Long before shows like The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones pushed the envelope of the amount of sex and gore you could get away with on television, HBO’s Tales From The Crypt was blazing a trail of scattered entrails and torn bodies before it was acceptable. Adapting stories from the trio of horror lines from E.C. Comics (Tales From The Crypt, Haunt Of Fear & Vault Of Horror) the show attracted starry names on both sides of the camera (Tom Fucking Hanks directed an episode!) and managed to clock in an impressive seven seasons of violent, instant karma and gory, ironic justice while also boasting the greatest opening theme in TV history (yeah, I said it!!!). However, in 1995 the show desided to make the jump from the small screen to the movies (or should I say “small scream to the boo-vies” if I channel pun laden host The Crypt Keeper) with a fully original story and an elevated budget. The result was Demon Knight and I fucking love it…
We meet grizzled ex-soldier Frank Brayker as he struggles to keep ahead of his pursuer, a mysteriously enigmatic man known only as the Collector and their high-speed chase ends in a fiery collision. Escaping by the skin of his teeth, Brayker manages to take refuge in a run-down hotel filled with various examples of human detritus such as the town drunk Uncle Willy, young ex-con Jeryline, sad sack postal worker Wally, tough hotel owner Irene and damaged whore Cordellia and settles down with meal to calm his nerves.
This proves to be a tad premature as the local cops turn up with the Collector in tow who demands the return of an ornate key that he claims is his rightful property; but when the sheriff smells a rat and decides to take both of them in, the Collector chooses to spectacularly show his hand by punching a hole clean through the lawman’s head! It’s pretty apparent at this point that the Collector is not exactly your average human being and is, in fact a agent from Hell who needs Brayker’s key to jump start the apocalypse. Summoning some assistance from some fantastically slimy lesser demons, the Collector promptly lays siege to the scummy hotel while Brayker seals off the entrances with the holy blood from inside the key and everyone settles down to try and make it through the night. However, the hellish villain has more tricks up his sleeve than just demons and a killer right hook; speaking to them mentally, the the Collector is able to seduce people to the dark side and corrupt them both mentally and physically into monstrous creatures. This proves to be quite the problem as the denizens of the hotel are probably the most corruptible collection of dead beats Brakyer could ever hope to be trapped with and as the night ticks on the already weak willpower of these trapped souls are already starting to snap…
The best thing about Demon Knight is that it contains no airs and graces and turns out to be the kind of full speed, dead ahead, smash mouth 80’s romp that I wish we got more of in this day and age. Using the horror version of the siege-movie temple that worked so well in Night Of The Living Dead and Evil Dead 2, Demon Knight ploughs through it’s thin premise with all the energy of a nuclear powered Energizer Bunny and offers up plenty of style to spare. This is thanks to director Ernest Dickerson, a man once best known for being Spike Lee’s cinematographer and now responsible for directing episodes of virtually every hit tv show over the last ten years and he gives the flick a stylistic oomph that gives proceedings a comic bookish flourish.
The film is also furnished with a fucking awesome cast of character actors that makes all the bloody hullabaloo even more satisfying than it was before. Tales Of The Crypt stalwart William Sadler is absurdly solid in the role of Brayker and it’s a damn shame he never got more middle-aged, tough-guy leading roles like this one but he’s ably abetted by a young Jada Pinkett Smith (before the Smith) who, with her super-short bleached hair and her criminal background puts an infinitely interesting spin on the “final girl” trope.
However, all bows to the notorious Billy Zane who pulls out possibly a career best performance as the Collector, channeling that twitchy, charm into a wildly energetic bout of shameless overacting that suggests he may well have been paid in weed. Strutting around the set surrounded by various snarling monstrosities, he might as well be holding a sign that says “Will Ad-Lib For Food” and he’s a gloriously hissable bad guy that slots into the tone of the movie gloriously.
The rest of the cast contains some very familiar faces such as CCH Pounder fighting off demons while suffering the handicap of a torn off arm and Thomas Haden Church as a thoroughly loathsome piece of shit known as Roach and the script bestows the gift of some killer dialogue to both. “Get that pussy off the table!” barks Pounder at Jeryline’s pet cat only for lady of the night Cordelia to scamper off the siding instead, while Church sees off his demonic possessed boss with a shotgun and the line “This is for four years minimum wage, you asshole!”. On top of all this (this film really is the gift that keeps on giving) the film even has a sizable role for genre legend Dick Miller and repays him for decades of loyal service by giving him a dream sequence where he’s surrounded by wall to wall buxom babes…
The gore and special effects quota for this kind of movie is also extraordinarily important and beyond the resplendent face-smushing I mentioned earlier, Demon Knight delivers harder than UPS on black friday. The demons, born Jason And The Argonauts skeleton-army-style, have piercings, top-knots, often sport a putrid green glow from inside their mouths and can only be vanquished by fucking up both their eyes which causes a gnarly burst of lighting. Blood sprays the walls with reckless abandon as the hotel dwellers desperately fight to survive against their hellish attackers and the film rates itself higher than other, more modern takes on similar material (Legion, I’m looking at you).
A cracking, bloody little pulse pounder that doesn’t really get the attention it deserves, Demon Knight would be perfect for a modern day Candyman-style sequel/reboot with Jada Pinkett Smith taking the William Sadler role and fighting off another Collector played by Idris Elba or Daniel Kaluuya or someone; but as it stands, this movie may have crawled out From The Crypt, but it’s fresher than ever.