Time to Revisit…’Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight’

Ever wonder why some of your favorite lesser-known horror movies sit idly by while other films seem to capture all the glory? I know I do. That’s why I’ll be taking a look at a few horror movies over the next few days and weeks that I feel merit much more appreciation than they’ve actually received. Further, I’ll be holding these under-appreciated gems up against the examples of much more prominent similar movies to make my case for why they deserve a reappraisal.

In this edition, I take a look at the overlooked 1995 supernatural horror flick Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight and discuss why fans of Sam Raimi’s first two Evil Dead entries – as awesome as those movies are – could maybe stand to throw a little recognition in the direction of Ernest Dickerson’s dust-collecting mini-classic.
Beloved Favorites: The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987)

Number of votes on IMDB: 49,409 and 47,475, respectively

The Plots: An assortment of individuals, led by valiant protagonist Ash, become stranded in a remote cabin and must do battle with an evil force capable of possessing the bodies of the living and transforming them into murderous demons.

Why they’re so celebrated: While tonally quite different from one another, the first two films in the Evil Dead series are landmarks of the horror genre and famous for kick-starting future Spider-Man director Sam Raimi’s career. Their “D.I.Y.” origins, over-the-top grotesqueness and willingness to “go there” (I’m particularly referring to the infamous “tree rape” scene in the first entry) won over legions of hardcore genre fans, and in subsequent years the films have become widely accepted as horror classics by both top-shelf movie critics and more mainstream filmgoers. Not to mention, they are regularly cited as major influences by several future auteurs of the genre.

Why it’s time to backburner them for awhile: Make no mistake: I am in no way suggesting that Evil Dead 1 and 2 are bad movies, or somehow undeserving of the praise they have received. They are, in fact, excellent films, and they’ve proven remarkably influential on subsequent generations of independent filmmakers. But that’s just the thing: we all know they’re great, we all recognize their importance in the scheme of the horror genre, and many of us have probably watched each of them at least half a dozen times. Maybe it’s time to take a step back for a bit? Revisit a similar title that doesn’t garner near the amount of recognition as the Evil Dead films but perhaps deserves a little more appreciation? Possibly a film like…

Undervalued Also-Ran: Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)

Number of votes on IMDB: 6,942

The Plot: An assortment of individuals, led by a mysterious stranger named Frank, must fend off a horde of monsters in a remote boarding house when the Collector, a vicious demon disguised as a man, comes to retrieve a mystical artifact from Frank’s possession that has the power to open the gates of Hell.

Why it’s not so celebrated: The first of a planned trio of Tales From the Crypt spin-off films, Demon Knight posted respectable enough box-office and home-video sales/rental numbers to warrant a second (though essentially unrelated) entry in the series – the inferior Dennis Miller vampire flick Bordello of Blood – but it nevertheless failed to make much of a dent in the popular consciousness. Though it certainly has a few admirers, it’s now generally viewed as a failed experiment at extending the Tales from the Crypt brand into a successful theatrical franchise. It also debuted at a time in which the horror genre was at a relative low point both artistically and commercially, with Scream nearly two years away and the slasher boom of the `80s long since relegated to the cultural dustbin.

Why it deserves a revisiting: Ok, I’ll admit that director Ernest Dickerson (Bones, The Walking Dead) is no Sam Raimi – he doesn’t possess near the amount of stylistic panache – but with Demon Knight he managed to deliver a fun, solidly-crafted supernatural horror flick that stands as one of the most underrated genre entries of the `90s. Blessed with a very good cast including Billy Zane, William Sadler, Thomas Haden Church, and CCH Pounder (Jada Pinkett is in it too) and sporting some genuinely impressive (and wonderfully gory) practical effects work, Dickerson admirably balances the horror and comedic elements in a way that doesn’t feel forced.

The film also boasts some sharply-drawn (though expectedly broad, given the genre) characters and a mythology surrounding the central MacGuffin (a mystical key containing the blood of Christ) that works surprisingly well. While the film doesn’t reach the same manic heights as the Evil Dead films, it’s still a fast-paced, energetic ride that’s definitely worth a (second?) look for anyone who counts themselves as fans of Raimi’s early work.

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