Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)

When it came to TV, "Tales From the Crypt" became something of a pop culture institution in the 90's. Based on the controversial EC Comics series, it spawned toys, late night jokes and even a Saturday morning cartoon. While it may not have been as important or good as later HBO shows like "The Larry Sanders Show", "The Sopranos" or "The Wire", it was important for horror.

Why? Well for one thing, the fact that big time producers like Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver were behind it, and got big Hollywood talent to act (Demi Moore) or direct (Michael J. Fox and Arnold Schwarzenegger for example) helped. Plus, it proved that horror television could be done outside of the world of broadcast television and basic cable, and could be done in an "R-rated" style. So, with it's success came movies, which came out on the right time, as horror was slowly becoming fashionable again. The first one was "Demon Knight". which was also the best of the three movies made*, and was Spike Lee vet Ernest Dickerson's first directorial effort within the horror genre**.

Brayker (William Sadler) is on the run from The Collector (Billy Zane), who wants what Brayker has: the last of the Seven Keys-an ancient relic containing the blood of prior owners that dates back to the time of Christ. Brayker tries to take refuge at small hotel in the middle of nowhere, only to have The Collector find him. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Mr. Collector is actually a powerful demon, and when he takes the place hostage, Brayker and those in the hotel (including CCH Pounder, Jada-Pinkett Smith, Thomas-Haden Church and Dick Miller) must band together to stop hell from literally breaking loose.

The main reason to watch "Demon Knight" is Billy Zane. Here, he delivers one of the best performances the history of 90's horror, playing the part with a quirky blend of comical deadpan delivery and Satanic menace that thankfully never goes into full scenery-chewing mode. The rest of the cast does fine work too, but this is Zane's show to steal. There's also some choice moments of gore, humor that goes from puns (thankfully, only one or two are real groaners, and they come from The Crypt Keeper) to genuinely great one-liners ("You look absolutely beautiful. I know that sounds like a line-Lord knows I've used it before...") and even some genuine suspense along the way.

Then there's the direction from Dickerson. While he's worked in horror before (he did cinematography for "Fright House" and "Def By Temptation"), it really helps that you can tell from the onset that he's a big fan of horror, as he keeps the laughs, scares and blood flowing while showing some clear respect both for the show and the comics that spawned it. Even the nods to other horror movies-from "Phantasm" and "The Evil Dead" to even Italian horror (there's some very Mario Bava and Dario Argento influences camera work and color schemes, and Collector's demon army looks a lot like the beasts from Lamberto Bava's "Demons") are a lot of fun, and great to spot as well.

If your a fan of the TV show, or if you want a horror/comedy hybrid done right, then "Demon Knight" is right up your alley. If you ask me, it'd make a fun double bill with something like "Demons."

Rating: 8/10

*This wasn't supposed to be the first "Tales From the Crypt" movie. There were also hopes for a zombie-themed movie called "Dead Easy" and a movie called "Body Count." Instead we got "Bordello of Blood", which starred Dennis Miller, Angie Everheart and Cory Feldman, but it came out when people stopped caring about the show, so it bombed. Also, it wasn't a very good movie. The third movie, "Ritual", went straight to video

**Dickerson went on to direct the Snoop Dogg horror vehicle "Bones", the "Master of Horrors" episode "The V Word", the "Fear Itself" episode "Something Will Bite", and episodes of "Dexter" and "The Walking Dead."

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