I’m pretty sad I wasn’t born earlier, because then maybe I could have enjoyed HBO’s gory, nudity-filled celebration of bad luck and sucks-to-be-youness known as Tales from the Crypt. Based on the EC Comics of the pre-Comic Book Code era, the series was a showcase for talented directors, writers, and actors who wanted to have some fun with horror films. The fact that Robert Zemeckis was a producer on it certainly didn’t hurt. The series ran from 1989 to 1996 and produced nearly 100 episodes. Naturally, with a phenomenon like that, the idea of making feature films would come around. Only two were produced, and only one was any good.
Scream Factory is releasing both of the Tales from the Crypt films, 1995’s Demon Knight and 1996’s Bordello of Blood, in new special edition Blu-ray format, and it’s a joy to see just how different they are from both the series and each other.
There had, of course, already been movies made out of the EC Comics stories. In 1972, British producers Amicus made Tales from the Crypt, a film in their portmanteau horror series which featured five stories from the comics wrapped around with Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. This was followed a year later by Vault of Horror, which combined five more comics tales. Since the TV series was basically an anthology, they didn’t want to mimic that or the ’70s films and so decided to go with standalone, full-length stories. Buuuut, the EC comics were not long at all, so what were they to do? Buy some spec scripts and retrofit them to Crypt movies, of course!
Demon Knight was an original script written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris and was later co-written by Mark Bishop. Unlike what the trailer and the frame story suggests, the movie was actually directed by Ernest Dickerson, who’d just made Surviving the Game. This movie is just badass. It follows William Sadler’s Brayker, a centuries-old warrior for the side of good who is being forever chased by the demonic Collector, played by a delightfully wicked Billy Zane, because of the relic he has in his possession. Brayker eventually makes it to a hotel in the middle of nowhere where lots of eccentric people are staying. The Collector eventually arrives and demands the relic. When his demands aren’t met, he raises an army of demons which attempt to get into the hotel, only stopped by shooting them in the eyes.
As I said, this movie is really, really fun. It’s got elements of Rio Bravo, Night of the Living Dead, and the best of Stephen King along with a thread of very dark humor that Tales from the Crypt is known for. Sadler and Zane are truly terrific in their respective roles, and the rest of the cast, including Jada Pinkett, CCH Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, and Charles Fleischer knock it out of the park as well.
You can tell this was a good movie, or at least a movie people are proud of, because on the newly-produced making-of documentary, most of the cast and crew are interviewed and delight in reliving their time on the movie, even the more challenging bits. They all GOT the kind of movie they were making and it translates on screen. There are also two commentary tracks, one with director Ernest Dickerson and one (a much more fun and entertaining one, it has to be said) with the special effects crew. This is a movie that became a cult classic and folks who made it still love it…
Contrast that with this:
Bordello of Blood seemed like a nightmare from start to finish. First, it wasn’t even meant to be the next Tales from the Crypt movie. In order to keep Robert Zemeckis at Universal, they agreed to option the very first script he and Bob Gale wrote together in film school, which was this. Two of the TV show’s writer-producers, A.L. Katz and Gilbert Adler, rewrote the thing and Adler directed. So, okay, not the best script, but would that make it terrible? Not on its own, no. But, for whatever reason, producer Joel Silver was keen to cast Dennis Miller in the lead role. Miller wanted nothing to do with the film and said he’d only do it if they paid him $1 million, which was absurd at the time. But Silver insisted, which meant Katz and Adler had to ask Universal for the money, which they were not inclined to do. They then said they had to take the extra money from elsewhere in the budget, which meant the special effects, unfortunately.
And that’s only one of the myriad stories about the hell of making this movie that are on display in the fascinating making-of documentary, where people are far less complimentary or nostalgic when talking about it, and the commentary by Katz. The fact is, Bordello of Blood just isn’t a very good movie, despite the cult status it received because of how ridiculous it is. However, there’s a LOT to be learned about filmmaking from a bad movie, especially one with such a tumultuous production.
I would highly recommend both of these discs, even if you aren’t inclined to watch Bordello of Blood, simply because of the terrific bonus features. And Demon Knight is great, and you can’t just have one, right? They both have gorgeous cover art by Justin Osbourn and look good on any horror fan’s shelf. Heavy recommendation from me, Boils and Ghouls.
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!