petrol pump attendant, played by black actor Eugene Clark.  In a series where the hero has always been black, this suggests Romero has now totally sided with the zombies.)


© Atmosphere-Entertainment MM / Romero-Grunwald Productions


Parallels with America’s wealth inequalities, its oil-driven foreign adventures and anti-American sentiment in the Middle East during the noughties are no doubt fully intentional.  I’d assumed that the Dennis Hopper character in Land represented George Bush Jr.  However, as the critic Kim Newman pointed out in an obituary for Romero in Sight and Sound magazine, the character is actually a property developer.  So maybe Romero had a premonition of who’d be sitting in the Oval Office in 2017.


Land’s main problem is that it’s anti-climactic.  The end scenes where the zombies penetrate the human enclave and then Fiddler’s Green are suitably gory and carnage-ridden.  But you’re waiting for the military force in the Dead Reckoning, led by Simon Baker and Asia Argento, to ride to the rescue and start kicking serious zombie ass.  When Baker, Argento and the gang finally arrive, though, all they do is blow up the electric fence to allow a few survivors to escape.  And, um, that’s it.


Still, Land is way better than the two zombie pictures Romero made subsequently.  2007’s Diary of the Dead has an interesting premise – it’s a found-footage movie about a group of young filmmakers who’re working far from home when a zombie apocalypse breaks out; and they decide to record their adventures on film, documentary-style, as they journey across an increasingly chaotic landscape.  What’s particularly interesting is how they intercut their own story with clips that people around the world are simultaneously uploading to the Internet – and this being Romero, those clips often show human beings taking advantage of the mayhem to act appallingly.  However, after a gripping opening section, the middle of the film becomes routine and predictable; and its final stretch is talky and ponderous to an extreme.


Survival of the Dead followed in 2009.  Set on an island off America’s northwest coast where a feud between two families escalates while society breaks down around them, it resembles a particularly scrappy episode of The Walking Dead TV show and is a sad final instalment in Romero’s zombie sextet.


In between zombies, Romero made other types of movies and a couple are very good indeed.  That said, I’m not a fan of his two collaborations with Stephen King, Creepshow (1982), an anthology film scripted by King in the style of the old EC horror comics, and The Dark Half (1993), an adaptation of one of King’s novels.  (Creepshow has its admirers and features an excellent cast – Adrienne Barbeau, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, Leslie Nielsen and Fritz Weaver – but I find it unnecessarily hokey and slightly wasteful of Romero’s talents.)


© Libra Films International


But Martin (1978) is excellent.  It’s about a modern-day American teenager (John Amplas) who, clearly mentally disturbed, believes himself to be an 84-year-old vampire.  He ends up living in the Pittsburgh suburbs with his great-uncle, an elderly Lithuanian immigrant who, steeped in the lore and superstitions of his old country, is only too happy to take him at his word.  A disorientating mixture of blood-spilling, dreaminess, humour and melancholia, Martin would be worth re-watching in 2017 as a tonic to those wimpy Twilight books and movies that have defined teenaged vampires for the last decade.


Also praiseworthy is Romero’s 1981 non-horror movie Knightriders, which has a young Ed Harris in charge of a travelling medieval-style fair where the central attraction is the re-enactment of knightly jousting tournaments.  The gimmick is that there isn’t a horse in sight – the knights doing the jousting are bikers riding (and regularly falling off) motorcycles.  Furthermore, Harris, who sees his fair not as a business but a community, tries to live according to a knightly code of virtue and honour.  This does him few favours as the fair suffers money problems and attracts unwelcome attention from bloodsucking promoters and talent scouts, sensationalist journalists, crooked cops, rival motorcycle gangs and redneck crowds who just want to see motorbikes getting smashed.


© Laurel Productions


Knightriders is overlong and meandering and has about 15 characters too many, and at times it’s sentimental, melodramatic and hippy-dippy; but it’s also endearingly high-minded and decent-hearted.  It again shows Romero’s disdain for materialism and mindless conformism, though this time in human rather than metaphorical terms.  And Harris’s struggles in Knightriders reflect Romero’s uncomfortable relationship with the wider film industry, an industry that was all-too-happy to ignore him, exploit him, mess him around and rip him off.


In closing, I’ll say this to the spirit of George A. Romero.  Sir, you were responsible for a half-dozen films – the original Dead trilogy, The Crazies, Martin and Knightriders – that are extra-special ones for me.  I salute you.


© Laurel Entertainment Inc