Inspired by the comic series and by the HBO series, “TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT” is a full-length feature film directed by Ernest Dickerson. Its scenario is very similar to “Night of the Demons” although with a different storyline that centers around the struggle for an ancient artifact between its guardian and a high-level demon. The film has beautiful gore effects, a good story, bad supporting characters but the movie is sure a lot of fun to watch!
In the beginning, before God created the Earth and was enveloped in darkness; demons had 7 keys that allowed them to channel the power of the cosmos until God said “Let there be light” and the darkness was vanquished and the Earth was formed. God scattered the keys throughout the universe. The demons have journeyed far in the universe to search for the missing keys and open the gates of hell. Now, present day in an isolated town, a key is being guarded by a mysterious man called Brayker (William Sadler) who is being pursued by a high-level demon called the Collector (Billy Zane). Brayker takes refuge in an old church now turned into a cheap hotel ran by a woman named Irene (CCH Pounder). Together with the small group of people holed up in the building, Brayker intends to fight off the demon horde from possessing the last key; a key that contains some of the blood of Christ…but can they survive the night?
“Demon Knight” is the type of movie just screams ‘cult classic’. The basic structure of the film’s screenplay is about good vs. evil with elements of action, horror, dark comedy and fantasy dispersed throughout. I have to admit, the film isn’t a scary experience and director Dickerson intended it to be this way. The plot was nicely laid out for the viewer and Dickerson helps us understand more details as we get into the flashbacks about the key and its guardian that gives us an insight. The plot is pretty interesting and while I thought that the film could’ve have used more details about the other ‘knights’ who held the key from the other time periods. We know that there were at least two others who guarded the key; a thief named Sirach who lived during the time of Christ and a soldier named Dickerson (a reference to the director) in 1917. Brayker is the latest guardian, and until his day of reckoning, he is immune to aging and natural death but he can be killed by other means. The blood in the key is strengthened by the guardian’s sacrifice although it is the blood of Christ that really keeps the demons at bay. I guess the part that I liked the most about “Demon Knight” is the fact that the movie is about destiny and sacrifice that gives it a very mythical feel that blends in elements from the Scriptures and modern day legends.
The film follows the established trappings for a movie such as this. The evil side led by the Collector is obviously greater in number and power while the good side is hampered by certain human flaws such as greed, ambition and betrayal; which makes it weak and flawed. But, the good side while weak and small in number have a secret weapon; a key (or a cask) that contains the blood of the Son of God. The Blood of the Guardian also strengthens the remaining blood, so really, for the journey to go on, a guardian is destined to fight a final struggle.
I’ve said that the film is quite action-packed and it is; there are guns a-blazing, explosions as our human protagonists confront the demon horde. I enjoyed the way the low-level demons are dispatched, only instead of the head, it is through the eyes. Besides this, I enjoyed the blood and gore effects executed with the use of prosthetics and red ink. The sight of opened stomachs, entrails and torn off limbs are enough to satisfy the gore hound. Sorry, but CGI just doesn’t work for me in a horror movie; call me old school but horror works best with old school effects. The demons also look pretty cool and appears to be a cross between ghoulish features and half-burned vampires. They are nearly skeletons who just went on a diet with big heads and glowing green eyes. I also liked the make up effects in the film that reminded me a little of “Evil Dead”.
The story stays its course and keeps its focus. In the first act, we know that Brayker came to this place for a final confrontation and director Dickerson gives us subtle hints that there is something special about Jeryline (Jada Pinkett, before she got married to Will Smith) and that the Collector is a supernatural being as we witness his survival of an explosion. The most developed characters are Jeryline and Brayker; an ex-con with a good heart and a wandering warrior. However, the rest of the characters range from being underdeveloped and just flat out one-dimensional. I know most of them were just in it to be slaughtered but the supporting characters had a very weak range. Cordelia (Brenda Bakke) is a hooker who wants to be loved, uncle Willie (Dick Miller) is a drunk who wants to be somebody and they are tempted by their own desires (little surprise). Roach (Thomas Haden Church) is a cockroach, who plays the selfish slime ball. The film does borrow certain stereotypical characters from other movies. Ok, Irene shows some depth as I was taken by surprise by her final act. Billy Zane plays an awesome “Collector” and this is where some bits of the film’s grim humor comes in. I’ve always believed that demons would approach humans as a calm, likable and charming person and Zane fits this role to a ‘T”.
The film is accompanied by the “Crypt Keeper” (voiced by John Kassir) with both opening and closing scenes. There are scenes of mild sex and nudity but nothing too gratuitous that can get the alarm bells going. Despite some minor flaws, “Demon Knight” is a nice piece of horror filmmaking that reminded me a lot of “Army of Darkness” and “From Dusk Till Dawn”. It is grim, dark, and highly entertaining; the direction finds its footing and manages to keep its momentum going from beginning to end. Action, frights, occult themes, Gore and Blood, all in a nice little package.
The Crypt Keeper just delivers! (well, maybe not in “Bordello of Blood”)