DEMON KNIGHT: A Crypt Crafted For The Silver Screen

In the mid-1990’s, the producers of the hit cable t.v. show Tales From The Crypt teamed with Universal to extend the show’s brand into the movie world. It was a short-lived experiment – the box office demise of Bordello Of Blood killed the budding franchise off – but things got off to a great start with Demon Knight. Though the story doesn’t necessarily fit the show’s signature style, Demon Knight is a strong popcorn horror flick that is likely to please the show’s fans with its mix of colorful horrors and dark humor.

DemKni-bluAfter a cheeky framing device with the Crypt Keeper, Demon Knight shifts its action to a rundown hotel in a small desert town. This unassuming location becomes the stage for a life-and-death battle between good and evil. Good is represented by Brayker (William Sadler), an enigmatic and nervous stranger trying to protect an ancient relic. The evil that opposes him manifests itself in the form of the Collector (Billy Zane), a gleefully deceptive and supernaturally powered individual out to get that relic.

Caught in the middle of this struggle are a hooker (Brenda Bakke), a postman (Charles Fleischer), a layabout (Thomas Haden Church), a kindly drunk (Dick Miller), the hotel owner (CCH Pounder) and a rebellious young woman (Jada Pinkett). They’ll all find their mettle tested as the Collector forces them to choose sides.

Demon Knight is designed for horror fans. It’s a fun romp through the annals of 70s and 80s horror, with obvious influences like The Evil Dead, The Exorcist and the trapped-in-a-house/infighting between the survivors elements of Night Of The Living Dead making their presence felt. However, the film deftly combines these elements with a puckish sense of humor and creates its own fun mythology that manages to link the battle between its two main characters to the Civil War and the crucifixion of Christ(!). Screenwriters Ethan Reiff, Cyrus DemKni-01Voris and Mark Bishop keep the plotline humming with an array of fun twists and setpieces that never let up.

The same love for the horror genre and all the pop-gothic fun it can offer is felt in cinematographer-turned-director Ernest Dickerson’s work behind the camera. He delivers all the excitement that horror fans would hope for, including a series of imaginative scenes where the Collector tries to tempt the house’s inhabitants: these little setpieces evoke a series of moods from gently tragic to lustily humorous.

Dickerson also cannily exploits the film’s visual possibilities, with highlights being the stylized and gorgeous flashbacks for Brayker’s character that reveal the nature of his mission. A lively orchestral score from Edward Shearmur and an array of killer makeup effects by Todd Masters seal the film’s appeal (the dancer-like demons are a highlight of the latter contributor’s work).

DemKni-02Finally, Demon Knight boasts a killer cast that mixes character acting veterans like Miller and Sadler with then-rising talent like Church and Pinkett. Sadler brings gravitas and intensity to his tormented hero role and gets nice support from the film’s once-in-a-lifetime supporting cast, with both Miller and Pounder stealing many scenes with sly comic performances. Both Church and Pinkett show off the chops that would carry them far… but the film really belongs to Zane, who revels in a character that lets him to show off his comic skills, seductive abilities and a knack for evil. He delivers on all these fronts with brio and the result is one of his signature movie roles.

In short, Demon Knight is a treat for the horror faithful, a rollercoaster that mixes the familiar and the inventive in a way that delivers multiple pop-shock payoffs for genre fans.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream DemKni-03Factory has just released a new “Collector’s Edition” blu-ray for this film. The transfer does a nice job with the film’s mix of noctural settings and periodic bursts of color, delivering an image with plenty of detail. Both 5.1 and 2.0 lossless stereo tracks are included: the 5.1 track was used for this review and it does a nice job of adding depth to the sound design and score.

This set also includes plenty of extras. First up are two commentary tracks. The first pairs Dickerson with extras producer Michael Felsher. It’s a relaxed but informative chat with plenty of detail on how Dickerson worked with the cast and what inspired his directorial choices. The second track is devoted to the special effects crew, with Todd Masters serving as the de-facto moderator. There is plenty of info on each effects scene, the challenge of doing it all on a tight budget and some kind DemKni-04words for Dickerson.

Next up is a 10 minute Q&A session taken from a Dick Miller retrospective in Los Angeles that includes Miller, Dickerson and Rick Baker. It touches on Demon Knight as well as both Gremlins films. However, the big show in terms of featurettes is “Under Siege,” a featurette that includes Dickerson alongside Sadler, Zane, Miller and several other cast and crew members. It covers how the film repurposed a spec script to fit the Tales From The Crypt style, the benefits and drawbacks of shooting on a soundstage, plenty of material on the FX and how the ending changed after a test screening. Felsher helmed this piece and its fun, informative and fast-paced.

The extras close out with a still gallery that offers over 60 images worth of production photos and ad art and a fun theatrical trailer that is hosted by the Crypt Keeper himself. All in all, an excellent package for Tales From The Crypt fans.

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