In case you weren’t convinced that BEYOND FEST is just a wacky ball of fun, this past Friday TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT was paired with Joe Begos’ ALMOST HUMAN. The result was a throw-back trip.
I was going to let this screening slide by with nary a word on the topic until I realized that TALES FROM THE CRYPT can always use more of the spotlight. Based on the violent and sexed up EC Comics of the 1950′s, the comic-inspired anthology film from 1972 starred Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, and Ralph Richardson as the eponymous Cryptkeeper. A sequel, THE VAULT OF HORROR, followed in 1973. The series truly took off in 1989, when TALES FROM THE CRYPT came to TV, and John Kassir took over the character of the pun-tastic Cryptkeeper, who could very well be considered the best horror host of all-time.
The show lasted for 7 seasons and is one of the best horror shows ever, with a wide variety of guest stars including Michael Ironside, Miguel Ferrer, William Sadler, Lance Henriksen, Joe Pantoliano, Kirk Douglas, Whoopi Douglas, Don Rickles, and the list goes on. Many greats directed episodes, such as Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis, Tom Holland, William Friedkin, and Tobe Hooper. Notable actors even directed some, including Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, and… Arnold Schwarzenegger? It was a wonderful tapestry in which to go nuts with pulp, blood, and sex.
Toward the end of its run, the series spawned another film, TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT, which has one of the best and wackiest casts ever and is the reason for this particular spotlight.
The 1995 film stars the glorious William Sadler in one of his few leading roles (and probably one of the only ones in which he plays a hero) as Brayker, a man in possession of the final key NOT in evil’s grasp. The key happens to be filled with the blood of Christ, so you know it’s serious, and a battle ensues that has been fought since the dawn of Christianity.
The cast is rounded out by previous name o’ the week champion CCH Pounder, a goofy SMOKE SIGNALS’ Gary Farmer, a pervy Charles Fleischer (BACK TO THE FUTURE II, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), Thomas Haden Church before he learned to act (or at least tweak his persona… slightly for SIDEWAYS and the like), John Schuck (Herman in THE MUNSTERS TODAY), Brenda Bakke whoring herself out as the prostitute Cordelia, and all-star Dick Miller (TERMINATOR, GREMLINS, TAXI, THE HOWLING). Not to be outdone, the film even stars a Jada Pinkett Pre-Smith.
In an alternate universe, Jada Pinkett became an action heroine alongside the likes of Milla Jovovich, Linda Hamilton, and Sigourney Weaver, whereas Will Smith stuck to music and starred on a failed TNT show, and their kids aren’t anyone’s problem. Jada has an undeniable charisma, sex appeal, and action chops, all of which are on display here as the Jeryline, the next protector in line for the final key.
All of them are overshadowed by Billy Zane, as all actors inevitably are in their lifetime. Billy Zane plays the devilish Collector, trying to round up the 7th and final key to unlocking hell on Earth, chewing scenery like a starving John Candy and making more wardrobe changes than an Oscar host. He’s incredible, and elevates the film from a Friday night movie with your bros to THE Friday night movie with your bros. A bad movie night contender, into a film that demands its own night of ribaldry.
This movie would be over the top, even if the top’s highest point was the Space Needle, as over the top understates how bombastic and silly this awesome movie is, as Brayker holes up in an establishment that epitomizes the term dive motel, filled with a motley crew of characters that are about to be demon food. From there, Billy Zane’s Collector runs rampant, sowing the seeds of doubt in each of the guests, possessing, beheading, and tearing characters limb from limb as they stupidly fall under his spell. To entice the alcoholic Uncle Willy (Dick Miller of course), the Collector shows him a bar filled with heaving breasted party babes (there are 9 of them in the cast). Yeah, it’s one of those movies, with blood, monsters, and corny dialogue galore.
And it rules. DEMON KNIGHT is, of course, book-ended by interludes featuring John Kassir’s Cryptkeeper and was directed by Ernest R. Dickerson, the tremendous veteran TV director of TREME, THE WALKING DEAD, DEXTER, THE WIRE, and so many more.