It’s the best month on the blog, even if Horror Month is somewhat less of an escape while we’re in the midst of a global pandemic (being especially mishandled by the leadership in my country, the good ol’ “freedom isn’t free” USA). As this week’s film shows, things could always be worse…though I’ve seen demons with more compassion than some of our current world leaders.
Tales from the Crypt presents: Demon Knight
The fight for the key that holds humanity’s only hope for survival comes to smalltown New Mexico when a loner arrives, pursued by demon.
Rather unnecessarily, the Crypt Keeper is a Hollywood director, which isn’t so much commentary as an opportunity for horrendously cringey puns on actors’ names. I suppose the Crypt Keeper is a necessary part of the film since this is a tale from the crypt…but I could have happily skipped these scenes without missing any of the film’s essence.
Once we dive into the main story line, we’re dropped into the middle of a dramatic high-speed chase. Protagonist Brayker is SOL when he runs out of fuel completely and cowboy-hatted Billy Zane still has his foot firmly on the gas pedal. As an audience with zero context for what’s happening, we’re initially supposed to be conflicted about who the good guy really is here…but we’ve all seen Titanic, right? Billy Zane’s character is known later only as the Collector–ooooh, ominous!
After the two cars collide in a fiery explosion, there can be no survivors. Thus conclude the local police officers investigating the accident. However, to dramatically prove them wrong (and to keep the film going for another 80 minutes), an unscathed Collector emerges from the wreckage, demanding to know where the man he was following has gone.
As it turns out, Brayker has left a fairly easy trail to follow after attempting to steal a car parked outside of a café. At the suggestion of a man everyone in town calls Uncle Willy, Brayker winds up staying the night at a motel called the Mission, formerly a church.
Especially for a horror film, there are a LOT of characters whose names we’re supposed to remember from here on out (in addition to Uncle Willy). First is Irene, the owner of the motel, and formerly incarcerated employee Jeryline who is decidedly not here for your nonsense. Then we’ve got Cordelia, a sex worker who operates out of the motel, and Wally, a postal worker who is in love with her. Unfortunately, Cordelia has terrible taste in men, opting for the appropriately named Roach.
Before the cops and the Collector have to do too much sleuthing, a suspicious Irene tips them off on Brayker’s location. When they apprehend Brayker, the Collector reveals his interest in finding the man: he’s searching for an ancient key that seems to contain a precious liquid (spoiler alert: it’s the literal blood of Jesus).
However, unlike most horror movie cops, these two are at least somewhat suspicious of an actual demon, demanding that the Collector accompany them to the station rather than handing over the key. This is really not part of the plan, and one of the cops soon meets a grisly end as the Collector escapes. Condemning the property, the Collector brings forth demons to destroy those remaining in the motel.
After some setbacks, Brayker manages to keep demons out of the motel using the blood of Christ at all entrances to the building. However, this strategy will only work if no one enters or leaves the motel for the rest of the night. Complicating things is the demons’ ability to possess any of the humans with no one the wiser…until it’s too late.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Collector spends most of the film sending demons after the crew in the motel and trying to convince the humans to make a deal with him. He really wants that key as it is the last of 7–the other 6 of which are already in the demons’ possession. Of course, the key/Jesus blood is the only way for humanity to hold off the forces of darkness.
As the night goes on, both the human and demonic body count rises, with Jeryline emerging as an unlikely heroine. But does she have what it takes to preserve the key, save humanity, and keep the demonic forces at bay?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
You know, I didn’t hate this. The humor doesn’t always land well, and the explanation for the importance of the relic feels extremely underdeveloped. But overall, I stayed reasonably entertained through most of the film.
Demons pursuing an ancient object in a creepy old house gave me quite a Hellraiser vibe, and I’m not mad about that. However, this film doesn’t particularly pull off the menacing elements that Pinhead and the Cenobites bring to Hellraiser, opting instead for comedy. There were some times when I did find Billy Zane’s flippant approach to demonhood entertaining; it does seem on brand that a demon would have a good time watching humans inevitably fail. With the shaved head and dark eyes, Billy Zane gives off High Priest Imhotep vibes and seems to have made the entire film an audition tape for his role in Titanic.
Actually, the casting is well done in a way that doesn’t always happen with horror. William Sadler comes across like a budget Patrick Swayze, and it works for me. Perhaps the biggest badasses of the film are CCH Pounder as Irene and Jade Pinkett as Jeryline. My complaint here is that Jada in particular isn’t given much to do until the end, reflecting some of the film’s issues with major reveals. There are quite a few plot elements that are thrown in as dramatic twists, Jeryline’s role as the heir to Brayker’s work included (does that count as a spoiler?). This doesn’t always work particularly well; with Jeryline, it undercuts her importance by giving her less screen time. It’s a damn shame, especially because the scenes towards the end of the film are some of the most suspenseful (and badass).
New horror classic? Maybe not. But it’s just enough fun (and gore) that I have no regrets that we’ve included it on this year’s Horror Month watchlist.