Guest Post: Demon Knight (1995)

Recently, I received a voice mail from the Angry Scholar.  He was frantically driving to the airport in order to catch a plane to Chicago for the annual Perfect Strangers convention.  He said he’d forgotten to write a post to cover the time he’d be gone and was devastated that he’d be letting his readers down.  I know this is something they are used to, but rather than have him worry through the only week of the year he can acceptably cosplay “Cousin Larry” Appleton, I stepped up to the plate and wrote a movie review for him.

Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight is not well-remembered today.  It certainly wasn’t well received when it came out in 1995.  Born as an offshoot of the schlocky, tongue in cheek TV show Tales From The Crypt, and cast with character actors and C to F list actors, it shouldn’t have stood much of a chance.  Somehow though, the movie was able to transcend its limitations and become a surprisingly watchable, even enjoyable horror movie.

The short plot synopsis goes like this: A mysterious drifter is chased by another mysterious drifter to a middle of nowhere motel populated by a rag-tag team of stock characters.  It becomes known that the first drifter is a guardian of a relic filled with the blood of Jesus Christ, an artifact the second drifter, a demon, needs to help demons take the world back.  Luckily, the motel is a renovated church, thus on consecrated ground, and a standoff commences.

The movie is a decent mix of action and character work, led by the always reliable character actor William Sadler, and the rarely reliable Billy Zane.  Sadler give the guardian Brayker a well characterized world-weariness, and easily gives the audience someone to root for.  Billy Zane, B movie actor extraordinaire, somehow passes through the barrier that separates “awful hamminess” from “delightfully unhinged performance”.  Coupled with forgettable early roles from Jada Pinkett Smith and Thomas Hayden Church, and adding in a dash of the excellent CCH Pounder to round things out, and casting didn’t do too bad of a job.

While the main credit for watch-worthiness goes to the performances onscreen of Sadler and Zane, I personally thank the director Ernest Dickerson for making the movie as acceptable as it is.  He was a relatively new face on the scene when he was hired, having only done the Tupac Shakur vehicle Juice and the horrible Ice T movie Surviving the Game.  Since then, he’s gone on to direct several episodes of high-profile television series such as The Wire, Dexter, The Walking Dead, ER, and Treme, among others.  He somehow manages to bring a very distinct look and feel to the movie, bordering on the neon schlockiness of a Joel Schumaker movie without going too far and the static, desolate solitude of a Don Cascarele movie.  He does an admirable job using POV camerawork as well as effect camera sweeps and zooms to convey the terror and paranoia of the situation.  Most of all, the movie employs a very good use of practical effects.  The demon costumes are well made, and fairly scary even by 1995 standards.  The blood seal effect used throughout the movie looks plausible enough, and by the end becomes an expected and welcome part of the in-movie world.

Overall, if you haven’t seen it, I would recommend the movie.  It never deserved an Oscar, but it is an enjoyably fun and sometimes scary way to spend an evening, much like a date with the Angry Scholar.


Halloween Meltdown ’14: Multimediaween (?)

Alright, so Multimediaween doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but I couldn’t come up with anything else that was appropriately catchy and would suggest a bunch of different, uh, media. At any rate, in random order, here’s a list of games and films and stuff which–like orange and black decor, pumpkin-spiced anything, and, you know, ghosts and demons and such–seem to fit the season. Some of them I’ve reviewed already, and some I will in the weeks to come. All are worth checking out if you haven’t already. Watch (or play) them while carving pumpkins, or with a nice seasonal beer. Mmmyes.

1. Vampire Hunter D (1985)

VampireHunterD2Maybe my favorite anime film of all time is the epic and admittedly ridiculous Vampire Hunter D. Based on one entry in a series of novels by Kikuchi Hideyuki, the film follows the eponymous hunter, known only as D, as he fights through a post-apocalyptic nightmarescape to save a young girl who’s become the latest victim of a local vampire lord. D himself is a dhampir, or half-vampire, and his left hand has a freaking face and it, like, eats things. This film has everything: vampires, mutants, laser guns, sword fighting, and tons of blood. It also, somewhat uncommonly in anime, has an English-language dub that is as good as the Japanese original.

2. Witch’s Night Out (1978)

WitchsNightOut1Witch’s Night Out is a cloyingly sweet, poorly-animated TV movie that I watched every single damned year as a kid. It was as much a part of the run-up to Halloween as pumpkins and deciding on a costume. It’s about a witch who is unhappy that people aren’t interested in Halloween anymore. To recapture the spirit of the holiday, or whatever, she turns a couple of kids and their hippie babysitter into monsters, or something. It’s terrible to look at and you’ll seriously develop at least one cavity by the end of it, but for me it’s so inextricably linked to Halloween that I had to include it here.

3. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (2010)

RedDeadUndead1Red Dead Redemption is one of the greatest video games of all time. Undead Nightmare, an expansion that introduces, well, zombies, is slightly less so, primarily because the gun fighting mechanics that work so well in the main game kind of go all to hell when you’re fighting hordes of ghouls at close range. But it’s still a lot of fun, and darkly hilarious, and it has gorgeous environments and that slightly goofy horror atmosphere that I love in games.

4. Demon City Shinjuku (1988)

DemonCity1Another awesome ’80s occult-themed anime, Demon City Shinjuku takes place in a near-future world wherein the Shinjuku district of Tokyo has been, you guessed it, overrun by demons. The area is plunged into permanent darkness, and nice folk don’t go there. Hero Kyoya is a practitioner of nempo, a martial art which allows its user to channel their ki or life-force in such a way that it becomes a weapon. He ventures into the city to save the president of the world (really), and, you know, fight demons. There are some gross creatures and cool fights and a ghost girl who anticipates the whole Sadako trope. Shinjuku was also written by Kikuchi Hideyuki, and as with Vampire Hunter D and several of my favorite video games, I like this one because there’s horror, but people can fight back.

5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

BlairWitch1The classic that really kicked off the POV/found-footage genre in the US is a must for the Halloween season. Just thinking about it makes me want to put on my best plaid flannel shirt and knit cap and go camping and make little stick figures out of twigs, because I’m the coolest guy you know. (Check out my review of BWP here.)

6. Fatal Frame series

FatalFrame2-1I know, this is like the tenth time I’ve ranted about Fatal Frame (in case you missed it). But the games are just so good. They’re terrifying, which isn’t something you can say about much horror anymore. And the atmosphere of all three of the main trilogy, despite being uniquely Japanese, fits the general mood of the Halloween season so well that I have to include them here. Really, seriously, you guys, please play these games.

7. ParaNorman (2012)

ParaNorman2I’m totally out of the loop as far as mainstream pop culture goes, but I feel as if ParaNorman didn’t get much love. Maybe it did and I just didn’t hear it. Regardless, it’s great, with just enough goofy kitsch, coupled with just enough real pathos, to appeal to horror fans as much as to the family audiences it’s aimed at. (Check out my full review here.)