If ever there was a film treatment that deserved to be pegged as a feature length introduction of the 1990’s “Tales from the Crypt” series it’s “Demon Knight.” One part comedy, one part horror, one part mysticism, and a dash of irony makes “Demon Knight” one of the most entertaining horror romps of the decade with a premise that feels like an epic episode of “Tales from the Crypt” with every bit of comic book novelty you’d expect from something involving the Cryptkeeper. “Demon Knight” much like everything else in the “Tales from the Crypt” brand is a meta-horror comedy that works as a self-aware dose of the genre with a hefty injection of menace to go along with it. While the film does pack a large assortment of laughs and gaffs, it’s also quite scary.
This is a time where Billy Zane was at his peak of popularity and director Ernest R. Dickerson allows the great character actor Zane to pretty much dominate every single scene he’s in creating one of the most amusing if not horrifying horror villains of all time. William Sadler played Brayker an erratic hood who happens upon a church that’s been renovated in to an inn for the small town’s residents all of whom spend most of their time maintaining the house and bickering among one another. While there Brayker is approached by a mysterious lawman who is insistent on bringing Brayker back with him along with his mysterious suitcase. After a mishap with Brayker and a lot of confusion, the lawman reveals himself to be a homicidal being who desperately wants Brayker’s artifact and by some miracle, Brayker manages to ward off the lawman who wages war on Brayker and everyone inside the inn with his own personalized army of demonic beings.
Director Dickerson transforms this horror movie in to a clever and often times surprising little tale that poses as yet another iteration of “Assault on Precinct 13” along the way. The demonic effects are still sharp with the evil foot soldiers presented in a grotesque horrific form that make them foes to be reckoned with and can only be thwarted by shooting them through the eyes. There’s many a scene involving demonic rampage and mutilations that will please horror fans looking for their gore soaked entertainment. Director Dickerson and the writers tinker with our perceptions of good and evil allowing us to pick sides, and then completely turn the tables on us when we learn the lawman is actually a demonic being called the Collector.
All the while Brayker is a servant of God given the task of protecting the sacred key that contains the pure blood of Jesus Christ that can ward off all forms of evil. Much of “Demon Knight” possesses an eerie blue tint that allows it to feel like a moving comic book while the residents inside the inn try to ward off the relentless demons, all of whom will stop at nothing to break inside and claim the key. If that’s not enough, the Collector has the power to tempt the residents with their inner most desires and by giving in to his seduction become his demonic minions corrupting the fight for survival from the inside out. This allows for many an eccentric scenario to present itself as Zane has a ball as this salesman who will stop at nothing to re-claim the key, giving his victims their biggest dreams and corrupting their souls in the process to his delight.
At one instance a resident loses an arm during a demonic attack and he offers them their arm back on a silver platter in exchange for their soul. There isn’t a lot of explanation on who or what the Collector is, but we’re presented with epic implications about the source of the key and how taxing it is to remain a protector, constantly dodging the advances of the relentless Collector. The cast is quite fantastic, especially Jada Pinkett who is one of the few denizens of the house that are committed to fighting this threat and scoring one for the good of humanity. As for fans of Zane, if there was ever a film where the man breaks loose with his charm and enthusiasm, “Demon Knight” is his podium. Sadly one of the last really good feature length offerings of the “Tales from the Crypt” brand, “Demon Knight” is a clever, funny, and creepy rendition of “Assault on Precinct 13” with a battle of good and evil, and plenty of gaffs from a cast of talented character actors.