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Scream Factory Takes a Trip to the Crypt with Two New Blu-rays

Demon Knight Specs

Demon Knight Specs

Details

Director: Ernest Dickerson
Writer: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop
Cast: Billy Zane, Jada Pinkett Smith, William Sadler
Year: 1995
Length: 92 min
Rating: R
Region: A
Disks: 1
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: October 20, 2015

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH

Extras
  • Newly commissioned Audio Commentary With Director Ernest Dickerson
  • Newly commissioned Audio Commentary With Special Effects Creator Todd Masters, Visual Effects Supervisor John Van Vliet, Special Effects Coordinator Thomas Bellissimo, And Demon Performer Walter Phelan
  • Under Siege: The Making Of Demon Knight: Interviews with Director Ernest Dickerson, Co-producer A.L. Katzm Screenwriters Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, And Mark Bishop, Stars Billy Zane, William Sadler, Brenda Bakke, Charles Fleischer And More
  • Panel Discussion From The American Cinematheque Featuring Director Ernest Dickerson, Actor Dick Miller And Special Effects Artist Rick Baker
  • Still Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

Bordello of Blood Specs

Bordello of Blood Specs

Details

Director: Gilbert Adler
Writer: Gilbert Adler, A L Katz
Cast: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman
Year: 1996
Length: 87 min
Rating: R
Region: A
Disks: 1
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: October 20, 2015

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH

Extras
  • Newly commissioned audio commentary with Co-Writer and Producer A.L. Katz
  • Tainted Blood: The Making Of Bordello Of Blood: Interivews with actors Corey Feldman, Angie Everhart, Erika Eleniak, Co-Writer & Co-Producer A.L. Katz, Editor & Second Unit Director Stephen Lovejoy, And Special Effects Creator Todd Masters
  • Video Promo
  • Still Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

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It’s easy to forget just how important HBO’s Tales from the Crypt was. Looking back, our lovable, skeletal storyteller from beyond the grave is mostly remembered for uttering macabre jokes, but the show is much more than just a silly horror anthology. Straight from the pages of the EC comics of the same name, the series combined some of Hollywood’s finest talents and heavy hitters, including Walter Hill, Robert Zemeckis, Joe Silver, and Richard Donner. Launching in 1989 and running 93 episodes in seven years, Tales may not have always batted 1000, but it managed to be charming, humorous, and, in more than a few cases, genuinely frightening more often than not. As an early representation of cable programming, Tales set itself aside from its competition by having full freedom from censorship. Towards the tail end of the series’ run the producers were looking for a way to get the Crypt Keeper to the big screen, when a script came across their desk. The script, entitled Demon Knight, was originally written in 1987 and had moved from filmmaker to filmmaker before finally landing in Joe Silver’s hands. Silver immediately set the film into production pushing it to the front of a series of Tales films they had intended to produce. While it was slated to be a trilogy, only two films would go on to be produced, and the second, Bordello of Blood, received such negative reviews that the faithful Keeper was forced back into his crypt. Now, almost 20 years after the release and subsequent failure of Bordello, the Keeper has reemerged from the grave thanks to a brand new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory of both films. The only question left, how well preserved is he?

The Films

When Demon Knight was first written it had no connection to the series, nor was it adapted from an EC story like the episodes from the series. In fact, it had little in common with the series, a fact that would lead to changes in the script along the way. It was just intended as an original horror film but had trouble finding a home and director. Silver saw in the film a great deal of potential, all it needed was to have the iconic series-styled open tagged on to the start and it would be at home in the Tales universe; Simple enough, they thought.

The special features make it apparent that there were struggles over how to present the film as a Tales story versus the hero’s journey the scriptwriters envisioned it as, but, despite this conflict, what did end up making it on screen is rather cohesive and well-crafted. Penned by Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, and Cyrus Voris, the story is concerned with a mysterious man (Billy Zane) in pursuit of a drifter named Frank Brayker (William Sadler). Following a brief chase, the resulting film takes place inside of a boarding house converted from an old church. Zane’s character begins working on the inhabitants of the house, trying to convince them that Frank is not to be trusted. It is not long before the town’s sheriff decides to take both Frank and Zane’s character into custody, but in doing so is murdered by Zane — a particularly gruesome death with Zane’s character punching through his mouth and out the back of his head (the Keeper would probably jump in now to say something about him getting a ‘mouthful,’ sounding it off with his signature cackle). It is revealed that Zane’s character is an entity called The Collector, a demon hell-bent on corrupting souls. Frank holds the key to his destruction, a relic that has been passed along for ages. Originally filled with the blood of Jesus, each holder is immortal as long as they hold on to the key. The rest of the story concerns itself with a sort of cat and mouse chase meets supernatural slasher, with The Collector attempting to recover the key and kill all who stand in his path.

Ernest Dickerson's Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) [click to enlarge]

Ernest Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) [click to enlarge]

The plot for the film is notably convoluted — a marker of it’s origins outside of the series —, but Demon Knight does a fine job not getting lost in its own details. One of the film’s biggest strengths comes from its direction. The producers pegged Spike Lee’s frequent collaborator, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson to come on board and direct. Dickerson wasn’t a novice director at that point but may have been suffering from a bit of career fatigue following the failure of 1994’s Surviving the Game, especially given the high praise his debut, Juice, received. While on the surface Dickerson may have seemed like an odd fit, his past experience with horror — he worked as a DP on episodes of Tales from the Darkside — proves a successful transition for him. Renting an airplane hanger, the film was shot completely on set, which imbues the film with a slippery sense of reality that really works in favor of the fantastical plotline. The only real visual shortcoming of the film has to do with its wonky CGI, but that is more a sign of the times than anything else. Aside from the CGI, special effects legend Rick Baker brings with him a superb sense for practical that really elevates the film.

The cast is overall strong and the film’s heralding of Jada Pinkett Smith’s character Jeryline as the principle hero is a refreshing exception to the characterization of not only female but also black characters in horror films. The film makes a valiant attempt at approaching that satirical line that many of the Tales stories reside on but many of the attempts at comedy are less than effective. The film works far better as a straight horror film, even if it is somewhat of a ludicrous one. Zane does a better job than most on set trying to grapple with the divide between horror and comedy, but he is at the mercy of the script. Dick Miller is, as always, excellent but his role is too small to really impact. In the end, Demon Knight is a fun ride but begins to suffer from fatigue by the point of its cliffhanger conclusion.

Ernest Dickerson's Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) [click to enlarge]

Ernest Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) [click to enlarge]

From a technical standpoint, Bordello of Blood is a bit of a mess. It is far less cohesive than Demon Knight but has the benefit of feeling like a more authentic attempt at approaching feature-length cinema in the iconic Tales voice. The key from Demon Knight shows up, here, in order to tie the films together but really this is a superficial connection, and one that is literally dismissed towards the middle of the film. Ultimately, Bordello’s story is concerned with a — you guessed it — bordello run by demon vampires. As the film reveals, the leader of the bordello, Lilith (played by model/actor Angie Everhart), is controlled by the aforementioned key and forced into running the bordello as a cash crop for an evangelical minister (Chris Sarandon). When Katharine’s (Erika Eleniak), an administrator of the minister, brother (Corey Feldman) disappears after spending a night in the bordello, she hires an amateur sleuth named Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller) to track him down.

Dennis Miller’s politics have sort of pushed him to the fringes of media in the last decade, which is a shame because Miller does have a fantastic comedic sense and presence on screen. Bordello’s major misstep is in thinking that Miller would be able to lead the film. His comedy, especially here, is too broad, too beat-for-beat to allow that to work. Rather, Miller works best as comedic relief in supporting role. So while Bordello works, Miller’s nearly constant one-liners do get in the way. On the flip side, Angie Everhart’s role is a total surprise. This may not be a popular opinion but Everhart is fantastic in the film and perfect for the character. Her blend of sexual vitality and humor is on point throughout. Sure, it is also very excessive, but that is what the role calls for and she delivers it like a pro, never once seeming to be unaware of exactly the type of campy role she had been assigned. Likewise, Chris Sarandon hands in an over-the-top performance as the mega church-esque minister. Sarandon is one of the unsung actors of genre cinema, and his performance here never misses a beat. With anyone else, the role probably would have been way too cliché, but Sarandon pulls it off. Luckily, Corey Feldman’s entirely unbelievable leather-clad bad boy routine only sticks around for a few minutes; but, again, its hard to distinguish the difference between what could have been an intentionally unbelievable role and just plain bad acting (so we will give him the benefit of the doubt, as we doubt its the latter).

Gilbert Adler's Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (1996) [click to enlarge]

Gilbert Adler’s Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (1996) [click to enlarge]

Bordello did not retain the full creative crew from Demon Knight and this may contribute to the film’s biggest error. Dickerson sadly does not return to the director’s chair and, rather than seek out a seasoned vet, the producers handed the directorial duty to the film’s screenplay writer, Gilbert Adler. To be forthright, Gilbert is not a bad director but he’s is an anonymous one. Bordello was his first and only feature film credit for directing, and the film can be its own evidence as to why. Both a critical and financial failure, Adler’s lack of visual flare really doesn’t give him an edge in the industry and since the film’s release he has largely operated as a producer. The best compliment that can be given about Adler’s treatment for Bordello is that nothing is technically amiss — save the oddly edited and paced prelude, which seems out of place for Tales typical structure. You can say it’s a finely fashioned film, just not one that leaves any visuals burning on your mind. Bordello may ultimately be the more fun of the two films, but Demon Knight is far better crafted.

Gilbert Adler's Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (1996) [click to enlarge]

Gilbert Adler’s Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (1996) [click to enlarge]

Video/Audio

Tales from the Crypt has a pretty strong cult following. So even if these films do not appear at first to be necessary acquisitions for Scream Factory, there are a great deal of people happy to see them finally available in HD. For the first time, fans have access to releases that look true-to-form, The AVC encoded 1080p transfers are shockingly vibrant, bold, and crisp. The colors offer a deep saturation, most notable in the rich reds (Bordello) and greens (Demon Knight). There doesn’t appear to be any digital tinkering, leaving a faithful representation of the original celluloid. To put it simply, these films look more beautiful than anyone would expect. Likewise, the audio is finely handled, leaving us with a well-balanced and tightly EQ’d mix.

Gilbert Adler's Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (1996) [click to enlarge]

Gilbert Adler’s Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood (1996) [click to enlarge]

Extras

The real takeaway from both discs comes from the newly commissioned “making of” featurettes. Each piece offers an in depth look at not only the respective films, but also the story that went into the series’ launch to the big screen and some of the problems that arose along the way. Ernest Dickerson humorously lets loose the fact that he agreed to the film before even realizing that it would be a Tales film and does seem to have mixed views on it, while still honoring its beloved place among fans of the series. There are two worthy commentaries for Demon Knight and one for Bordello, granting yet again more glimpses into these productions — all three of the tracks exclusive to these discs. Additional features include trailers, galleries, and a panel discussion at an American Cinematheque screening of the film featuring Dick Miller, Ernest Dickerson, and Rick Baker.

Ernest Dickerson's Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) [click to enlarge]

Ernest Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

Tales is a bit of an acquired taste. The comedy can be, at times, grating, but these films really have otherwise aged well. Sure, there are missed jokes, some of the computer generated effects are not so hot, and they could arguably be criticized for feeling like overlong episodes of the show, but they also have an undeniable charm and character to them. If you somehow missed these films in the 90s, but have affection for cheesy, over-the-top 90s horror, they are absolutely worth the purchase. There will be plenty of people that these films will not work for. If you were never a fan of the show or if you don’t like a little humor blended with your comedy (a lot of humor in the latter’s case), you will find little to love. Scream Factory has given us a modest package for each title. Even though the extra features feel a little bit light, the superb transfers go a long way.

Details Director: Ernest Dickerson Writer: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop Cast: Billy Zane, Jada Pinkett Smith, William Sadler Year: 1995 Length: 92 min Rating: R Region: A Disks: 1 Label: Scream Factory Release Date: October 20, 2015 Video Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Resolution: 1080p Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Type: Color Audio Audio:  English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 Subtitles: English SDH Extras Newly commissioned Audio Commentary With Director Ernest Dickerson Newly commissioned Audio Commentary With Special Effects Creator Todd Masters, Visual Effects Supervisor John Van Vliet, Special Effects Coordinator Thomas Bellissimo, And Demon Performer Walter Phelan Under Siege: The Making Of Demon Knight:…

Review Overview

The Films: Demon Knight
The Films: Bordello of Blood
Video
Audio
Extras

Bottom Line

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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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