Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)

Tales from the crypt presents demon knight.jpgDirector: Ernest Dickerson
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, John Kassir, Brenda Bakke, Dick Miller, Gary Farmer, Ryan O'Donohue, Charles Fleischer, John Schuck

Making the leap to the big screen, the HBO anthology series Tales From The Crypt chooses to focus on a singular story for its feature length counterpart. What could have felt like an extended episode of the series is actually a cinematic story with great potential, working best outside of the attached brand title, and also a gripping tale in its own right.

Frank Brayker (William Sadler) is a man on the run, tasked with protecting a valuable artefact from demonic clutches. His mission leads him to a boarding house, where he and the residents within are beset by The Collector (Billy Zane), intent on getting the artefact through whatever demonic means possible.

Working in tandem with the terrific script by Mark Bishop, Ethan Rieff, and Cyrus Voris, the assembled cast do wonderfully to give their characters dimensions, and make them feel like well rounded figures. Be it Thomas Haden Church's self-serving idiot, C. C. H. Pounder's strongly confident owner running the boarding house, or Dick Miller's lovable drunk, each resident we follow feels very real. One member doing impressive work is Jada Pinkett, playing ex-convict Jeryline. She puts an engaging performance into her character, capturing the tough exterior which never wavers against demon attackers, but is big hearted and caring for many others.

From his early appearance, Billy Zane is devilishly entertaining in his role, and proves a real threat in stealing each and ever scene he appears in. As the demonic entity known as The Collector, he's set on completing his mission through whatever possible methods, and Zane puts his all into this entity. On the one hand, he can turn on the charm and becoming seductive, in an effort to entrance whoever he's trying to woo. This is all before flipping to downright unsettling with such ease, and one thing's for sure, the film is all the better for his committed work.

Centring around merely the latest fight in this eternal battle, the film does a great job in fleshing out the mythology behind what we bear witness to. It helps the world to feel expansive enough and give viewers what they need to know, while there's room for more if audiences want such a thing. It works well alongside the direction of Ernest Dickerson, who makes the battle between light and darkness work so very well for the screen, all through the focused scope of a supernatural siege flick, while the horrific and humorous elements hit their marks. It helps that the practical effects are so wonderfully rendered, selling the gore and monstrous designs, while something as small as glowing mouth and eyes feels just as home in this world.

The biggest shame is how it feels like there's enough potential for this tale to run on, Mad Max style, with the eponymous Demon Knight going from place to place, helping out different people each time. That's sadly unlikely, as this was a spin-off from a well known TV series, so the focus would be on continuing the brand rather than this particular tale. This is especially a shame when the main story works better untethered to the TV series, which would spare us from the forced and cringeworthy Crypt Keeper wraparound tale.

A supernatural siege flick orchestrated by a brilliant Billy Zane, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight is a compelling piece of horror-comedy. It's just a shame this work couldn't be made to realise its wider potential, and instead was trapped within the promotion for a then-popular TV series.