Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Ernest Dickerson
Written by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris and Mark Bishop
1995, 92 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 20th, 2015
William Sadler as Brayker
Billy Zane as The Collector
Jada Pinkett as Jeryline
CCH Pounder as Irene
Thomas Hayden Church as Roach
Dick Miller as Uncle Willy
Gary Farmer as Deputy Bob
Charles Fleischer as Wally
Brenda Bakke as Cordelia
A pack of wicked demons rise from the ground surrounding a former-church-turned-boardinghouse. These creatures are born to serve their evil master, The Collector, who is on a quest to possess seven keys that hold the apocalyptic power to bring Hell on Earth and enslave the human race. He has tracked the final piece of the puzzle to this location, but is being kept at bay by a mysterious drifter named Brayker. The doors and windows are secured with a powerful magic that cannot be crossed by the evil army, and The Collector must use his seductive charms to win his elusive victory. The inhabitants of the building struggle to resist his temptations and put their faith in Brayker to keep them safe. The set-up is simple; our hero must work with strangers to make one last stand to save mankind. My plot synopsis is deliberately vague since the film’s premise is straightforward and the events move swiftly enough that it is best for newcomers to simply enjoy the ride without knowing all of the stops.
Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight is a siege picture in the vein of Night of the Living Dead (1968) or Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), in which a diverse set of people that would ordinarily never spend time together are suddenly forced to rely on each other for survival against an outside force. What works this time around the familiar scenario is... everything. Screenwriters Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris and Mark Bishop have created a fast-paced story that takes the basic themes of Good vs Evil and run them through the paces of an old-fashioned monster movie. Packed with memorable characters and thoughtful direction, Demon Knight is just about everything a comic book movie strives to be. Director Ernest Dickerson (Juice) is a fan of the genre and it shows as he leads audiences on a thrilling adventure that delivers across the board.
Casting agent Jaki Brown-Karman deserves special mention for assembling an amazing group of character actors. William Sadler (The Mist) stars as Brayker, the man capable of fighting off countless demons and resist the temptations of evil. Rarely does Sadler get the opportunity to play a hero and he proves himself more than up for the task, as he plays his character with quiet nobility and an inner depth not frequently found in horror films. On the opposite end of the subtlety spectrum is Billy Zane (Zombie Killers), who owns every second of his screen time as The Collector, an over-the-top demon capable of wit and seduction. His performance touches the level of zany found in either a Tex Avery or Looney Tunes cartoon, and he deserves much praise for the energy he brings to the role. Jada Pinkett (Scream 2) stars as Jeryline, a woman not only capable of defending herself and others, but possibly worthy of standing alongside Brayker in his endless fight to protect humanity. She holds her own in scenes dominated by Zane and manages to keep Jeryline grounded in reality even when surrounded by bedlam.
The supporting cast is equally strong, starting with the always welcome Dick Miller (The Howling) as Uncle Willy, the loveable drunk. Every scene this living legend is in is made stronger with his presence. Another fantastic addition is CCH Pounder (Psycho IV) as Irene, the tough-as-nails house manager with enough vigor to take on an army of demons single-handedly. Thomas Hayden Church (Spider-Man 3) is the despicable Roach, a man you love to hate who has no qualms about treating others badly as long as he benefits. Charles Fleischer (A Nightmare on Elm Street) is the lovesick Wally, a hopeless romantic working up the courage to express his feelings for local working girl Cordelia (Brenda Bakke, Death Spa). Gary Farmer (Dead Man) delivers as the bumbling Deputy Bob, a cop immediately in over his head when the sheriff loses his.
In the early 1970s, Amicus films made two anthology pictures inspired by the classic EC Horror comics, Tales from the Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973). The franchise was resurrected as HBO’s Tales from the Crypt (1989 – 1996), a half-hour television program that delivered 93 fun-filled episodes across an impressive seven seasons. As the series was approaching the finale, the idea of extending the fun into feature films was encouraged and this first installment, Demon Knight (1995), proved to be a success. If you somehow missed out on the fun, this is a great time to fill your crypt with ghastly delights.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film receives an impressive transfer full of detail and a well-balanced range of colors and black levels. This is quite a step up from the picture quality of the previous DVD release.
Audio options include either a DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0 tracks, both of which get the job done. I opted for the 5.1 mix and was pleased with the amount of activity that filled the speakers. The movie has an aggressive soundtrack and it is given room to play without stepping on dialogue clarity.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Scream Factory delivers the goods with another solid Collector’s Edition, starting with a pair of audio commentaries.
Director Ernest Dickerson is happy to reflect on his time making this film and moderator Michael Felsher (Red Shirt Pictures) effortlessly guides the discussion from one interesting topic to the next and manages to cover a lot of ground. Definitely check it out.
The second commentary has more participants and focuses on the monsters, as several key crew members are given an opportunity to discuss their efforts in creating the numerous special make-up and visual effects. Make-up designer Todd Masters steers this track featuring visual effects supervisor John Van Vliet, special effects coordinator Thomas Bellissimo and demon performer Walter Phelan. These guys are clearly having fun revisiting a project they hold dear. There are a few lulls in the conversation during dialogue-based scenes, but even these are addressed since the gang clearly enjoys watching the film.
Just in time for the film’s 20th anniversary comes the well-crafted retrospective featurette Under Siege (39 minutes). Tracing the history of how the HBO series made the jump from television to features, the piece offers brand new interviews with director Ernest Dickerson, producer A.L. Katz, screenwriters Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris and Mark Bishop. Everyone involved apparently had a wonderful time as cast members William Sadler, Billy Zane, Charles Fleisher, and Brenda Bakke all share fun tales from the set. Also on hand are many of the special effects artists, led by Todd Masters, who discuss the process for creating the demons and gory set-pieces. This is a great piece and it is refreshing to see how all of the participants retain their enthusiasm for this project all these years later.
The American Cinematheque recently hosted a three-day retrospective of Dick Miller’s filmography. Included here is a Q&A panel (10 minutes) featuring Miller, Ernest Dickerson and legendary make-up artist Rick Baker. I love Dick Miller and clearly I am not alone. I dare you to watch this piece and not leave knowing this guy is an amazing man.
A photo gallery (68 images) offers a collection of publicity shots and marketing ads.
The original theatrical trailer is also included for your viewing pleasure.