Violent Night, Holy Knight


Tales from the Crypt presents: Demon Knight - 1995
see link for writing team
Directed by Ernest Dickerson

There are two key things to know about Tales from the Crypt presents: Demon Knight.  One is that it is pretty much an extended episode of Tales from the Crypt, the 1989-1996 TV series based on the premise of the EC horror comics from the 50s.  The other is that it's not like an episode of the TV show, because it's an R-rated movie.  So, on the one hand, we get the same winkingly humorous approach to the self-aware monster tale and the pun-ishingly corny framing sequences with The Cryptkeeper, and on the other hand we get a few gratuitous boob shots, more intense violence and a higher caliber of practical creature effects (no CGI for us, baby!).

Once The Cryptkeeper is done with the introductory formalities, the tale opens on a car chase that ends with a ridiculously over-sized explosion.  Our chaser is Billy Zane; that charming bald guy from lots of things.  Our chasee, William Sadler; that really serious guy from lots of things.  Oh yeah, Demon Knight is SO 90s; managing to work in Thomas Hayden Church (from Wings), Charles Fleischer (from Roger Rabbit), CCH Pounder (from everything) and Jada Pinkett (from marrying Will Smith).  Even John Larroquette (Night Court) makes a cameo appearance.

So we've got our chase dynamic and just enough mystery to get things rolling.  Brayker (Sadler) staggers away from the wreck looking for another car, or failing that, a place to lay low.  This ends up being the only hotel in a tiny town, which seems an exceedingly obvious choice for someone trying to lay low, but whatever; the $#!+'s gotta go down somewhere, right?  Meanwhile, Zane's character passes himself off to the police as some kind of apparent bounty hunter, despite offering neither credentials nor a name.  He wants what Brayker has, and clearly will stop at nothing to get it.

Thus, the hotel becomes the primary setting for their conflict to play out.  Along the way, other fairly inconsequential subplots are established, but they serve to create character dynamics for the rest of the cast.  It's thin stuff and reliant on stock archetypes, but between you and me, it's a lot more than a lot of other horror movies bother to do (see yesterday's blargicle on Don't Blink).  In a fairly well-broadcast switcheroo, it turns out that Brayker is our more-or-less "good guy" and Zane's "Collector" is a demon sent to steal an artifact of holy power from his keeping.  Naturally, all Hell breaks loose.

The story offers few surprises and no scares whatsoever, but it's actually a pretty fun time.  Key to one's enjoyment is an appreciation for ooky, goopy monsters and over-the-top action.  As it happens, I have that appreciation.  For example, the primary means of killing most demons is to shoot them in the eye.  It's my theory that this plot point came about solely because the effects crew had a cool, splattery effect so they just went with what worked.

Demon Knight reminded me most of the Tarantino/Rodriguez joint From Dusk 'Til Dawn, which actually came out a year later.  Now, Demon Knight didn't have the budget or talent that From Dusk 'Til Dawn had, but it shares a similar sense of self-indulgent fun surrounding a small group defending themselves against a diabolical onslaught.

Billy Zane is the real standout here, infusing The Collector with swagger and menacing cool.  The film would have benefited from more of his character.

I can't really fault Demon Knight for being less than a triple-A movie when it so clearly embraces its B-movie identity.  Yes, it's goofy.  Yes, the characters are thin.  Yes, it's full of plot holes and questionable choices, but those would only get in the way of the movie being exactly what it set out to be.

I do have one bitter little complaint, but it applies directly to the final conflict, and thus constitutes a MAJOR spoiler.  Therefore, if you're starting to think you might like to check out Demon Knight (and if you've read this far and have at all thought that it sounded like your kind of thing, you really should), please skip the next paragraph for now.

In the final confrontation between The Collector and Jeryline, when she sips from the Key and he attempts to seduce her, it seemed SO OBVIOUS that she would kiss him and spit the blood down his throat.  This, in fact, would have been freaking awesome.  So when she finally ends up simply spitting it on his face, which she had plenty of opportunities to do during his soliloquizing, it was just a little bit of a disappointment -- alleviated somewhat by his dramatic meltdown.  I almost feel like they had planned for a kiss, but being the super AIDS-conscious mid-90s, ended up opting for a more toned-down attack than the sensual swapping of bodily fluids.  I have no evidence to support this, and it may simply have been the missed opportunity of a team writing a franchise entry rather than uniquely expressed vision.  Ah, sigh...


All that being said, I enjoyed Demon Knight, but I wasn't blown away by it.  The story was simple but satisfying.  The performances were not particularly naturalistic, but that wasn't the kind of movie this was.  In fact, Sadler gave the most restrained performance, and he was actually a tad dull.  Zane nibbled a little scenery, but he really shone.  Jada Pinkett got to play a little range and was much less hammy than a lot of her other performances (last week's Gotham premiere comes to mind).

The effects are definitely the product of another era, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  It's all rubber suits and KY Jelly, but it's my personal opinion that those merely enhance the sense of fun.  For example, the original Evil Dead films were so obvious in the effects, yet they were mad hot fun.  The recent re-moot (re-make/re-boot/moot point) was off-puttingly realistic, dour.and joyless.  Demon Knight definitely strikes much closer to original Evil Dead territory.

There you have it.  If you're planning a fun kind of horror movie night, consider making it a Demon Knight.

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