I have an unabashed passion for 'Tales from the Crypt'. It's very easily my favorite television series of all time, both for nostalgic reasons, and because it's just a really, really excellent show. If you missed it during it's heyday on HBO back in the early to mid-90's, I'm sorry. Based on the old pulpy, horror EC Comics, each episode was a standalone tale that was bookended by the Cryptkeeper, a groundbreaking puppet character, who was your host every week. The closest comparison I can think of is 'The Twilight Zone', but being on HBO, it was not limited by censors, so it was usually pretty graphic, lots of nudity, gore, etc. I say 'The Twilight Zone' because each episode was a standalone and they almost always were a sort of morality play with some ironic twist in the end. The series was oftentimes home to some big stars, with episodes being directed by people like Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and featuring performances from everyone from Demi Moore and Brooke Shields to Kirk Douglas and Benicio Del Toro. Towards the end of the run of the series, they decided to branch it off into film, and the first was the cult classic, 'Demon Knight', which having just finished again after quite a while, it still holds up today as a truly original gem of the genre.
The thing that stands out far and above everything else is the performance of Billy Zane as a guy simply known as The Collector. A bit of a cult hero himself, his performance here is so batshit zany and off the wall, it honestly ranks as probably one of the best horror performances of the 90's. The Collector is literally what his name applies, as the film begins off the ground with a high speed car chase, with him chasing a guy named Brayker, in another excellent turn from William Sadler. You know a movie is going to kick some ass when the first song played in the movie is Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot". We start out having no idea why this chase is going on, who is after who, and honestly, it's kind of framed as if The Collector is a good guy, and Brayker might be the shady, mysterious, questionable guy. Both men survive the carnage, with Brayker ending up at The Mission, an old church-turned-motel. The Collector explains to the cops that Brayker is a thief, a bad guy, and he's stolen something from him. When we get to the motel, we're quickly introduced to our excellent ensemble, where everyone is just fantastic. People like Thomas Haden Church, CCH Pounder, and Jada Pinkett (pre-Will Smith).
Zane shows up and we see what he's after: a key. Or rather, something *shaped* like a key. It's actually a little container, which turns out to contain a story within itself. The Collector starts summoning demons, which, by the way, are some of my favorite creature creations. Brayker pours a liquid from the key onto the frame of the doorway, which somehow keeps Zane and his demons from entering the place. We also find out that the demons can be killed by destroying both eyes, which frees their tortured souls. After some poppin' caps and some great gore and kills, Brayker explains to us exactly what the key is, why it is, and all kinds of interesting things. We see through flashbacks, that this battle is one that has taken place through all of mankind's history, beginning at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, where one of our demons is present. Totally through accident, whoever this original guy was discovers that the blood of Jesus works against the demon, and this carries on throughout time. He fills the key with the blood, and we learn that this battle started shortly after God created the world, where the darkness was filled with demons. When He created light, it scattered the demons and the 7 keys they held that gave them their power. It is the job of The Collector to collect those 7 keys to swing power back their way. There are a few more details in the mythology, such as the stars must be aligned, there must be 7 people, etc. The power and responsibility to care for and protect these powerful keys is passed from one person to another throughout the ages, with Brayker receiving it during World War 1.
Part of Zane's excellent performance is this aspect of seduction, as with all of the windows and doors being sealed off with the blood, he must be invited in. He's very good at being seductive to people, enticing them with whatever they wish. I cannot stress enough how good Billy Zane is in this role. He can be both freaking hilarious and intoxicating at the same time. One minute you're laughing at him doing the Tango, the next he's just ripping people's heads off. The bulk of the movie is our group trying to survive, and The Collector and his demons trying every which way to get in. There is a constant legitimate tension, as the struggle just constantly goes back and forth, with a conclusion that is somewhat exactly what you kind of expect, though that doesn't really make it any less enjoyable, with a really cool ending that shows how this story will continue going long after what we see.
Having watched the recent special edition released by Scream! Factory, I learned that the movie was originally written as it's own script, then turned into a 'Tale from the Crypt' movie, which kind of surprises me because it definitely has the 'Tales' texture and feeling, and really does feel like an extended episode of the tv show. I really do love they mythology they created and how in-depth it was. Some of this stuff is pretty heavy and not your typical light hearted fair. I can legitimately see people having two issues with this film: one, I think some people will obviously say the special effects don't hold up and will say it looks dated and that is a valid argument, to an extent. The other complaint I can think of would be that 90% of the movie, sans flashbacks, takes place in this one building. It makes perfect sense in the context of the movie, but some different settings would have been refreshing. But I really, really do recommend this movie. It's a perfect time capsule, blemishes and all.
"Demon Knight" gets 8.5 Ho-dunk, po-dunk Cowboy mother-effers out of 10!