THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, January 18, 1995 TAG: 9501180043 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E5 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 86 lines
IN THE OPENING shots of ``Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight,'' the venerable Crypt Keeper, still on his skeletal-thin diet, admonishes one of the actors. ``You're no Gory Cooper or Robert Deadford,'' he cackles. ``If you don't shape up, you'll be back to bit parts, and I won't say which bits.''
His advice should be heeded by the over-the-top actors who don't do justice to the ``Tales of the Crypt'' franchise from HBO (now running in edited repeats on Fox). Some of those episodes, based on the comics of the 1950s, are minor gems that preserve the nearly lost art of television short drama. Anyone who remembers the heritage of ``Fireside Theater,'' ``Twilight Zone'' or ``Alfred Hitchcock Presents'' knows there was a time when it took only 30 minutes to spin a whopping good yarn. Using big-name directors and stars, ``Tales From the Crypt'' deserves its fans.
This movie version, though, has neither big names nor clever plotting. Instead, we get the usual gore and dismemberments. One character easily ignores her arm's being ripped out of its socket after one measly swig of vodka. Another spits green goo. Zombies abound.
The Crypt Keeper himself warns us to ``fasten your drool cups and hold onto your vomit bags.''
Poo-poo, cryptly one.
There isn't anything here that hasn't been seen before, and often, in mediocre horror flicks. If anything, this outing is closer to ``Night of the Living Dead'' than to the 30-minute TV shows.
The plot begins on a promising and intriguing level but quickly stoops to creep-and-scream level. William Sadler, with an intense glare and high cheek bones, is Brayker - an irreverent and questionable hero who is guarding a vial of blood that is the only known antidote to the demons. He's being pursued by The Collector, a lively demon-leader portrayed with vaudeville flourish by Billy Zane. Zane is asked to be comedic to the extent that he eventually becomes more tiresome than scary. Zane, after a memorable performance in the thriller ``Dead Calm,'' should have been a major star by now. This outing won't help.
Brayker flees to a New Mexico mission that is now inhabited by losers - folks who will easily sell their souls to the demons for particularly low prices. Notable is Charles Fleischer, the voice of Roger Rabbit, as a nerd who sells out quick and becomes possessed. CCH Pounder, a good actress who scored in ``Bagdad Cafe,'' plays another one of her feisty characters.
There is a resident prostitute and a resident blond-guy-with-muscles (Thomas Haden Church from TV's ``Wings'').
Of course, this mob can't stay put. Although they're secure and only have to hold out until dawn, they try to flee through an underground tunnel.
That the antidote vial contains the blood of Christ, complete with periodic scenes of the crucifixion at Calvary, seems more tasteless than blasphemous.
The only actor to survive with any kind of credit is Jada Pinkett, the rising starlet who gained our attention in both ``Low Down Dirty Shame'' and ``Jason's Lyric.'' She plays a work-release convict. She needs to expand her range, though, beyond merely wise-cracking sass. There is every suggestion that she could become a major comedian.
The surprising thing is that this nonentity is directed by Ernest Dickerson, the cinematographer for Spike Lee's ``Malcolm X'' and director of ``Juice.'' His promising directorial career takes a sidetrack here - although this film does, at least, look stylish.
The Crypt Keeper will survive even this. This is the first of three projected ``Crypt Keeper'' films. Perhaps the next one won't be dead on delivery. ILLUSTRATION: Photo
Billy Zane plays the Collector, a sinister leader of the forces of
darkness in ``Demon Knight.''
``Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight''
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, CCH Pounder, John
Schuck, Charles Fleischer, the voice of John Kassir
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Screenplay: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris and Mark Bishop
MPAA rating: R (graphic violence, nudity, gore, language)
Mal's rating: Two stars
Locations: Movies 10 in Chesapeake; Circle 4 and Main Gate in
Norfolk; Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach