Tales From The Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995), or I Was DYING To Watch This One, Kiddies!

16 09 2009

Hello, all! I was writing down a bunch of macabre puns for today’s feature, Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, but I looked down after 45 minutes of hard work, and all my hand scribbled down were the words “YOU’RE A DOUCHEBAG FOR USING PUNS”. So I guess I’m fresh out of hilarious death-related quips to share with you. C’est la vie. Anyway, today’s film marks my 260th review, and while I’m not yet burned out on movies, as so many people have assumed, it certainly can grind on one’s mental processes. That’s why it feels good to cut loose with a cheesy movie like Demon Knight. It’s a horror movie that isn’t really as terrifying as it is laugh-inducing, but that’s all par for the course if you’ve ever seen an episode of Tales From the Crypt.

Hosted by the Cryptkeeper, a chattering corpse with a mind for groan-worthy menacing wordplay, Demon Knight tells the simple story of a guy named Brayker who is in charge of protecting a precious artifact. He’s being pursued by something not of this world. It’s known as the Collector, and it takes many forms. He tries to take refuge in New Mexico, for some reason, and after a near confrontation with the Collector on the highway, he meets up with dear, sweet, neurotic Uncle Willy, who, despite his love of getting totally Ka-flooey all the time, herds enough brain cells together to get Brayker to a boarding house for the night. There he meets all walks of people in all different situations, like the landlady, her not-so-law-abiding daughter Jeryline, a sexy hooker, sexy hooker’s loser boyfriend, and Wally the Mental Post Officer. Brayker has a moment of respite amidst these people before the Collector comes knocking for him, disguised as a human. During the night Brayker stays in the house (which used to be a church, for 86% more sanctimony!), he will be confronted by both the Collector’s evil hell spawn as well as guests of the boarding house whom the Collector has tempted with seductive offers. Will Brayker survive the night? Will he be able to keep the artifact from the demon? What the hell IS the artifact anyway?!?!

HA! is the first thing that comes to mind when I think Demon Knight! What a jolly bit of hullabaloo for the whole family (over 17). Tales From the Crypt, from which this film is said to be derived, had a wonderful tendency to go over the top for comedic effect. It was part of the reason I tuned in at all, to see famous actors and directors make something that was totally overwrought with the idea of HORROR, like they used to do in the days of antiquity. Like the sentiment of a Bela Lugosi’s Dracula-themed birthday party for children, or the Classic Movie Monsters drawn on Doritos bags during Halloween, add graphic imagery for HBO’s discerning adults, and that’s what watching the show felt like. And Demon Knight is no exception to this rule; it was so concerned with the idea of being a horror that it forgot to be scary, and that’s what I like about it because it gives me a chance to mightily guffaw at the garishness of it all.

But other than the sentiment, I find it hard to believe that this was a movie made by the Tales From the Crypt people. I mean, there’s really no connection between the two concepts. Tales From the Crypt was a horror show on HBO loosely based off of the old EC comic title of the same name where a ghastly old Cryptkeeper would bookend random monster/serial killer of the week stories with twist endings a la The Twilight Zone. Fair enough. Demon Knight, however, while featuring the Cryptkeeper bookends, has no serial killer OR monster of the week OR twist. It’s a good versus evil story that could have easily come from the Sci-fi Channel or USA Network before “Characters” were “Welcome”. It feels like they found a movie that had stalled during production, got shelved, and was just cleaned up and recycled later by the TFtC guys with added Cryptkeeper chicanery.

But let’s not beat up on Demon Knight too harshly. There’s things to love about it. The cast is total 90s gold. I love Billy Zane, and the fact that he never made it big is a fucking travesty. He’s like Clark Gable without the wooden inflection. He’s like Gary Cooper without the slight rage. He’s like George Clooney without hair! He’s the Collector, and he’s as smooth as Cool Whip on a balloon animal. Jada Pinkett Smith is the felonious Jeryline, and I hate her guts. But it inexplicably fits with the era, so I can’t really complain too much. I’ll just say that she, like in most of her repertoire, is too damn angry. Calm down, lady! We know, you’re indignant! We get it! No need to rub it in out faces like a bowl of lava! William Sadler is Brayker, and his blandness is vaguely comical to me. He’s so white-bread, I can’t even verbalize it. Just watch every scene with Brayker in it, and tell me what you think of him. If you say anything besides “Eh…” you’re a damn liar!

And something special has to be said for the Cryptkeeper himself, John Kassir. He makes Tales From the Crypt special, and without him, it’s just… Tales From the Darkside, which wasn’t as good. Perhaps it’s his devil-may-care attitude, his eerie decaying face, or those terrible, terrible puns of his. I don’t know, but all I know is that he’s in this movie, ironically attending a premiere OF this movie, and his bookend segments are something to look forward to.

With a good 90s ensemble, a great 90s soundtrack (featuring Pantera, Ministry, and Filter!), and some of the most jaw-dropping exposition for a schlock horror movie I’ve ever seen, Demon Knight delivers. Surely you didn’t expect it to be perfect, but I bet you weren’t expecting it to be pretty good. I recommend it for anyone with a sense of humor and an eye for epochal cheese classics. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get a rash from Jada Pinkett Smith grating on your eyelids. I give it 6 1/2 Boils and Ghouls out of 10. Cackle cackle cackle.

Tomorrow I button up my shirt and straighten my tie for a more serious endeavor, Tony Scott’s Man on Fire! Until then!