Of all the horror anthologies that made it to the small screen, Tales from the Crypt is easily the most irreverent. The show touted A-list talent and made good use of its home on HBO to offer enough gore, profanity, and sex to warrant an R rating. And in 1995, Tales made the move to theaters.
Demon Knight opens with a car chase. Out of gas, the hunted man–Brayker–stops in the middle of the road to take potshots at the other vehicle. He barely manages to bail out before the ensuing collision.
While he finds refuge at a local boarding house, Brayker immediately comes under suspicion after a report of an attempted car theft. Worse, his pursuer–the Collector–has survived the crash without so much as a scratch. It’s all too easy to use his prey’s stolen vehicle to get the law on his side. The police allow the Collector to accompany them to Brayker’s doorstep only to point out both cars were stolen. The Collector takes the accusation in stride and goes on the attack. Brayker manages to force him from the building and creates a barrier around it using the very key the Collector has come to claim. However, the ward is fragile, and the Collector is all too happy to tempt the residents in exchange for their souls and a way back in…
Tales from the Crypt has always been about fun, and Demon Knight lives up that tradition. The film moves quickly and offers plenty of dark humor to liven things up along the way. William Sadler (Brayker) and Jada Pinkett Smith (Jeryline) offer good performances as the two leads, but Billy Zane completely steals the show as the demonic Collector. Zane plays the part with a charming sleaziness that’s almost endearing, and each temptation of the characters is memorable. The resulting effects in the movie are also a nice step up from the show, offering some nice makeup and prosthetic work on both the demons and the corrupted humans.
The story is admittedly a little on the basic side (the key the Collector seeks is the last of a set that will allow demonkind to reclaim the planet). However, the way it plays out provides a clever twist on zombie movie claustrophobia. There’s the usual mistrust in the boarding house, but the fact that the outside threat literally has no way in but through the victims’ weaknesses in character elevates the scenario into something more intersting.
Demon Knight’s script was actually penned a few years before the show ever aired and has no basis in any of the EC comics. Yet, the film’s tone is somehow a dead match for the better episodes of the series, giving viewers just the right combination of gore and black comedy. While it may not be a masterpiece, Demon Knight is unapologetically fun. And that’s what Tales from the Crypt has always been about.