a Primal Root written review
Growing up in a household that could afford premium cable, as a youngster, there was no greater pleasure than staying up late, hunkering down on the sofa in the darkened living room, and catching the sick, twisted morality tale that was HBO’s ‘Tales from the Crypt.’ Being a child whose love for the macabre and horrific was rotted deep within me and growing more apparent on a daily basis, this was MY must see TV. In my younger years, Nickelodeon’s ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ along with old, dusty, issues of E.C. comicss ‘The Vault of Horror’ and ‘Tales from the Crypt’ had wet my pallet. The promise of a fun, vivid, gory, lesson in how being an asshole will surely end in a fate often worse than death wrapped up in one nifty thirty minute package made ‘Tales from the Crypt’ an irresistible temptation. Add the ever present possibility of bare female breasts, and my adolescent self couldn’t refuse.
Hell, my adult self still can’t refuse.
Then, in 1995, I was traipsing through Tallahassee Florida’s long dead Oak Lake Six movie theater on my way to see ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’ when I spotted poster that dropped my jaw to the floor and filled my heart with sticky, black, diabolical joy. Oh yes, ‘Tales from the Crypt’ was releasing a movie called “Demon Knight.’ Needless to say, this was the greatest news my 13 year old self had ever heard. The poster featured a shot of the Crypt Keeper smiling ghoulishly and peering over blue lensed, John Lennon style sun glasses, holding open his epic, and seemingly endless, book tales as slimy, razor toothed demons spewed forth all being led by an slightly aggravated looking bald fellow in a trench coat with his arm outstretched pointing right at my scrawny, freshly teenaged face. I knew, in my misguided, freshly teenaged heart, this was going to be the greatest movie ever made.
Sadly, I wouldn’t be able to talk my Mom into letting me see it until it was released on VHS. I rented Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, slipped the tape into my VCR, and braced myself for the glory. Dear reader, Demon Knight catered to everything my adolescent heart could possibly desire. Here’s how it goes down…
The action takes place in a dilapidated boarding house that was previously a church where the home’s misfit group of residents (prostitute, laid off postal worker, drunken bum Dick Miller, etc.) find themselves in the middle of an ancient battle between good and evil. See, there’s a drifter named Stryker played by infinitely likeable character actor, William Sadler, playing it straight, earnest, and desperate. Stryker, The Demon Knight, finds his way to this boarding house, thanks to a largely unexplained supernatural star circle compass tattoo in the palm of his hand, seeking shelter. Styker is being stalked down by a slick, seductive, hilarious form of evil incarnate known only as The Collector. The Collector is played by Billy Zane, who is obviously having a field day with such a fun part. In retrospect this might be the high water mark of his career. Which is rather sad.
Anyhoo, The Collector is trying to get his hands on ‘The Key’ which Stryker is protecting. This key holds the blood of Christ as well as the blood of previous Demon Knights. The fate of all humanity hangs in the balance on this night, in this boarding home, because this key is the last of seven The Collector needs in order to unleash Hell on earth. It soon becomes a show down in the old Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 style, as The Collector brings forth an army of vicious, mucousy, pierced up demons that look like char grilled Muppets looking to rip the into meaty chunks anyone who stands between them and The Key. The Collector, on the other hand, finds his own way in through the use of seduction and the promise of granting his victim’s fantasies which leads to some of ‘Demon Knights” more interesting sequences. Needless to say, many will die, few will live, some will get fire pissed on them by Billy Zane, and one character will fulfill their destiny. Oh yeah, it’s one of those type of parties.
That’s the basic run down of what’s going on in this movie. The mythology surrounding The Key, the Demon Knights and their Highlander-esque back story is something I could honestly devote a whole article to. Plus there’s the obligatory Crypt Keeper bookends to the film that don’t really add much, but it’s cool that the our old pal, The Crypt Keeper, is holding down the fort and spewing the same old eye rolling puns and one liners.
‘Demon Knight delivered, and for about six months, it was among my absolute favorites and solidified my deep, abiding, love for Trash Cinema. It had graphic violence delivered both horrifically and humorously. Gratuitous and plentiful bare female breasts. A ridiculously fun villain in the form of The Collector, and likeable and enigmatic hero in Stryker, plus a great cast of veteran character actors like Dick Miller, CCH Pounder, and Charles Fleischer as well as a few folks yet to hit their peak like Jada Pinkett , Thomas Haden Church and um, Traci Bingham? Plus, a bizarre cameo by John Laroquette who still seems like a strange choice to me…The morality play aspect of the television series falls by the wayside a bit, but the sick, twisted black comedy is intact and even a bit amplified.
Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight isn’t a great film, not by a long shot, but it sure is a Hell of a lot of fun. And at the end of the day isn’t that precisely what you want from this kind of flick? It’s dumb, rude, dirty, sick, over the top and exploitative. It’s a guilty pleasure of the highest order. It’s a dark minded, neon eyed, spook house, horror show of a movie that is only interested in kicking ass, tossing the gruel at it’s audience and letting the chips fall where they may. It’s the kind of horror film where you walk out with a smile knowing that you’ve had a blast.
My 13-14 year old self was an instant fan. The poster adorned my wall throughout my middle school years and I sang the praises of ‘Demon Knight’ to all my horrified friends. I watched it nearly every weekend for a span of about six months before moving on to other bizarre, awesome, trashy films. However, the young, teenager inside me still holds this film very close to his strange, trash loving little heart.