Demon Knight [1995]

Ernest Dickerson, one-time cinematographer for Spike Lee and director of Demon Knight, said during the initial release of this film that he chose the project because he was a lifelong fan of the horror genre. Other horror fans should be thankful, because without Dickerson's enthusiasm and visual sense, this derivative gorefest wouldn't come close to the entertainment level that it ultimately achieves. The film was the first big- screen adaptation of HBO's Tales from the Crypt series, a show based on the EC comic books of the '50s. Like Creepshow before it, Demon Knight blends fair amounts of blood, sex, and knowing comedy with a paper-thin plot that doesn't leave a bit of room for subtext. Dickerson understands this, so instead he pumps the flick full of eye-popping visuals and gorgeous camerawork, and populates it with terrific character actors (especially Billy Zane, who really has fun, and William Sadler) who don't seem to care that their characters have little identity. Everyone seems to be giving this tiny project everything they've got, while never taking it seriously for a minute. We've seen the story before: A diverse bunch (a hooker, the town drunk, the ex-con, etc.) is locked in a rundown hotel and is forced to battle the Legions of Evil massed outside and determined to get in. Regardless, Dickerson, shooting with as little light as possible, manages to create some tense moments. There's a lot wrong with Demon Knight's shallow premise, and you could make a checklist of the movies it gleefully steals from (Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead are two of many), but thrill-seekers who prefer laughs with their grisly special effects and gratuitous nudity should have a mindless blast watching it. --Dave McCoy

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