1995 / Director. Ernest Dickerson.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT, we all watched it. A HBO anthology series based on the comic books of the same name that arrived in thirty minute instalments that showcased countless directors; from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bob Hoskins and Russell Mulcahy.
DEMON KNIGHT marked the first film of a trilogy that also saw BORDELLO OF BLOOD released theatrically followed by RITUAL (which fell victim to a complicated release process).
In it Billy Zane shows some of the charisma that could have made him a star with his turn as The Collector, a demon on earth in hot pursuit of William Sadler's Brayker, a holy warrior in possession of a key, the last of seven, that when reunited with its counterparts will bring about the end of the world as we know it. Brayker seeks refuge in a roadside motel populated by the usual run-of-the-mill rejects; an ex-con (Jada Pinkett, long before the Smith amendment), a ditzy prostitute (Brenda Bakke), her number one client (Thomas Hayden Church, doing his best sarcastic swine schtick), the motel owner (CCH Pounder) and the local drunk (the ever reliable Dick Miller). Over the course of the night they fight to stay alive while being tempted by all their wildest desires courtesy of The Collector and his demonic cronies.
Ex-Spike Lee cinematographer turned director Ernest Dickerson is the apple that fell a mile away from the tree. His mentor's gift for social realism has seemingly never been on the protege's agenda. Even his first film, the Tupac-starring JUICE, while on the surface looked like it should fall in the same category, lacked the gritty edge Lee's films have in spades.
Here, Dickerson's third outing as director, delivers with an assured hand. His confidence is stamped on almost every frame, every camera movement and every lighting set-up. DEMON KNIGHT is fluid and bombastic. Fun is the order of the day and Dickerson takes that ball and runs a million miles an hour with it. This is pulp-horror, almost by definition, and he knows his film is about as deep as the paper the posters were printed on, but with that lack of cinematic depth comes the freedom to exploit every zany idea that pops into his head.
Sure, it's a mash-up of a dozen better films (take a bow Raimi and Romero) but at least they are a dozen great films and the stand-outs of the genre, surely, are the ones to borrow from. Rick Bota's camera never stops gathering momentum. If it's not dutch-tilts it's stedi-cam marathons and if it's not tilts and stedi-cams then it's both at once. Style over substance? You betcha, but who cares when it's this much fun?
Producers Zemeckis, Silver, Donner and Hill knew a good thing when they saw it, now it's time for more people to see it. DEMON KNIGHT is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated, fun genre films to come out of the 90s. Time to revisit.