‘Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight’ on Peacock and Criterion Channel

Director Ernest Dickerson injects a hearty dose of dark humor in Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995), the first big-screen spin-off of the HBO horror anthology series (itself based on a 1950s comic book) and a tight, modestly budgeted little horror-thriller in its own right.

William Sadler stars as an intense stranger who arrives at a run-down boarding house in flight from the Collector (a cocky, droll Billy Zane). The Collector is after an item in the stranger’s possession, which turns out to be a holy relic, and when his efforts end in failure he explodes in a demonic fury that reveals his evil origins, laying siege to the house with an army of zombies and infiltrating the minds of each the boarders with insidious fantasies.

It’s a seedy Grand Hotel by way of The Exorcist as a siege thriller, cooked up with plenty of gore and a smattering of sex, and served with dry wit. It’s a rare heroic role for Sadler, a great character actor who should be better known, and he gives his part a genuine poignancy. Zane brings a sneering theatrical flair to his role as a seductive demon and everyone in the solid supporting cast all gets their respective moments to shine.

Jada Pinkett (before she added Smith) stands out from her eccentric neighbors as a tough girl with real strength and commitment. Thomas Haden Church is a redneck coward ready to sell out anyone to save his own skin, Brenda Bakke a sad small town hooker, Dick Miller a drunk with a generous nature but a serious weakness for the hooch, and CCH Pounder tries to manage it all as the hotel manager.

Dickerson effectively balances the horror and the humor, maintaining a surprising intensity and an unforced mythic dimension within lurid B-movie conventions. It’s not deep but it’s clever, well designed, beautifully lit, and has a blast with its old-school monster effects, and it plays by its own rules right up to the satisfying ending.

Rated R

Streams for a limited time on Peacock (leaves at the end of October) and on Criterion Channel

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight [Blu-ray]
Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight [DVD]

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The Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory features two newly-recorded audio tracks—one by director Ernest Dickerson, the other by Make-up Effects Creator Todd Masters, Visual Effects Supervisor John Van Vliet, Special Effects Coordinator Thomas Bellissimo, and Demon Performer Walter Phelan—and the new 40-minute documentary “Under Siege: The Making of Tales From the Crypt presents Demon Knight,” as well as a panel discussion from the American Cinematheque featuring director Ernest Dickerson, actor Dick Miller and Special Effects maestro Rick Baker.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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