NOVEMBER 13, 2012
Few would argue that Demon Knight is one of the best horror movies of the 90s. Not that it had much competition, but it's fun, it's surprisingly gory/goopy for a major studio release, and it did the Tales From The Crypt brand proud by handily mixing dark humor and horror. And it was supposed to be the first in a trilogy of big-screen Crypt tales, but the followup, Bordello Of Blood, was so bad and bombed so badly that the 3rd film sat on a shelf for years, at one point even shedding itself of its Crypt ties, before finally being released in the US almost a decade later (with some terrible Cryptkeeper scenes put back in, suggesting that maybe they should have stayed excised).
I remember feeling no interest in seeing the movie in theaters; it came out in between two other movies I was much more interested in: Escape From LA and (shut up) A Very Brady Sequel. See, that was before I drove and thus was at the mercy of my mom or sister to take me to see stuff, and I knew it wasn't worth cashing in some goodwill to see Dennis Miller hamming it up. And I've wisely avoided it for 16 years (half my life!), but when my planned movie for today fell through I had to fall back on Netflix Instant, and it was the first thing I saw. Oh well.
The main problem with the film is Miller. He's a hero who doesn't seem to care much about what is happening, played by an actor who clearly wasn't trying very hard. Given Miller's status as an ex-Weekend Update anchor, it's actually kind of interesting to note that he's clearly channeling Chevy Chase as Fletch, albeit not as well and nowhere near as funny. No one will ever accuse Chevy of being a great actor (he's even admitted it himself), but when he's "into it", you can at least see the effort, which is why Fletch is his best movie - it's a solid story populated with fun characters, and Chevy/Fletch's job is to make jokes and use his quick thinking to get out of situations. Thus, he's more or less playing himself, and clearly having fun doing so. It's part of what kills the sequel - the story is lame and the "comedy" was largely based on his now ridiculous costumes, so Chevy snoozed his way through the film.
Well, Miller is definitely more Fletch Lives than original recipe here, and it doesn't help that his character barely has a function in the narrative. He's a PI looking for Erika Eleniak's brother (Corey Feldman, as grating as ever), but she tags along for so much of it AND has her own major plot revolving around her employment at Chris Sarandon's TV evangelist (another Fletch Lives recall), so there's not much left for Miller to do on his own except for a few dumb scenes where he infiltrates the bordello. His one-liners are often painful (the "That's the SECOND craziest thing..." exchange is particularly awful), and being Miller a few simply make no sense or will go way over the heads of the audience since we have no reason to care enough to connect those dots (hope you are familiar with the plot of 1944's Gaslight!).
Plus, it's a "mystery" where we know the answer. They're looking for Feldman, but we know that he's in the whorehouse, and since they just show a vampire advancing on him in the first reel we know he will turn up as a vampire in the last one, making it very uninvolving. Sarandon's plot never really meshes with the vampire stuff, either; I guess someone just said "Hey let's get Jerry Dandridge in this vampire movie as a guy AGAINST the vampires!" and never bothered fleshing it out any further. So the whole thing is just a lot of farting around waiting for the characters to catch up to the audience, without a single real twist or surprise along the way.
Worse, it's BORING. There's a shocking dearth of vampire action, and at times they seem to be going out of their way to avoid any carnage. Miller tricks a vamp into chaining herself to a bed at one point, but does he stake her? No, he makes another bad joke and leaves, dropping his wallet in the process so they can find out who he is, which probably wouldn't have taken much effort since he's constantly running back and forth between it and the evangelist studio that the vamps are targeting as well. By the time it gets to Miller and Sarandon blasting them with super soakers (in a scene that admirably has a lot of practical FX), any sane audience member will have long since stopped caring even enough to point out that From Dusk Till Dawn already did the soaker thing that year, except there it was just the latest in a long line of action sequences, as opposed to here where it's pretty much the first one of note.
The best part of the movie (besides Miller being killed at the very end, but it's mostly off-screen anyway) are the wraparounds with the Cryptkeeper and a Mummy played by William Sadler. Bizarrely, the first comes AFTER the opening of the actual movie, so I momentarily thought that they had been removed or something - why have the "host" come in after the thing he's hosting has already begun? Just another of the many things about this movie that will have you wondering "What the hell were they thinking?" Anyway, Sadler seems to be doing a James Whale impression which is quite hilarious, the puppetry for the Cryptkeeper is top notch (though he doesn't move much), and the bar they're in is populated with other monsters, so it's the only part of the movie that lives up to Demon Knight's visual feast for the eyes (unless you count Angie Everhart, but she's such a terrible actress it detracts from her considerable physical appeal). The rest of the film is set in typically boring, identity-free Canadian locales, filled with characters that seem to actively want you to hate them.
In short, the film's critical and commercial failure was rightfully deserved. Obviously all franchises have shitty entries, but it's unforgivable that this one killed so much promise during a low point in horror where its predecessor was the rare light of hope.
What say you?