Movies like Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight were, perhaps unknowingly, practically invented for Hangover Theater. In fact, chances are that when you saw it, you were either drunk (or otherwise altered) or hungover. Which also means that there’s a decent chance that you don’t even remember it. That’s a shame, people, because Demon Knight is… well, I won’t say it’s good. It’s pretty damn far from good. But it’s fun, and it’s surprisingly entertaining, drunk or sober, suffering or straight.
Tales From The Crypt originally started out as a pulp comic in the 1950’s. It’s been adapted into a television series as well as a run of films spanning from 1972 to the most recent version in 2001 (an unfortunate misstep by the wonderful Tim Curry), all featuring some sort of supernatural, not-terribly-scary story narrated/introduced by an irritating animatronic puppet named The Crypt Keeper who has a jones for cleavage and rampant, idiotic punnery. Its history has been a decidedly mixed bag, and Demon Knight is easily the most successful of the theatrical entries. Essentially, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight is one of those good vs. evil, last stand before the Apocalypse kind of flicks. A demon called The Collector (Billy Zane) is chasing a good guy (or “Guardian”) named Brayker (William Sadler), who has an ancient relic in the shape of a key that, unsurprisingly, the demon will use to unleash Hell on the universe. Brayker is relentlessly pursued into a battered old church-turned-rooming house, populated by a weird collection of people, all played by an even weirder collection of actors. There’s the owner, Irene (CCH Pounder of “Law and Order: SVU”), the maintenance worker/ex-con Jeryline (Jada Pinkett-Smith), Uncle Willy the town drunk (Dick Miller), Cordelia the hooker (Brenda Bakke), her boyfriend/John/resident scumbag (Thomas Haden Church), and a dumb yokel cop. Basically, it’s a collection of “that guys” mixed with some has-beens and a few never-will-bes, the only exceptions being Pinkett-Smith and Church.
In any event, what I described above is essentially the whole plot. The Collector raises a bunch of gooey, creepy demon-lites to try to invade the church. Brayker’s key contains some sort of glow-in-the-dark raspberry syrup that prevents them from entering doors or windows when correctly applied. The Collector tries to tempt each individual by using their fantasy — sex, money, fame, beauty, the return of an arm that was torn off by slavering hell-beasts with prehensile tongues — you know, the stuff we all dream of. Eventually, we learn the whole story behind why The Collector is chasing Brayker (though no word on why his name is spelled like that), and a bunch of people die predictably, and there’s a bunch of explosions and an astonishing amount of cheap-looking gore. You can pretty much figure out who’s going to live and who’s going to die within the first fifteen minutes. Hell, the whole plot is telegraphed. The writing isn’t exactly deep, you know? Demons, the end of the world, images of Christ’s crucifixion, a few hillbillies, flawed good guys, dastardly bad guys, and a whole mess of fake blood.
So why should you watch Demon Knight? Several reasons. First, the cast. Considering what a motley bunch it is, they all give their absolute best. Smith is the sassy tough gal with heart, and it actually works. Sort of like HawthoRNe, but covered in blood and organ juice, and not annoying. Sadler is Sadler. The man does not have a ton of range — it’s either good Sadler or evil Sadler. But what he does, he does well, and this is no exception. Thomas Haden Church? The man is a national treasure and we just don’t realize it. Demon Knight was one of his first post-“Wings” film roles, so at the time his role was particularly hilarious since “Wings” was my only frame of reference for him. Imagine my surprise when I saw Lowell Mather as a misogynistic asshole with a penchant for getting his nipples jacked up by a car battery. It was truly a sight to be seen. I guess what I’m saying is that… Church is a goddamn blast in this. But really, the star of the film is, oddly enough, one William George Zane, Jr. I think we can all agree that Billy Zane is a shit actor, right? We can come together on that? I mean, it’s sort of odd — he’s got the looks, the sexy voice, and yet he’s been in consistently terrible films for his entire life (just a sampling for you: The Phantom, BloodRayne, Titanic). But for one shining moment captured on celluloid, for 91 glorious minutes, he’s fucking brilliant. He owns Demon Knight. Watching him chew through his scenes is like me at a burrito stand — nothing by meat, shame and awe is left behind. He’s clearly having the time of his life, whether it’s by making fun of the yokels, seducing women, or tearing out peoples’ hearts. He’s a joy to behold. I mean, you need to watch Demon Knight to really appreciate it. In fact, here’s a little taste, just to whet your appetite:
That’s good shit, right? Because that leads us to the other reasons that Demon Knight is a good movie — co-directors Ernest R. Dickerson and Gilbert Adler used the fact that they were doing an R-rated movie to bust out everything they could that the TV series couldn’t do. There are boobs all over the place, and some truly impressive, if obviously fake, gut-rippings. Wow. These boys love them some disembowelings. Seriously, they don’t know how to film a death without someone getting something ripped out of and/or off of their body. It’s fantastic. Exploding body parts, demons with nasty tongues, claws ripping people open, steaming goo all over the place. And, of course, the lovely face-‘asploding shown above. I have nothing but respect for them and their special effects and makeup people. They have a clear dedication to their craft, the ancient, time-honored craft of fake evisceration. They may not have had much of a budget, but they did the best they could with what they had. Rick Baker would have been proud, and it had me downright giggly.
Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight is, like I said, miles away from being a good movie. I’m not going to bother telling you it’s a diamond in the rough. But it’s funny, violent, gory and an all-around good time. It’s not going to change your life, it’s not going to undo last night’s mistakes, but for about 90 minutes, it’ll bring a grin to your face. What the hell else do you want?
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.