Here's the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir) to introduce yet another Tale from the Crypt, although he has been busy with directing his own movie recently - a horror, naturally. But he still has time to offer us a new flick, as this is the first in the series of big screen outings for the franchise, and what he has is a story of the Demon Knight. We catch up with Brayker (William Sadler) as he speeds along the desert highway in his car, with The Collector (Billy Zane) in hot pursuit, a state of affairs that has been the case for many years. Realising he cannot outrun him, Brayker takes to drastic action...
Demon Knight was indeed the first in a franchise of Tales from the Crypt efforts for the cinema, but it was a plan that only lasted for two movies as it turned out, as these did not do very well, or not as well as anticipated at any rate. This was mainly down not to the basic concept, as there was certainly room for a succession of horrors that were expressly created to embrace the genre, complete with extensive special effects sequences and a macabre sense of humour, but largely because what they came up with simply wasn't that great. For a start, that Crypt Keeper intro and outro would be more likely to irritate than entertain, with puns that would give Forrest J. Ackerman pause.
And what follows afterward is distinctly undernourished as far as its storyline went, essentially the same siege set up as George A. Romero had come up with for Night of the Living Dead, except without all that dread, resonance, and freshness that made it such a classic. To make up for this lack of originality we did have Billy Zane stealing the show as The Collector, getting the lion's share of the wisecracks and proving more fun than the Crypt Keeper ever was. Brayker holes up in a motel converted from a church, and puts the lives of the staff and guests in danger by his very presence there thanks to him having in his possession a cross-shaped bottle filled with the blood of Christ.
This is what The Collector wants to get his hands on, although the exact cause for that remains lost in the mayhem, but it's enough to know that this is the reason for the situation that predictably sees the innocents bumped off for the duration by the demons that the villain sets on them. If there was a benefit to this, it was to see some good old fashioned rubbery effects work in the last era before such things were replaced with CGI, and if the makeup is less than inspired, stuff like this can make horror fans of a certain age feel nostalgic. That said, even that wasn't the most imaginative you would ever see, Zane punching his fist straight through a cop's face and out the other side notwithstanding.
It's a pity, because there was a cast here who were quite capable of doing something more with flimsy material than many of their ilk, but they never really got a chance apart from Zane, who chortles his way through proceedings as if this was a lot more diverting than it was. Dick Miller, for example, was a past master at brightening up unpromising movies, and he got more to do here than he had in a while, but even he was foiled by the ever-dwindling innovation on display. Brenda Bakke, who was about to win the role that best endeared her to chiller fans when she appeared in television series American Gothic, played one of those killed off far too early, and Jada Pinkett Smith as our supposedly badass final girl made little impression until the last act. It was easy to be harsh on Demon Knight when it made so little of what could have been so much - there wasn't even a proper twist, as in the vintage comics - but for all its flaws, it did have its heart in the right place. Music by Ed Shearmur.