Thursday, October 17, 2013

My years in horror: 1995

The bombs kept dropping in 1995: John Carpenter's Village of the Damned, Wes Craven's Vampire in Brooklyn, and Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions all failed to meet expectations (of these, Barker's film is my favorite). Abel Ferrara also gave us the underrated vampire flick The Addiction, which is definitely worth a watch. But the best of 1995 turned out to be a TV spin-off.

Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight may not be the most well-executed (ha! The Cryptkeeper would love that) horror film ever made, but it is a fun ride. We get the classic set-up: an introduction to the main story by the lovable, decomposing Cryptkeeper. Our story: a bounty hunter, a man with a secret on the run, and a boarding house full of misfits come together for one night of mayhem and demons. We discover fairly soon that neither the hunter, the runner, not one particular boarder are who they appear to be. Our good guy looks bad, our bad guy poses as the good guy and the eventual hero is on probation. Ernest Dickerson handles the main action with the appropriate mix of horror and humor that fans of the HBO show had come to expect. There are some slow moments, particularly because William Sadler is rarely thought of as a leading man. Billy Zane as the bounty hunter is much more charismatic, which by 1995, we've come to expect from our horror villains. 

The kills get plenty gory, although not much beyond what folks were getting on premium cable. What's fun is that the kills tend come out of nowhere--especially the first one-- and the henchmen Zane calls in look great. Zane is quirky and funny and it's a shame he couldn't capitalize on his success here better than he did. 

Character actor and genre favorite Dick Miller has a fun role as a drunk in this picture, too. Charles Fleischer (the voice of Roger Rabbit), Thomas Haden Church (later of Spider-Man 3 and Sideways) and Jada Pinkett (Smith) play some of the boarders and each serves a cliche role that helps move the plot along. 

There is an interesting religious backstory to Demon Knight that could have been better used, but the writers know their crowd and pushing a hero with direct links to Jesus Christ can be a hard sell to many horror fans. (Which I think is sad, although that's another topic.)

Of the Tales from the Crypt movies this is the first and the best. The behind the scenes talent here excelled in the hour-long format more than the feature-length requirements. Just watch any of the Walking Dead or The Wire episodes Dickerson has directed for proof of that.

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