Written By: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, and Mark Bishop
Directed By: Ernest Dickerson
Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, CCH Pounder, Thomas Haden Church
Country of Origin: United States of America
It isn’t hard to pinpoint the staple of my childhood bloodlust. From nearly age two, I received the honor and privilege of staying up late on the weekends to watch HBO’s original programming known as Tales from the Crypt. Somewhere during my adolescence, my parents were even kind enough to tape a six-hour Tales marathon for me that I still have in my possession. Sure, the episodes were primarily from season 3 (which explains why I know every line in that particular year of shows) and featured topics that I didn’t always understand, but I cherished them for a long, long time.
With a warm embrace, the show made the jump to the big screen in January of 1995 with the following movie, titled Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, or just Demon Knight for short. Little did I know that at age 7, I was experiencing my favorite horror movie of all time. That’s right, I put no others in front of Demon Knight as being top of the pops in the gory genre that I review most often. In fact, it seems almost a misprint when I discuss films that don’t feature some sort of blood and guts appeal. So, in order to keep pace, I present to you one of the finest B-grade horror films ever (and also one of the most original), and not just because it was based on one of the best television shows known to man.
The place is New Mexico, and the plot is rather simplistic at first glance. Brayker, a rebel on the run, is protecting a mysterious relic that contains the power to bind and constrict the demons of the night from overtaking the realm of Earth and destroying mankind. He is pursued furiously by The Collector, a nasty minion of Satan that is (mind the pun, it is a TFTC Review) hell-bent on stealing the relic, or “key” back for the dark side. Short on time, options, and now, innocence (Brayker has caused quite an accident for the local police to clean up), our fleeting protagonist shacks up inside a rundown roach motel with several others who are typical residents. Turns out Brayker is going to get these folks into more trouble than they bargained for as the Collector shows up and all hell (Pun #2) breaks loose, beginning with a fist through the face of the Sherriff of this crummy little town.
Put your mind at ease, Dear Reader, because if all of these shenanigans seem to be too far fetched, then you’re in for a real surprise. While most of the early scenes in this movie are used to build characters and side-plots (a rarity in the horror business), they also mount the tension behind the whereabouts of this key and the protection Brayker is trying to provide. Yes, this is a story about death and demons, but its also a story about everyday people allowing their defenses to be lowered and their vulnerability to consume and corrupt them. We’ll get to that in more detail in a little bit.
For now, we return to the basics, as a fed up Collector takes out his rage by unleashing demons to take the house from the humans. While the characters survive the initial onslaught, the Collector is a crafty veteran that utilizes the art of seduction to get what he wants. Played aptly by Billy Zane, he uses a soft whisper to indulge in carnal desire with the characters inside the building, and though he himself cannot enter (due to a blood seal placed around the complex), he manages to find a way in by stealing the souls of the enchanted. This is where things take a turn for the worst, as some of the characters begin to die off in nasty ways, and others find themselves risking (and losing) life and limb to escape the clutches of the demons that are now polluting the house. While Wally, a former mail clerk is the first to be eliminated, Irene, the desk assistant for this rented out apartment complex takes it the worst. She has her arm ripped right out of socket and proceeds to go the remainder of the film with half an arm. Let’s give her a hand for that (Pun #3).
As Demon Knight continues, so does an ongoing story about the origin of the key, demons, and conflict taking place in real time. Turns out, this isn’t your typical demon possession movie (take that Night of the Demons). These demons have been scouring the Earth since Genesis in search of seven keys that, when formed in a circle, bring back the darkness of the universe and their reign of evil. While we learn of the descendants of this, the last remaining heavenly key, we are also exposed to more religious allegory than most films, not just horror, will ever provide.
This is where Demon Knight really excels, by providing the audience with an easy to follow yet incredibly immersive back story that, while a bit far-fetched, fit’s the story perfectly. While very few people will point to this film as a prime example of what a truly creepy horror movie should be, I’ll stand up and proudly exclaim that your movie is only as good as the history behind it. When I encourage you to watch a movie, I attempt to avoid the spoilage of the climax and ending. Trust that I will again be doing that for this movie, as I don’t want to lose my head (Pun #4, related to the Cryptkeeper) by going overboard in this review.
Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: I previously mentioned a character named Wally in this review. Well, if you’re unfamiliar with the work of Charles Fleischer before his portrayal of Wally Enfield, failed postal worker in this movie, then listen up. He voiced Roger Rabbit and Benny the Cab in Who Framed Roger Rabbit less than a decade earlier. While most people would call that versatile, I feel that Fleischer sold himself short by accepting the role of a bumbling fool who you are happy to see bite it early on.
Best Name in the Cast: Not surprisingly, the winner is William Sadler, who, as of press time, has appeared in more episodes of Tales from the Crypt than any other player that was not a regular (John Kassir). He was in the very first episode, The Man Who Was Death, as well as an appearance as Death (of Bill & Ted fame) in a later season. Talk about a guy who’s dying to stay with the show (Pun #5). Sadler narrowly won the category of the Patron Saint of B-Movies, Dick Miller.
Quote of the Film:
“God Damn it, get that pussy off the table! …I meant the cat.” -Irene, mistakenly addressing the neighborhood bicycle Cordelia.
Final Thoughts: I’ve been pretty generous to my favorite horror movie of all time, which is not surprising in the least. Demon Knight is not without its flaws, but it doesn’t have too many for the standard horror film made in 1995. In fact, if you ever want a thought-provoking original story that has just enough gore, violence, and yes, that tricky bastard religion spliced in, then you should look no further than this Tales-produced gem. The finished product might seem corny in hindsight, but that won’t stop you from keeping your own pun count with all the deadpan delivery that Demon Knight distributes.