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.