This is the seventh in a recurring series I will be doing highlighting obscure, unknown, forgotten and underrated horror movies. The goal is to bring to light great horror of yesterday and today, that are just not on most people’s radar. Just assume spoilers will be included. Enjoy.
Horror movies from the 1980’s all had a certain look and feel to them. In the good old days of cable TV you could flip through stations and stop on a horror film you've never seen and if it were made in the 80’s, you would know immediately. The bizarre premise built upon a story that is weak at best and only served to get the ball rolling on the growing body count. A vaguely supernatural or religious tinge that put the believability of the film just outside of the realm of possibility. Offensive, stereotypical characters that make you cringe looking back in 2019. And of course, the highlight of the Drive-In Oath, Blood, Breasts and Beasts!
As the 80’s came to a close and we moved into the 1990’s, horror movies began to take on a different look and feel. Practical effects were replaced by the new world of CGI, the chorus of bumbling blonde scantily clad bikini coeds were replaced by more sophisticated, strong female characters like Sidney Prescott and the gritty, messy nature of low budget horror was replaced by a polished look and feel which seemed more official and mainstream. Now, even though all the landscape changed drastically, there were still some winks and nods to the old way of doing things. One of the biggest films to embrace the aesthetic of the 1980’s is a film I consider the last great 80’s horror movies, 1995’s Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight.
Have you ever watched Demon Knight? No? OMG, let me tell you about it!
So for as great as this movie is, the only flaw would have to be the false opening. Demon Knight opens with a busty, bumbling, blonde scantily clad in lingerie talking on the phone to someone bragging about how she just killed her husband and he’s in the basement. Guess what honey, he aint dead so don't strip naked and get in the bubble bath. Oh, she did anyhow. Just as the scorned, half-dead husband starts stabbing, the crypt keeper yells cut and starts berating the actors before cutting the actual movie. Perhaps this movie would be better if it just opened with the two hot rods racing through the desert set to Filters Hey Man, Nice Shot. But without the gratuitous boobs, would this be the last great 80’s horror movie? Perhaps not.
Speaking of the hot rods shot, one of the drivers is William Sadler who most famously played Death in Bill & Ted as the leather clad Brayker who is the keeper of the seventh key. You see, when the earth was created demons created keys to have power in their hand and God was like fuck that and does as he typically does and scattered stuff among the cosmos. As the keeper, Brayker, is immortal which is good because he is being tracked down by Billy “The Phantom” Zane who is known as The Collector who is basically king demon. The cars wreck, shit gets lit on fire and Brayker hides out in a scummy hotel with a bunch of scumbags to stay safe throughout the night.
This collection of stereotypes in one place being hunted by demons is an 80’s trope used over and over again. This batch of characters could easily be swapped for classic 80’s characters who are similar. CCH Pounder as the opinionated hotel owner could be easily replaced by Kincaid from Nightmare 3 or the hillbilly mom from Friday the 13th Part 5. The shitty, leather clad bro named Roach could be replaced by literally any jerk from any horror movie, same with the prostitute Coredelia and the nerd who fawns over her Wally. The only character who does not fit this mold is the final girl played by Jada Pinkett Smith. Where the typical final girl is pure and virginal, Jada’s character Jeryline is a convict on probation. She doesnt run and scream until she finally finds her inner strength to overcome at the end, no, she fights from the very beginning.
So, The Collector ends up finding Brayker at the hotel and brings the cops to try to collect the key, quickly it turns to havok as The Collector punches through the cops face and then summons a bunch of demons. Everyone in the hotel is protected by blood that's inside of the key that works as a supernatural seal on all the doors and windows, and oh yeah, it’s Jesus’s blood. Now, even though Billy Zane cant get his fine ass into the hotel to fuck people up, he can project himself into their minds and seduce them with their biggest desires. He seduces the sex worker by offering her a better life, possesses her, and she turns into a demon and kills people. He tricks the town drunk with half naked women and whiskey and then possesses him too, turning him into a demon and killing people. Hell, he even tricks a kid with a Crypt Keeper comic book and turns him into a demon to kill people. The idea that you can safeguard the doors and windows of the building but not the doors of perception into the mind is heavy, man and the ultra-gory practical effects are an absolute highlight. Blood, breasts and beasts galore!
Eventually, after almost everyone is dead, Brayker half dead himself transfers the ownership of the key to Jada Pinkett by filling it up with his blood and sends her for a final showdown with The Collector. This final act, this last dance with the devil is one of the best finales in all of horror. As the demons can’t cross the blood border, Jada covers herself in blood from the key and goes demon hunting. The collector sneaks up behind her, wraps her in a shower curtain and throws her in the bathtub washing off all the blood. He then drags her down the stairs and proceeds to dance with her, proclaiming his love and trying to get her to join him in the apocalypse. Unbeknownst to him, she has a mouth full of blood and spits it in his face, causing him to explode as the sun rises. The beginning of this film is high impact, high action and the middle portion is high gore, high scores but the finale is just absolutely stunning and beautiful! You’re on the edge of your seat hoping Jada will survive, waiting for her to spit the blood in Billy Zane’s handsome face.
Tales from The Crypt: Demon Knight is one of my all time favorite horror movies and an underrated gem from the 1990’s. An amazing, unique story which is amplified by over the top gore, comedy and gratuitous Billy Zane. Demon Knight is a fun film which was set up to have a sequel, but after the debacle that was Bordello of Blood, never happened unfortunately. Great characters, great soundtrack and a great deal of blood, breasts and beasts.
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