Cult Cinema: Demon Knight (1995) - Reviewed

One of the most intriguing aspects of Tales from the Crypt is the world in which the television series and films live.  On the surface it is classic comedy-horror, highlighted by top shelf guest appearances and inventive kill sequences that often revolve around an evil-doer's just desserts.  Beneath the veneer is a world akin to a Clive Baker novel: A manic, violent place filled with sexual deviants, unusual customs, and an esoteric set of rules that govern an alternate reality.  This is realized in Ernest Dickerson's Demon Knight, a fantastic standalone entry into the Crypt Keeper's circus of the bizarre.  Featuring a remarkable ensemble, high octane soundtrack, and creatively grizzly visuals, this a must see for any fan of cult horror.  

Breaker is a criminal on the run from an ethereal lawman.  His journey takes him to a rundown motel where the truth of his situation is revealed and the fate of humanity rests in the hands of a cadre of lost souls.  Dickerson's careful, yet frivolous direction is one of the film's many charms.  Dickerson, a cinematic veteran, and respected African American auteur ensures that his diverse cast each gets a chance to shine, all the while subverting specific tropes of the genre with respect to minority characters.  His lead, the amazing Jada Pinkett has a natural approach to the material, rising above the usual "ordinary into extraordinary" cliché'.  Her chemistry with William Sadler's Breaker is rushed, but evocative of the human undercurrent that runs throughout.  While there is humor and violence everywhere, it's the blue collar, normality (akin to Alien) that is relatable and thus endearing.  

The remainder of the cast is filled with legendary character performers.  The amazing CCH Pounder, Thomas Hayden Church, and icon Dick Miller all lend to the vibrance, but it is Billy Zane's inhuman Collector that steals the show.  Demonic pacts are an overdone affair, but Zane’s handling of the material is so perfect, it rises above the mediocrity of the villain's modus operandi.  This is a theme that recurs in each act.  For a film that is clearly a lower budget, almost straight to cable affair, its resilience and relevance are a testament to its cast and crew's talent.  Rick Bota's neon infused cinematography is the most potent attribute.  While there is light filled scenes of comic abandon, there are horrific visions of the apocalypse strewn throughout that could be cut from canvases.  The interior of the hotel (a converted church) is cold, almost maze like, a prison of lost dreams and surrender at the edge of nowhere.  

Now available for (cheap) digital rental or on an outstanding Shout Factory Blu Ray edition, Demon Knight is an exceptional horror comedy that deserves more recognition for its contributions to the genre.  Inventive creatures and gruesome brutality meld with an unusually well shot picture to creature a hilarious, and surprisingly poignant story about the end of all light, and those who fight against it.  

--Kyle Jonathan