Main cast: Billy Zane (The Collector), William Sadler (Frank Brayker), Jada Pinkett (Jeryline), Thomas Haden Church (Roach), CCH Pounder (Irene), Brenda Bakke (Cordelia), Dick Miller (Uncle Willy), Gary Farmer (Deputy Bob), Ryan O’Donohue (Danny), Charles Fleischer (Wally), John Schuck (Sheriff Tupper), and John Kassir (The Crypt Keeper)
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Demon Knight is the first Tales from the Crypt feature film, and it follows the same trend as those TV episodes: puns, comedy, gore and scares that are too cartoon-like to be genuinely frightening, and gratuitous female nudity. It’s also almost passed on initially, which is ironic considering that it is easily the best of the three movies released to date under the franchise.
The world is in danger of being overrun by demons from hell, and only one thing is stopping them: a “key”, which is actually a vial of blood. Blood from this key, when poured onto a doorway, will prevent demons from passing, and it can also harm those demons. You’d think this key will be under the custody of a battalion of well-armed superheroes, but no, it’s held by a specially chosen mortal who will then roam the world, keeping the key free from the demons that will always be after them. The latest key bearer is a weary man named Frank Brayker.
When the movie opens, he narrowly avoids being killed in a car chase by the Collector, sort of the head demon tasked with retrieving the key. Frank stumbles upon a boardinghouse owned by the sassy Irene. In the boardinghouse is Jeryline, a juvenile delinquent on work release, along with the guests drunk Uncle Willy and recently fired postal worker Wally. Wally has a crush on Cordelia, a prostitute who runs her services from a room she rents from Irene, and Roach, her regular client, shows up for some, er, tuning. When our hero thinks that he has found a place to spend the night safely, here comes the Collector along with Sheriff Tupper and his deputy Bob to take Frank in. It’s not long before Frank and the others are holed up in the boardinghouse while the Collector gleefully summons an army of Pumpkinhead-like minions to lay siege on that place…
The star of the show indisputably Billy Zane, who is just brilliant here. He hams and camps it with a winning degree of charm and evil mischief, while deftly dialing the ham down to be menacing and smooth when the scene calls for it. He puts on various entertaining affectations with his voice and even dances a bit like the most sporting kind of psychopath who will slit your throat open while smiling like a smooth cucumber roll. The rest of the cast is certainly competent – many of them such as William Sadler, CCH Pounder, and Dick Miller are no strangers to genre films – but there’s no denying that they are also reacting to and playing off to Billy Zane’s character for the most part. The Collector is the best reason to watch this movie, and it’s a very good reason.
The story itself isn’t anything new or even original, and some scenes are clear “homages” (ahem) of more established horror and cult favorites such as Aliens. There are also a number of scenes that are clearly filler in nature, designed to have the characters running around just to pad the film. Fortunately, the cast is solid and they elevate even the corniest puns into successful punchlines. The pacing is solid, there are some actually likable or at the very least memorable characters other than the Collector, and there is a nice balance of humor and more serious horror moments. Sure, the whole thing feels generic and derivative, but it is a whole lot of fun to watch.
Demon Knight is the best of the lot, and a good way to kill some time and fall in love with the Collector. Just be warned that, after this movie, it’s a fast slide downhill where the rest of the movies under this franchise is concerned!