Every horror fan should steep themselves in the legacy of publisher William Gaines lamented EC Comics, the line of inky pulp trash responsible for such immortal and controversial 1950s-weened titles as WEIRD SCIENCE, THE VAULT OF HORROR and, of course TALES FROM THE CRYPT. The formula for these often imitated, never duplicated comics classics were simple: good (or bad) people make bad decisions and are rewarded justly by creepy karma, usually in the form of some class of shambling, rotten, undead vindicator. And man, were these tales cold around the heart
The 1972 Amicus-produced EC adaption TALES FROM THE CRYPT got it right, adapting 5 grim tales, casting A list British talent against type and reveling in cruel, phantasmagorical punishments for people who most assuredly deserved it. Years later, the Rober Zemeckis, Richard Donner and Joel Silver produced HBO TV series TALES FROM THE CRYPT took those tales and jazzed them up with slick production values, explicit violence, dirty sex and broad humor, usually in the form of the giggling (and awesome) Crypt Keeper puppet, who, like in the comics, provided wraparound commentary for these shocking stories.
So popular was that series that Universal Pictures soon green-lit what was to be a series of big screen feature CRYPT films, expansions of the HBO show that were meant to both capitalize on the fan base and hook an even bigger audience not yet savvy to HBOs pay for play charms. Three films were planned(at one point, Tarantinos FROM DUSK TILL DAWN screenplay was scheduled to be an entry) but, as of this writing, only two “official” CRYPT films were made, with Rob Cohen’s 2002 I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE remake RITUAL later attached to the franchise for its DVD release.
On October 20th, Scream Factory will release both “legit” Crypt flicks on Blu-ray but before then, allow SHOCK to assess the releases and the films themselves .
TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS: DEMON KNIGHT (1995)
Horror fans that came of age in the 90s have fond memories of DEMON KNIGHT, a film that wasnt necessarily planned to be a TALES film but was modified to fit the format. Sort of. The film stars William Sadler as Brayker, a stranger who rolls into town and checks into a crumbling hotel, run by the great CCH Pounder (who later on delivers the best middle-finger salute in film history).
The hotel is a rogues gallery of miscreants, grifters, greaseballs and broken souls and theyre played by an equally diverse set of actors like Thomas Hayden Church, Charles Fleischer and of course, the inimitable Dick Miller, all of whom deliver top notch, wonderfully committed turns.
While Brayker is setting up shop, a giggling bounty hunter (Billy Zane) appears and enlists the local authorities to help him find the supposedly dastardly drifter. And when he does finally find his quarry, he promptly sheds his skin (not literally, yet), decimates his Cop-panions and reveals his true nature: seems the grinning, faux-bounty hunter is in fact a demonic collector sent from Hell to retrieve the last of six keys that will unlock the portal between this world and the underworld. And guess who has the key?
Again, many horror fans of a certain vintage hold DEMON KNIGHT in very high regard and its easy to see why. The storyline is borderline epic, the special effects are stunning (the movie is virtual practical make-up FX meltdown), the cast is killer, the script is witty, Jada Pinkett Smith gives a career best performance as a tough heroine who faces down the Devil, the sex and gore firmly push the boundaries of its R rating, director Ernest Dickerson keeps it stylish and Zane Zane well, Zane gives the most batshit crazy, super-sonic performance since Nicolas Cage in VAMPIRES KISS. The man is a sight to behold and his manic energy keeps the entire thing glued together.
The only problem and its kind of a big problem is that despite its title and the fun, arch Crypt Keeper framing device, DEMON KNIGHT has almost zero to do with TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Theres no morality tale here. Theres no twist. Theres no bad-behavior-getting-punished-by forces-from-beyond-the-grave-stinger. Theres no sense of danger and the film aint scary at all. Instead what we have here is an enjoyable, campy, theologically-tinted monster mash, well-scripted, professionally acted and briskly paced. In fact, DEMON KNIGHT would fare far better had it been released as a stand-alone film without the baggage and expectations of the TALES title
TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS: BORDELLO OF BLOOD (1996)
A supremely tacky follow-up to the surprisingly classy DEMON KNIGHT, director Gilbert Adlers BORDELLO OF BLOOD casts smarmy, SNL Weekend Update comedian Dennis Miller as a smarmy P.I named Guttman who gets hired by former BAYWATCH babe Erika Eleniak to find her missing scumbag brother (played by a fresh out of rehab Corey Feldman). The trail leads him from grotty pool halls to the doorstep of a looming funeral home; said stiff factory is in fact a front for a demented backdoor brothel, run by a recently resurrected vampire queen named Lilith (played with leering charm by admitted non-actor and supermodel Angie Everhart) and its packed to the pantyline with bloodsucker hookers from hell.
BORDELLO was put together quickly and reportedly wasnt exactly the cheeriest of sets (according to Feldman in the supplemental making-of doc, both Miller and Eleniak were a pair of diva-jerks on set) and that lack of camaraderie shows on screen. The make-up effects are less impressive as well (handled primarily by Canadian whiz Todd Masters), but really thats more indicative of the fact that, well, these are just vampires after all and outside of fangs, arched brows and contacts, there aint much left to do with them
That said, BORDELLO is in many ways a superior TALES FROM THE CRYPT entry. Adler had previously directed episodes of the show and the film feels like an amplified episode, brightly lit, garish and tricked out with even more sleaze, sex, blood and general luridness. Miller is miscast but often very funny, veteran Charles Band alumni actor Phil Fondacaro is great as Liliths liberator and henchman and the great Chris Sarandon (FRIGHT NIGHT) steals the movie as a guitar wailing televangelist whose treatise with the vampires is uneasy at best. And, in true CRYPT style, there is indeed a dose of nihilism injected into the finale that draws the flick back to its EC roots.
Scream Factory pack both discs with their usual assortment of A1 extras, the highlights of both which are a double-dose of features charting the behind the scenes action; theyre edifying and funny as hell and will make you care even more about the films themselves.
All in all, though, if its a real deal cinematic TALES FROM THE CRYPT experience ye be seeking, stick with the ’72 flick (and to a lesser extent, its sequel, THE VAULT OF HORROR) or better yet, George A. Romeros 1982 classic CREEPSHOW. That Stephen King-scripted movie is as close to the pulp genius of Gaines and company that weve yet to see