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"It was another age. Another place. Here, time had long emptied the world… and in its wake came the cyborgs. Mystical. Powerful. Invincible. And we humans became the victims of their hunger."
This narrative introduction, vocally delivered by actress Kathy Long and set against the soaring landscape of Utah's Monument Valley, opens writer / director Albert Pyun's post-apocalyptic kickboxing vampire cyborg sci-fi adventure Knights (1993), this installment of Hoffa's Retro Cinema Club's feature film pick!
Long plays Nia, a young girl forced to wander the wasteland alone after narrowly escaping the brutal slaughter of her family and village by a roaming cyborg army led by the neurotic Job, a self-declared "prophet farmer of things to come," played with emphatic intensity by screen veteran Lance Henriksen. Ten years following the needless attack that took her family's lives, Nia has taken up refuge with a small village of farmers when once again Job's cyborg army catches up with her. Unable to defend against an attack, as no human has ever been known to kill a cyborg, Job's army sacks the village with relative ease in search of one thing - human blood.
We later learn that Job and the other cyborgs were previously altered by the mysterious and evil "Master Builder" to use human blood for fuel, thus assuring their immortality and supremacy over the post-apocalyptic world. After a swift victory over the small farming village, the army continues to march onward as the cyborg Simon, excellently played by the wildly energetic and often satirical Scott Paulin, is left behind to gather up Nia and other surviving humans, which will later be used for life-sustaining feedings by the other cyborgs.
Just as Simon is about to feast on Nia, he's interrupted by a mystifying lone horseback rider named Gabriel, played by the legendary Kris Kristofferson. A cyborg himself, Gabriel is on a mission of his own - to terminate Job and all the other cyborgs, thus making the world once again safe for human inhabitance. Intrigued by Gabriel, Nia watches with careful attention as Gabriel and Simon engage in an epic duel to the end. Meanwhile, miles away, Job receives a visionary prophecy from the Master Builder, instructing him to lead the cyborg army to Taos, where the blood of 10,000 humans will provide them with enough fuel to successfully conquer the planet.
Achieving victory over Simon, Gabriel forms a pact with Nia, whereby he'll teach her how to kill cyborgs if she'll help him scout out Job and the other cyborgs before they reach Taos. And thus is the set-up for Pyun's Knights, which takes us to the fronts of many grandiose battles and many glorious adventures.
Undeservedly so, Pyun's name has become synonymous with low-budget direct-to-video fares that are typically eviscerated and vituperated against by mainstream film critics and audiences alike. And while it does admittedly take a special soul to appreciate and find the redeeming qualities of some of Pyun's offerings, many of his efforts are highly entertaining, providing viewers with a welcome escape from your typical Hollywood doldrums. As for his directorial skills, Pyun is as efficient and effective as they come, often times working on a shooting schedule of seven (7) days or less. With that being said, Knights can easily be considered as near the top of Pyun's extensive catalog of work, featuring masterful action-scene camera work in the vein of Pyun's mentor, the pioneering Akira Kurosawa, and breathtaking cinematography amidst the picturesque backdrop of southern Utah's rocky and unforgiving deserts.
One of Hoffa's eccentric guilty film pleasures is seeking out films that cast music legends in a lead role, as often times their performances tend to be engrossingly hypnotic, thus allowing them to "steal the show." In Knights, country, folk, and rock superstar Kristofferson doesn't disappoint. Kristofferson's typically wooden and relaxed style of acting actually works quite well here, giving his Gabriel an almost surreal quality. His interactions with the rest of the cast provide us with some of the strongest scenes in film, such as the back and forth dialog between him and the wonderfully vibratious Paulin, as can be seen in the attached preview clip from the film. Not to mention that Kristofferson is just one those people that seem to have a larger-than-life aura about them just because of how legitimately down-to-earth they constantly appear to be, despite their mass fame and fortune. In fact, an interview with Pyun revealed that Kristofferson actually helped transport materials to and assisted in erecting support structures on location during filming - shhhh… don't tell the Teamsters :-)
Long's casting is interesting and highly effective for two reasons - first, she's an actual five (5) time professional world heavyweight kickboxing champion and is often described as the sport's first sex-symbol; and second, is a relatively early entry into the whole female action hero sub-genre of films that have recently enjoyed increased theatrical popularity. The issues of female empowerment are present throughout the film and exemplified wherein Nia declares to Gabriel "[a]nd don't think because I'm a girl that I can't do it." Unlike other films in this sub-genre, Pyun focuses on Long's physical prowess, strength, and technical capabilities as opposed to her sexual appeal, which is refreshingly never exploited.
Complimenting each other well, Kristofferson and Long develop a heartfelt onscreen camaraderie that is in undeniable contrast with their on-screen nemesis Henriksen's psychotic wickedness. Henriksen, of course, is no stranger to filling non-human roles, being best known to audiences as the 'Alien' franchise's Bishop android and Frank Black from TV's "Millenium" (1996-1999). Always interesting, the versatile Henriksen is a welcome sight and rounds out the lead cast nicely.
Like most Pyun films, Knights benefits from not taking itself too seriously, providing well timed and visually unique moments of comedy relief that integrate seamlessly into the story line and overall mood of the film without detracting from its primary emphasis. While some of this is undoubtedly resultant of budgetary constraints, much of it actually comes from the dynamic and artist freedom that Pyun typically allows his casts. Most effective in accomplishing this are Henriksen and the supporting Paulin, who really work the script that they were given to the best of their respective natural abilities. Kristofferson also has his moments in such regard, albeit on a bit more subdued level than his co-stars, that actually lends well to the mythic qualities of his Gabriel.
Adding to the wonderment and pure excitement of Knights is another of the film's omnipresent stars - the aurally pleasing and over-the-top synthesizer driven score of long time Pyun collaborator Anthony 'Tony' Riparetti. Riparetti's thunderous score perfectly accentuates and really helps to drive the adrenaline-pumping action sequences while also giving the desolate post-apocalyptic Utah wasteland a fantastically surreal mood and feeling. Also lending to the unique atmosphere are the subtle underlying symbolic references to biblical characters and timelines made throughout the film.
Pyun himself has confessed that perhaps he was a bit too ambitious in trying to tackle and combine the variety of sub-genres and themes found in Knights' story with the budget he had to work with, but in typical Pyun fashion, he manages to pull it all together in a cohesive and exceedingly enjoyable manner. Knights is most definitely worth the 90-minutes of your life that its running time requires and will leave you feeling thoroughly entertained! But, if you're still not convinced, just watch the attached preview clip featuring Gabriel and Simon's triumphant battle that will most certainly leave you wanting more, guaranteed!
In North America, Knights was released on VHS and laserdisc by Paramount Home Video. As Knights is currently out-of-print and was never officially offered on DVD or in a digital file format, it is unfortunately somewhat difficult to locate. Other than purchasing a copy online, your best bet is probably going to be at your local mom and pop video rental outlets that still offer an extensive VHS and/or laserdisc library.
Will Nia and Gabriel be successful in stopping Job and the cyborg army from achieving ultimate power and reign over human civilization? To find out, be sure to seek out Knights today! Then, come back to Patch and let Hoffa and others know what you think about Pyun's fun-filled action-packed multi-thematic sci-fi adventure and be sure to tune in for the next installment of Hoffa’s Retro Cinema Club!
Knights / 1993 / Color / 90 min. / Dolby Stereo / Rated R for language, violence, and adult situations.
Film Clip and Poster Art courtesy of Paramount Pictures. ™ and © 1993 Kings Road Entertainment.