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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Tales from the Crypt Presents
Demon Knight

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: October 20, 2015) – When "Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight"—the first in a short-lived film franchise based on HBO's long-running anthology series—hit theaters on January 13, 1995, it became a modest horror hit for the struggling pre-"Scream" era of genre flicks. The movie only reached #3 at the box office with $10-million (on its way to a $21-million U.S. total), but I can still vividly remember going to see it on opening night at the now-defunct Hoyts Westridge Cinemas 6 in Frederick, MD, the theater so jam-packed with excited fans that overflow viewers had to sit in the aisles, potential fire hazards be damned. Back then, "Demon Knight" was a light, silly blast, but also a departure from the TV show, skirting away from a ghastly cautionary tale in favor of a straight-up monster movie. Revisiting it twenty years later, the Ernest Dickerson-directed film holds up about as well as it always has; it's a purposefully campy, schlocky but nonetheless fun lark with a standout performance of charismatic villainy from Billy Zane (who would go on to star in James Cameron's "Titanic" two years later).

Hunted down by The Collector (Billy Zane), Brayker (William Sadler) hopes to hide out in the New Mexico desert at the rundown Mission Hotel as he plans his next move. His pursuer wastes no time in finding him, however, unleashing a gaggle of goopy demons on the hotel's staff and clientele. Brayker holds a relic as old as the planet itself—the seventh and final blood-filled key needed in order to rule the world—and The Collector is prepared to do whatever it takes to obtain it.

Bookended by the Cryptkeeper's (voiced by John Kassir) pun-heavy antics, "Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight" is modest in scope, largely taking place in a single location, and most memorable for its colorful cast. Beyond the terrific Billy Zane, the film also includes William Sadler (2013's "Machete Kills") as Brayker, the very funny CCH Pounder (2013's "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones") as tell-it-like-it-is hotel manager Irene, a pre-Will Jada Pinkett as no-nonsense heroine Jeryline, Brenda Bakke as beautiful but vulnerable Cordelia, a "Wings"-era Thomas Haden Church (2012's "John Carter") as the smarmy Roach, Charles Fleischer (best known as the voice of Roger Rabbit) as the unconfident Wally, and beloved veteran actor Dick Miller (2015's "Burying the Ex") as Uncle Willy. Slimy, ghoulish and energetically paced, "Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight" isn't exactly scary, but it is amusingly well-humored. It may not be a classic or even as successful as the genuinely unsettling 1972 E.C. Comics adaptation, but now, just as in 1995, it fulfills its goal as a sardonic, blessedly unpretentious creature feature.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight" makes its long-awaited premiere on Blu-ray with a mostly satisfying, if imperfect, 1080p transfer. This is visually a very dark film—the majority takes place at night—but Dickerson and cinematographer Rick Bota (2001's "Valentine") find clever ways to bring bold, comic-style colors into the mix (love the glowing green eyes of the demons). Hallucinations—as when the Collector tries to seduce Jeryline in a photographer's loft—are lighter and shine through most vividly. Some of the film appears slightly faded and littered with age-related spots, as if this transfer has been culled from an older print, but other scenes are startlingly clear and detailed. Hit and miss though it is, there is no denying this high-def presentation one-ups the title's old Universal DVD release in every way possible. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio shows suitable dynamism during its chase sequences and high-octane showdowns, with Ed Shearmur's rocking music score and Danny Elfman's unforgettable theme highlights as they envelop the viewer's surround speakers. Dialogue is nicely presented as well, never overpowered by the action and carnage. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is also included.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director Ernest Dickerson
  • Audio Commentary with special make-up effects creator Todd Masters, visual effects supervisor John Van Vliet, special effects coordinator Thomas Bellissimo, and demon performer Walter Phelan
  • "Under Siege: The Making of Demon Knight" Featurette (39:12, HD), an in-depth retrospective doc featuring interviews with director Ernest Dickerson, co-producer A.L. Katz, screenwriters Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris and Mark Bishop, actors Billy Zane, William Sadler, Brenda Bakke, Charles Fleischer, John Schuck and Dick Miller, editor Stephen Lovejoy, special make-up effects creator Todd Masters, special make-up effects artists Scott Coulter and Scott Wheeler, and demon performer Walter Phelan
  • Panel Discussion from the American Cinematheque featuring director Ernest Dickerson, actor Dick Miller and special effects maestro Rick Baker (9:46, HD)
  • Still Gallery (5:40, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:01, HD)
Bottom Line
"Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight" has been a much-requested title for the format, and fans of the film should be pleased by the Collector's Edition treatment it has received from Scream Factory. Granted, there is still plenty of room for improvement on the video side had it gone through an extensive clean-up and remastering, but what is here is still a step above all previous versions. Where this release especially knocks it out of the park is with its substantive bonus content. Anything you ever wanted to know about the film is right here, the commentaries and new featurettes a bevy of insight into the making of the project. "Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight" is an easy recommendation on Blu-ray.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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