Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight

“Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight”

Directed by Ernest Dickerson

Written by Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris

1995

1 hour, 32 minutes

I watched it on Starz.

“Demon Knight” is rough around the edges. The clothes are quite dated. The set could not be more obviously a set. The gore is much more about gross-out extremes than any kind of emotional impact. Well, on that last score, I don’t give a shit. That’s part of its charm. But what was really surprising to me is how emotional it was. Jada Pinkett (this was pre-Mr. Smith) has always been a reliably terrific actor. She has that natural strength to her, which contrasts well with her tiny size, and she has awesome range. In short, you always believe her and you always root for her. I could go on and on but needless to say, she pulled off that strip club owner in “Magic Mike XXL,” a meek lady dragged around and then coming into her own on “Girls Trip,” and successfully scared me/broke my heart in that legendary “Scream 2” opening. Here, she ends up being the heart of this supernatural tale. 

William Sadler plays the titular knight who holes up in a shitty boarding house in a shitty small town. He’s hoping to hide out from the big time bad guy demon (Billy Zane, and mid-90’s Billy Zane at that) but no such luck. Zane finds him and brings demons up from hell to lay siege on said shitty boarding house and torment its residents, including Jeryline, played by Pinkett. Jeryline is on a work release program after going to prison for stealing, something Jeryline admits as though she even hates how common it is. Her boss Irene (CCH Pounder of “The Shield” and a whole host of other thespian ass kicking) treats her casually like garbage but there’s a kind of care there, too, like they’re all just stuck in this crummy place together so need to be too cruel about it. So once the demons arrive, there’s this “oh shit, this now?” vibe to the proceedings. These are people, especially the women, who have been through some battles before, and they handle this one with bravery and brains but also with a clear weariness. The flick’s nice and sweaty and messy and dirty. Just like I like my horror flicks. Not quite sure why Irene and Deputy Bob make that final choice but otherwise, spot on fighting. 

The whole cast list is just insane with delights like Dick Miller and a super smarmy Thomas Haden Church. And then it’s directed by Ernest Dickerson, who infuses all of this with a gleeful 90’s gooeyness. The demons don’t just go down. They squirt and smash and ooze. So come for the great cast and the goofy demons and stay for the purposely on the noise dialogue. “Get that pussy off the table. I meant the cat.” But that tone perfectly fits here, since this was a “Tales From the Crypt” movie. (I did so love seeing the good ole Crypt Keeper again.)

Jada Pinkett makes an awesome final girl, full of a purity of spirit. Despite how much agency and heart it infuses in most of its female characters, there is still some of that (somewhat) dated horror fantasy nonsense: just sooo many naked, large chested young women in one place, (pretending to be) eager to fulfill a stupid man’s every wish. So that was awkward. 

Ernest Dickerson and Spike Lee came up together, as Dickerson was Lee’s DP, starting in film school and continuing on until “Malcolm X.” After that, Dickerson made the transition to directing, with movies like “Juice” and “Bulletproof” and crucial TV like “The Wire” and “The Walking Dead.” Dude even shot “The Brother From Another Planet” by John Sayles. In short, the guy’s a national fucking treasure. So it was a kick to see him go whole hog with this goofy demon story. 

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