If ever there was a show-biz survivor, it's the Crypt Keeper. After being blacklisted in the '50s when "Tales From the Crypt," his horror comic book, was accused of polluting the minds of young readers, the Crypt Keeper re-emerged a few years back to host his own bloody HBO series, which also airs on Fox, presumably with the gore trimmed down--but you never know with Fox.
A tongue-in-cheek fright-fest, HBO's "Tales From the Crypt" has even won an award--just a CableACE, sure, but an award nonetheless. It seems that even though any number of unpleasant things happen in productions with which the Crypt Keeper is associated, he keeps finding work in this town.
Even though the Crypt Keeper appears in "Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight" just long enough to pad it out to feature length with lame skits, he and the "Crypt" imprimatur are vital to the film. Based on the quality of the screenplay alone, "Demon Knight" is strictly a direct-to-video affair; with "Tales From the Crypt" tacked to the title, the budget expands exponentially to accommodate state-of-the-art special effects--most of them featuring dismemberment, naturally.
The story is fairly uninvolving nonsense concerning a satanic Collector (Billy Zane) battling a guy named Brayker (William Sadler) over a mystic key that will allow demons to overrun the planet. Their showdown takes place in a church converted into a hotel, where most of those in residence hang around just long enough to be killed in sundry grisly manners.
To aid him in recovering the key, the Collector conjures up a bunch of slime-dripping demons who can only be stopped by losing the use of their glow-in-the-dark lime-green eyes. Obviously, then, somebody's going to put an eye out.
There's not much effort to make anything about the story persuasive or compelling. In unnecessarily pretentious flashbacks, it's revealed that Christ himself had a hand, so to speak, in the key's history, and the filmmakers play fast and loose with the logic as to how the demons can enter the hotel after it's christened with blood from the key.
Director Ernest Dickerson, who abandoned an impressive career as Spike Lee's cinematographer to make movies such as this and "Surviving the Game," makes sure that the splatter effects come frequently enough to rescue the faltering narrative. His work is competent, though he doesn't provide the kind of jolts a movie like this needs to keep audiences engaged.
Zane is wittily seductive as the malevolent Collector. As one of the hotel's denizens, Jada Pinkett, who has heretofore made good impressions in the otherwise forgettable "A Low Down Dirty Shame" and "Jason's Lyric," brings a depth to her role that the script never even hints at. A decent vehicle could make her a star.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is relegated to going through generic motions. "Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight"--the title just tips off the tongue, doesn't it?--is the first of a projected three-feature package. Next time out, let's hope it involves a story that can stand on its own, without having to be propped up by the Crypt Keeper's silly patter.
* MPAA-rating: R, for gore, horror violence, sexuality and language. Times guidelines: It includes many scenes of death and dismemberment. The gore is state-of-the-art ; the nudity is gratuitous and carries the whiff of misogyny.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
'Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight'
Billy Zane: The Collector William Sadler: Brayker Jada Pinkett: Jeryline CCH PounderL Irene A Universal Pictures presentation. Director Ernest Dickerson. Producer Gilbert Adler. Executive producers Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris & Mark Bishop. Cinematographer Rick Bota. Editor Stephen Lovejoy. Music Ed Shearmur. Production design Christiaan Wagener. Art director Colin Irwin. Set decorator George Toomer. Sound Tim Cooney. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.