Tales from the Crypt was a breakthrough on cable television for ramping up the gore and sex. Based on the infamous EC Comics, it was perfectly cartoony without overstaying the fun. The anthology show was a runaway hit on HBO and made the Cryptkeeper (voiced by John Kassir) an iconic image on 1990s cable television. The property was perfect ripping for a theatrical franchise, but where to start? Previous incarnations like Creepshow, a 1972 British adaptation and its follow-up The Vault of Horror were rooted in being an anthology themed feature. You would get a magnitude of stories for the price of one. It was a nice little concept that fits within the show.
Instead, the decision was to make a trilogy of movies that would have been a nice Halloween staple. Not a bad idea, but what made the show perfect already was how much it could host in 30 minutes. Being an anthology series itself, the series had the power to host a variety of tales with the Cryptkeeper book-ending each one. You could practically do a marathon of the show’s episodes and it would still qualify as a feature. On top of that, producers Joel Silver and his crew had a hard time trying to find a script perfect for the first film. Original suggestions From Dusk Till Dawn and Peter Jacksons’ The Frightners found better life as stand-alone movies or just felt too good to be qualified as a Tales from the Crypt feature. Eventually, a script arrived at Silver’s way which executives thought had more potential to use, which to an extent I agree.
Demon Knight has these qualities as a drifter (William Sadler) is on the run from a demonic entity known as the Collector (Billy Zane). The drifter ends up at a boarding house where he fights to help everyone survive the night as the Collector arrives to take back a certain item he carries. There’s demonic possessions, an army of monsters that invade the house and plenty of gloppy special effects to keep anyone entertained. Everything about this entry is just plain fun. The premise is a little more complex than a normal Tales from the Crypt episode, but it does work. The concept of demons fits in with the show’s horror aspect and pushes the boundaries further delivering something fun and scary.
Everything going into this movie just works. The performances from people like William Sadler and Jada Pinkett Smith are perfect for this story as they tread a line between campy and dark horror. Even Billy Zane is having a blast playing the villain who can be funny and terrifying at the same time.Once in a while, you get a goofy performance from someone like Dick Miller as one of the residents, but I feel they are there to lighten the tone considering it tackles a subject few horror movies do. To give a broader idea of what i’m talking about, think Exorcist if it was more comic book in tone.
While Demon Knight is not a masterpiece, it’s basic popcorn entertainment for the Halloween season. Take what makes the Evil Dead series fun and give it a darker spin. The bookend segments with the Cryptkeeper are also funny too as we see the ghoulish host trying to direct his first movie. There is a moment where they use CGI at one point to make it look like he’s a full bodied character and it looks really bad. Thankfully, he remains the animatronic puppet we know and come to love. It clearly sets up the tone and what kind of fun viewers will have.
If one were to watch the end credits of Demon Knight, a small teaser appears at the end for an upcoming installment called Dead Easy (it also went by the title Fat Tuesday.) It was supposed to follow afterwards, but sadly the movie never got made. From what I heard, the plot dealt with zombies in modern New Orleans, but there were some problems getting it off the ground. There’s two productions stories I keep hearing on why it got never got made. One suggests they kept rewriting the script to a point it felt less comedic and more horror orientated. According to the Bordello of Blood audio commentary with screenwriter and producer A. L. Katz, another reason is that the executives at Universal Studios felt it was a little “un-PC” and pulled the plug at the very last minute.
Regardless, I do know that Bordello of Blood was made with only one option; to keep Robert Zemeckis with Universal Studios. Universal executives were afraid to loose one of their big names to then new Dreamworks Studios and asked if there anything they could do for him. Zemeckis pulled out a script from his college days and asked for it to be made into a full-length feature. The rest was cinematic disastrous history.
The plot centers around a funeral home disguised as a brothel homing a bunch of sultry vampires. They get sent new visitors every night for a little feast and fun of their own. Right off the bat, you can tell this is something written by a guy from his college days. Points for creativity, but why hide a secret bordello at a funeral home? There’s something about it’s placement that just feels weird.
Take From Dusk Till Dawn, a movie that came out the same year as Bordello. It had a brothel set in the middle of nowhere, so there was no communication close by. When the vampires came out, you felt trapped in this place with next to no available help. Here, it’s deep near a forest and close to a local city where folks can seek for assistance. That is something one lady does (Erika Eleniak) as she reluctantly hires a P.I. (Dennis Miller) when the police are no help.
Now, every Tales form the Crypt story will have that one standout celebrity who will drive the whole plot in an enjoying experience. In this case, we don’t get that. Miller feels disinterested while Eleniak takes things too seriously. Oddly the worst of the two is Dennis Miller who surfs through with one-liners and doesn’t really care about how he acts.
There is where some of that “behind the scenes” destruction plays in. Dennis Miller was hired on as suggested by Joel Silver who saw some potential in him, Miller refused at first, until they offered him a million dollar paycheck. He didn’t like the script, never got along with anyone and constantly ad-libbed his lines. A good amount of his improvised lines ended up rewriting over a lot of written material that shared connections to the plot. Now, actors who shared scenes with him were confused, because they had lines in connection to what was written in the script when he was going completely off-script. In short, Dennis Miller just didn’t care.
Nobody had a good time making this movie. It was only created for the sake of studio power and that was all. The only two who appear to be giving a care are Corey Feldmen as one of the first victims and Angie Everhart as the head of the vampires. They seem to be more relaxed and know what kind of movie they are in. It’s a shame, because everyone else looks so lost or acts like they are trying to sabotage the production so they can get out.
The only time Bordello ever comes alive is during the last third. It doesn’t save the movie entirely, but when you have characters attacking vampires with super soakers full of holy water, what is there to complain about? I just wish the whole movie was as fun as that last third. It even gets worse when Miller quips, “it feels like I’m in a bad episode of Tales from the Crypt” and no one cuts the line out. Even the Cryptkeeper segments are lazy as ever recycling a routine from The Assassin episode where he plays “Rock, Paper Scissors” with a mummy. It only goes to show you just how much “care” there was during production.
There is a third movie that got made called Ritual, but it was released only to home video in 2006 and bears no connection to the proposed trilogy. I’ve only seen the Cryptkeeper segments and they are dead unfunny. The puppet looks not as slick as the previous versions and the jokes are just lame as the corpsey host cracks on about sex appeal and Jamaican stereotypes.
To think, a would be trilogy got derailed by the disastrous Bordello. I feel bad nothing else was done with this franchise outside of some Saturday Morning TV shows. With the endless possibilities, I’d say its time to resurrect this as not a TV show, but maybe a reboot film series. As old Cryptie once said, “At first you don’t succeed, die and die again!”
However, I do recommend getting both movies on the Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release. Both films have been given the right amount of attention and detail when it comes to their video transfers and great amount of bonus material. Scream Factory is a horror division of the Shout Factory, who also deliver the goods on pop culture shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and too many to count. Both Blu-rays contain documentaries detailing the production and creation of this short-lived franchise. I even would go as far to say Bordello is worth getting alone just to hear the terrible production stories. At least it shows there are some folks out there who care about the treatment of certain “cult classics.”