King William is a creative anachronism who desperately tries to decipher the code of honor in this modern world of polluted morality. Director George Romero eschews zombie politico for a character study involving a troupe of Renaissance performers, a group of misfits and self-imposed outcasts who joust upon their iron steeds, living upon the fumes of chivalry.
Romero begins the film with a fluttering prophecy like some evil incarnate, a black bird descending to the earth. This is Billy's (King William) vision as next he is seen in naked repose beside his buxom queen, then flagellating himself in a lake. Surrounded by skeletal trees, this could be a scene from the 6th century. It's not until a low angle shot reveals his horse to be a motorcycle and he kicks it to life, its growl cracking the air like a burbeling Jabberwocky. The film is essentially plotless and focuses upon the struggle of this groups existence in a society that doesn’t care to understand true freedom and honor. They travel the country roads of Pennsylvania and perform for a few dollars to small towns where the cows outnumber the people. The conflict involves Billy and his nemesis (and cohort) Morgan, who wants to “sell out” to a promoter for fame and glory. The strength of the film is in its ability to allow peripheral characters to develop; though these insights don’t advance the plot it grounds the story in human drama.
The motorcycle jousting scenes are wonderful and well choreographed, often composed in medium shot (with close-ups reserved for weapons striking bloodied armor and shields), so the crashes and stunt-work can truly be appreciated...in the days before CGI! Ed Harris infuses Billy with a pompous and knightly conceit yet makes him fallible and human, full of anger, despair, and love for his friends. Tom Savini is the Black Knight Morgan but he too has many dimensions and is not a total cad, and earns the respect of his King. On paper, the film seems like a guilty pleasure, a campy romp through Camelot but it rises above the superficial: this is a sad tale of sacrifice and nobility in a world haunted by Corporate zombies.
Finally, a joust decides the once and future King as Morgan accepts the crown and the heavy responsibility of leadership. Like King Arthur, Billy then disappears into history and becomes a myth for those who loved him.
Final Grade: (B)