Junkfood Cinema: Tales From the Crypt — Demon Knight

By  · Published on July 8th, 2011

Junkfood Cinema: Tales From the Crypt – Demon Knight

Welcome back to JFC; we ain’t gonna play Sun City. Written from within the Bad Movie Archives nestled comfortably below the surface of the Earth somewhere underneath Dolph Lundgren’s wombat ranch, Junkfood Cinema is, according to critics, “arguably worth your time.” Every week I flash fry an entire movie in the white-hot oil of merciless mockery. But then I cool it on a baking rack of unabashed reverence letting it congeal into something unironically delicious. Then, after coming to the terrifying realization that I can’t actually eat a metaphor, I will substitute a real-world snack item paired to the film in the hopes that my writing will no longer boast the greatest offense to your bowels.

Today’s treat: Demon Knight

What Makes It Bad?

Demon Knight had the distinction of being the first film adaptation of Tales from the Crypt. Demon Knight also had the grave misfortune of being the first film adaptation of Tales from the Crypt. I risk scorn and dangerous objects hurled at my face for this assertion, but Tales from the Crypt is quite bad. It tries to walk a fine line between hearty laughs and legitimate thrills, but does so while wearing clown shoes and drinking a suitcase full of Everclear. The result is a sort of macabre cheese…like a half-rotted Munster…maybe a Herman Munster. Part and parcel with making a Tales from the Crypt film is that the horrible little Crypt Keeper make an appearance. Hear me now, and bear in mind the column you are reading which I write without shame every week, the Crypt Keeper makes far too many terrible puns. His ghastly turns of phrase would be enough to make me want to kill myself were it not for the unshakable fear that my ghost would end up haunting his crypt and forced to hear even more of these rancid jokes for all eternity.

These puns are not only cringe inducing, but wildly uneven. Granted, they do all fall within the same dead-horse-beating category of “I’m a dead guy and that’s hilarious.” But there’s a point at which the reach of the skeletal remains of what I assume used to be James Joyce exceeds his comedic grasp. In this case, that point is the injection of a googleplex of Hollywood jokes. You want to giggle maniacally to yourself over the staggering witticism of “frights, camera, action?” Fine. Expect the audience to shit themselves laughing when you mention you’re going to your film’s “screamiere?” Knock yourself out. But where you really ran out of bullets and threw the jokey gun at us was when you let “that’s inter-tainment” lazily fall from your rotting mouth. I may be the certified worst yoga instructor in the tri-state area, but even I know that’s a stretch.

Demon Knight is not an anthology horror film. It is based on an episodic horror series which is itself based on a comic book so I can see where this elementary misconception comes from, but the funny thing is THERE’S ONLY ONE STORY IN THIS MOVIE! As you sit puzzled as to why I’m belligerently shouting obvious statements of fact at you like a drunk sorority girl insistently regaling us with the number of tiles on the bathroom floor on which she is seconds from passing out, I assure you there is a reason this needed to be said. The weakest part of this film is its series-pandering bookends. In particular, the ending wherein the Crypt Keeper is beheaded on the red carpet is painfully inept. Someone needs to shake the screenwriter like a copyrighted instant camera picture and remind him that singular narratives do not require wrap-around stories to further the audience’s enjoyment. It’s like buying a really ugly hat rack when you only own one supremely awesome hat…like a beer helmet or a bowler hat made of white chocolate fudge. What the hell was I talking about?

Demon Knight is a horror film made in the 90s. My feelings on the shortcomings inherent in that statement have been well documented within the annuls of this column. Though not quite as heinous as other entries, Demon Knight is not immune to the infection of that unfortunate decade. The movie opens with a vignette featuring a woman who is unmistakably 90s hot lazily moaning out uninspired and over-sexualized dialogue, and sporting giant underwear that was somehow supposed to be considered appealing. Were you to have the attention span of a meerkat on NoDoz, you could have easily abandoned the film after five minutes for being the most atrociously 90s awful horror film ever conceived. While this turns out to be a red herring, there are plenty of overtly 90s touches smeared all over Demon Knight. The purple and blue near-neon lighting, incessantly terrible CG, the inexplicable choice to use panther growls for all monster sounds, and the unfortunate use of a Filter song. And then of course there is the fact that this movie was made while Hollywood was still operating under the delusion that Jada Pinkett was an actress and not a one-note sass-delivery system. And why is every shot so smokey? I’m pretty sure even John Carpenter would have a problem with the amount of fog that appears to be rolling into this building and no where else in town. But hey, at least Thomas Haden Church talks like Keanu Reeves and somehow absconded with Jimmy Buffet’s entire wardrobe.

Why I Love It!

Two words, my friends: Billy Zane. If we were dissecting any other film within his catalog, that waif of a sentence would have found more adequate purchase on the upper half of the column. But in Demon Knight, Billy Zane does something he’s never been able to do before…carry a movie! Zane plays a duly appointed representative of the damned who is focused chiefly on the recovery of an artifact in William Sadler’s possession. If every actor enjoyed every role half as much as Zane enjoys this one, movies would never be boring. He spends the whole film dancing effortlessly in and out of sanity in various stages of tacky attire. He is wildly unhinged and yet his subtle “come on, seriously dude” exchanges with Sadler are possibly his most comedic. He’s like a washed-up goth rock Satan. His six-second summation of the entirety of cowboy culture alone would be worth the price of admission, but Zane is also generous enough to throw in a Hunter S. Thompson impression and a disco ballroom dancing scene just to sweeten the deal. He really does make this movie.

As much as I malign Demon Knight for existing in the 90s and falling victim to some of its traps, this really is the most 80s movie the 90s ever gave us…next to Tremors. But Demon Knight accomplished this without the benefit of such close proximity to the greatest decade in the course of human existence. There are so many nods back to the 80s in this film that I’m surprised Oingo Boingo didn’t do the score. The animated comic book prelude to the story smacks gorgeously of Creepshow; even if it was only a reference to the Tales from the Crypt comic book series. I love that Billy Zane gets the chance to be Johnathan Price from Something Wicked This Way Comes, striving to tempt each human inhabitant of the fortified hotel with their most desperate desires. Except instead of running a fruity circus, Zane turns people into demons. Though utilizing the occasional, eye-rolling CG, there is a heavy, and greatly appreciated reliance on practical effects in Demon Knight. The design of the demons themselves is outstanding and the gross-out transformations are reminiscent of Lamberto Bava’s Demons which is weird considering their vastly divergent subject matters. There’s also something about watching a movie gleefully incinerate a small child that hearkens back to the pure cinematic magic of my favorite era. The inclusion of Dick Miller in the cast is like the Pac-Man icing on this side-ponytail 80s cake.

Demon Knight exists in one of my favorite film subgenres: the siege movie. The hapless humans holed up inside a single location as all evil imaginable tries to gain entry is always high up on my lists of things all movies should be required to contain…looking at you Sweet November. Movies like Assault on Precinct 13, Dawn of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and Night of the Living Dead all feature this plot structure and are wholesale badass. I would actually describe Demon Knight to folks who hadn’t seen it as Drive Angry to Precinct 13. I love how the siege aspect of Demon Knight is accomplished within the script with the simple story device of holy blood that creates an instant barrier they can’t cross. The greatest part of this is that the barrier is invisible and can be broken by idiot humans so the perimeters of safety are constantly moving; much like those tapeworms in my intestine that I inherited while earning my championship belt at the Nathan’s Famous Month-Old Chalupa Eating Contest.

Junkfood Pairing: Hawaiian Punch

Each and every time I watched someone pour out a little holy blood – you know, for the homies – I instantly had a craving for Hawaiian Punch. Extra points if you drink this sugary-sweet alternative to actual juice from a flask shaped like some sort of holy artifact. Super duper extra points if you spit in the face of anyone who tries to tell you Billy Zane was at his best in Titanic.

Finished mixing your Hawaiian Punch and vodka drink? Great, let’s go read more Junkfood Cinema!

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.