Tale From The Crypt Double Feature: Demon Knight (1995) and Bordello Of Blood (1996) In a weird way, Tales From The Crypt created HBO’s prestigious original programming. The brainchild of super producer Joel Silver and filmmakers Robert Zemeckis, Walter Hill, and Richard Donner (who all directed the first 3 episodes and several others in the run), the series was a love letter to the old EC Comics that mixed gallons of gore, gratuitous nudity, slumming movie star cameos, thick layers of camp comedy, and one iconic screeching puppet to tremendous success. It was HBO’s first hit series and paved the way for the network’s commitment to art through all its sleazy success.
By the mid-90s Tales From The Crypt was such a popular institution that Universal inked the franchise to a three picture deal. In an alternate universe, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Frightners might have been the first two features. But budget limitations shifted those screenplays elsewhere and they were replaced by the underrated Demon Knight and the disastrous Bordello Of Blood (which performed so poorly that the third Universal Crypt movie arrived a decade later and went straight to video). In keeping with their company mandate of reviving obscure cult genre gems in fantastic Blu-ray packages, Shout Factory delivered the two theatrical Tales From The Crypt movies just in time for Halloween on a pair of fantastic discs.
Demon Knight was a spec horror script that had been kicking around Hollywood for years before falling into the Tales From The Crypt family. It was designed as an 80s horror franchise launcher that got a quick camp n’ sleeze rewrite to fit the Tales From The Crypt franchise rather perfectly. William Sadler stars as a chosen one-man army against the forces of hell who finds himself stranded in a desert inn alongside character actors like Dick Miller and Jada Pinkett (not yet Smith). He’s chased by a demon embodied in Billy Zane, who delivers a deliriously entertaining over the top performance of Nic Cage proportions that reportedly earned him his role in Titantic.
Directed by Spike Lee’s long time cinematographer Ernest Dickerson (who also directed movies like Juice and many episodes of The Wire), the film is an absolute blast filled with stylish visuals and stunning special effects. The tale might not feature the ironic twist ending that is a Crypt staple, but other than that, it nails the tone of the series with disgusting gore gags and tongue-in-cheek performances pitched on a scale that 90s HBO could never match. Dickerson piles on all sorts of delightful visual tricks along with a few big satisfying action beats and beautiful monster designs kept in the shadows just enough to avoid overexposure. Sure there are times when the style and writing veer too far into cheese, but even that feels appropriate to the franchise banner (anything other than a pure B-movie would be inappropriate). Toss in a delightful Crypt Keeper wrap around and you have a Tales From The Crypt movie worthy of the HBO series and probably one strong enough to support it’s own sequel had anyone bothered to do such a thing (Billy Zane definitely deserved another crack at this madness). Forgotten for far too long, Demon Knight feels like one of the most purely entertaining Hollywood horror highlights of the early 90s, which was a pretty rough time for the genre overall.
Bordello Of Blood on the other hand is far from underrated. It is crap, but pretty fun crap even if that’s not what the filmmakers intended. Based on a script that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote as film students for the exploitation market that was never made, the flick is a mess. It’s about a bordello run by a vampire queen (Angie Everhart) that claims the life of Corey Feldman in the early going, leading a private eye (played by a slumming Dennis Miller of all people) to investigate.
Production values are visibly lower, lending the movie a visual style on par with a particularly cheap episode of the TV series (only with a far worse script). Everhart looks right, but is horribly wooden in her performance and essentially kills the movie by delivering a terrible villain. Miller is no actor and doesn’t bother to try, instead spitting out a D-grade version of his sarcastic stand up act rather than a performance. The movie is an absolute mess, but one that is consistently hilarious in a “what the hell were they thinking” way and is punctuated by some genuinely fantastic bursts of gratuitous gore. It’s no shock that Bordello Of Blood killed off the Tales From The Crypt film franchise before it started, but it is a surprise this hasn’t earned itself a larger “so bad it’s good” cult audience because it makes for a damn fine ironic watch all these years later.
Demon Knight arrives on Blu-ray with a loving treatment from Shout Factory. The transfer is a stunner, with Dickerson’s acrobatic camerawork and music video lighting popping off the screen to dramatic effect. The gore make up and monster effects are also top notch and benefit from the HD treatment as do the brief, explosive action sequences. The booming soundmix also rocks speakers with some more-is-more sound design that suits the delightfully over-the-top tone of the piece. Special features kick off with a fantastic and almost hour-long documentary about the film’s production that everyone looks back on fondly (especially Billy Zane, who amusingly, yet appropriately considers the movie to be a career highlight). Some fun tales are shared, especially about how guns were fired off before every take to silence the pigeons that were ruining the sound recording. Two audio commentaries with Dickerson and the effects team provide some additional anecdotes n’ factoids if you just didn’t get enough in the doc and then the disc is rounded out by a brief post-screening Q&A along with a still gallery and the trailer.
Bordello Of Blood looks and sounds about as good as it possibly could, which is like a TV movie from the mid-90s. However, the documentary about the production of Bordello Of Blood is one of the best the company has ever produced. Shout Factory has a knack for making refreshingly and uncomfortably honest making-of documentaries and this is their finest effort to date. No one involved in the doc is precious about the movie and they delve deep into how horrible this production was. Secrets are shared with hysterical honesty. None of the Tales From The Crypt team liked or wanted to work on the script. They shot in Vancouver purely to piss off the LA unions and they ended up filming a horror movie in a location with about 3-4 hours of shootable dark per night. Dennis Miller refused to socialize with anyone involved in the movie or even shoot coverage with the other actors. Corey Feldman couldn’t get anyone to talk to him. Angie Everhart was hired against everyone’s wishes because she was Sylvester Stallone’s fiancée and then was dumped by Rocky shortly into shooting and was too depressed to focus.
The dirt flung is hysterical and everyone interviewed unflinchingly honest. The doc is a hilarious dedication to how many things can go wrong while making a movie and honestly worth the price of the disc alone. Co-writer/producer A.L. Katz also tosses in a commentary with more fun horror stories from the shoot and a still gallery/trailer round things out. While I’ll never claim that Bordello Of Blood is a ‘good’ movie, watching the documentary and the flick back-to-back was possibly even more fun than enjoying the genuine charms of Demon Knight and is a worthy entry in the Shout Factory cannon.