Fright Fest 2017 Review #4 – Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)

demon knight
A Tales from the Crypt review without a pun?  Perish the thought!

Subgenre:  Demon

Summary:  A hotel’s residents must survive an onslaught of murderous demons.

Review:  One might expect this big-screen version of Tales From the Crypt, HBO’s tongue-in-cheek horror anthology, to be, well, a horror anthology.  Instead the movie takes the long approach with a feature-length story.  The Cryptkeeper still makes his trademark bookend appearances, but for the most part this is a standalone horror movie sold under the Tales From the Crypt banner.  Thankfully, it’s a pretty damn good one.

After the introduction, Demon Knight wastes no time getting to the action.  Frank Brayker (William Sadler) is a man on the run, desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the mysterious Collector (Billy Zane).  After the two men’s cars crash, Brayker takes shelter in a nearby hotel.  But the demonic Collector isn’t far behind, and Brayker must use his wits and skills if he wants to make it to dawn alive.

After its first act, Demon Knight becomes a standoff movie in the tradition of From Dusk Til Dawn and Assault on Precinct 13.  The confined nature of this setup has always been a double-edged sword; the claustrophobic setting can create tension and suspense, but it also risks tedium and repetition.  Demon Knight manages to avoid these pitfalls thanks to steady pacing and a strong cast.  The ever-reliable Sadler is perfect as the weary-eyed drifter, and there’s even a bit of star-power on hand thanks to the presence of future A-listers Jada Pinkett and Thomas Hayden Church, playing the final girl and the weasel, respectively.  But it’s Billy Zane who emerges as the movie’s MVP, clearly enjoying himself as the seductive, silver-tongued head demon.

Like all the best episodes of its source material, Demon Knight expertly straddles the line between horror and comedy.  The practical effects are the perfect combination of gruesome and goofy, and each character gets off a few zingers.  And because things never degenerate into all-out parody, the movie even pulls off a bit of heart towards the end.

The Verdict:  Thanks to a stacked cast and a pitch-perfect script, Demon Knight is a diabolically entertaining treat.  I give it seven-and-a-half haunted hotels out of ten.

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