Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Gore, Horror Violence, Sexuality and Language
Directed by: Ernest Dickerson
Written by: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop
Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Thomas Haden Church, John Kassir, Dick Miller
In the 1950’s, William Gaines took over his father’s comic book business and began a line of well-known horror comics. Eventually, parents, an idiot child psychologist, and church leaders got on the company’s ass about this so-called form of fun, stating that comic books were the cause of juvenile delinquency (because the excuse of blaming the media was being used way back then). The joke was on them though when the generation reading those morbid illustrated stories turned out just as well as anybody else did. In fact, a HBO series was constructed around these horror comics. Spawning seven seasons of memorable episodes and a ghoulish host with the most, TALES FROM THE CRYPT was a smashing success. So much so, that two big screen movies were produced out of this series. While I have not seen the second film, DEMON KNIGHT pretty much plays out like a feature-length episode from the hit anthology series. This is both a blessing and a curse.
The film opens with the essential introduction of going through the Cryptkeeper’s haunted home and a lot of bad puns from the decaying puppet. The story being told follows two men on a chase that will decide the fate of humanity. Frank (played by William Sadler, who starred in the very first episodes of TALES) is carrying an artifact that The Collector (played in a delightfully scene-stealing role by Billy Zane) wants. After making his way into a former church turned hotel, Frank is found by the cops and The Collector, who reveals himself to actually be a demonic presence. The residents of the hotel, a cop, and Frank find themselves fighting for their lives against the forces of Hell that are trying to make their way inside the newly condemned hotel.
From the show’s introduction to the credits done in the exact same way that an episode of TALES would have presented them, this feels like it would be right at home playing as a Halloween special for the series on HBO. This being said, it does deliver what fans enjoyed about the show, just done for about triple the time-length that an episode of the show ran. I really don’t know how I would have felt if I had paid money to see it on the big screen though. I would probably expect something a little more big and grand than what HBO was giving every week. The budget may have been bigger, but everything still seems at about the same level as a regular episode of TALES.
The effects are cheesy and the look of the demons themselves almost seems like someone took the Cryptkeeper and tried to make him a little more….well, demonic. I enjoyed William Sadler’s performance as the hero, which was a nice change of pace from his last appearance in TALES as an insane electric chair operator. Billy Zane chews the scenery like it’s going out of style. He was clearly having a blast playing this goofy demonic force that spouts one-liners and is constantly going over-the-top. This could have come off as annoying, but for the most part, Zane is a lot of fun to watch. Genre vet Dick Miller (who appeared in BUCKET OF BLOOD, which I reviewed earlier this month) shows up as the obligatory drunk. Thomas Haden Church (Sandman from SPIDER-MAN 3 and Ansel from KILLER JOE) plays a good redneck scumbag too.
There are multiple times where it feels like DEMON KNIGHT is padded for time. It is also surprising how much the film feels like it would have been a solid hour-long special of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, especially when you consider that the script was floating around (passing from the likes of Tom Holland to Mary Lambert) before the HBO program even existed. The effects are mostly practical and cheesy, much like one would expect from the series. The macabre sense of humor and fun is a constant too. I just feel like the movie was really stretching itself out to make a feature far too many times.
It’s cheesy, fun, and silly. This everything one might expect from a standard episode of TALES, but it just goes on for an hour longer. Worth a watch on a late night when you’ve got nothing to do, which is not meant as a huge insult to the film either. It’s just like an episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT. If you’re a fan of the series (like I am), you’ll dig it for the most part. If you’re not, then it’s probably not for you. Make of that what you will.