Monday, October 22, 2012


Had anyone else even suggested writing about Bones & Demon Knight on PINNLAND EMPIRE I woulda immedietlly dismissed the idea but John Cribbs (1/2 of the pink smoke) gets a pass. I mean after all, he did let me write about Drawing Restraint 9 (a movie he hates) on his site so its only fair. And besides, Ernest Dickerson is responsible for the movie that made me want to become a DJ (Juice), so why not give his two ventures in to the horror genre a second chance? Plus I'd be lying if I said Demon Knight wasnt on heavy rotation in my VHS player back in the day...

Demon Knight
I was going to take this opportunity to once again defend Ghosts of Mars, a movie so unjustly reviled it waylaid John Carpenter's career for almost a decade. But since Carpenter himself is anything but underrated, I decided instead to write about Ernest Roscoe Dickerson, whose approach in the two horror films he directed could be positively defined as "Carpenter-esque" (his style is a little more raucous, but I'd say he managed to get closer to the spirit of Carpenter than, say, Robby Rodriguez with Planet Terror or Neil Marshall with Doomsday.)
Most people know Dickerson best for shooting Spike Lee's first six movies and John Sayles' Brother from Another Planet, or for his directorial debut Juice. Not as many realize that, seemingly inspired by working camera on George Romero's anthology series Tales from the Darkside, Dickerson went on to direct some pretty decent horror movies that didn't really catch on at the time and haven't had any kind of resurgence since. Just recently up in Toronto, I was telling Marcus about how you never hear Dickerson's name brought up in conversations about legitimate horror directors. This discussion was based on my recommendation of Def by Temptation, which I inaccurately claimed Dickerson directed (he was the DP, the director was James Bond III, who played Monroe in School Daze) but I also freely endorse his 1995 effort Demon Knight and 2001's Bones. Neither of them are classics, but considering their time and place (the 90's was an awful decade for popular horror movies) they deserve more respect their the bare-bones, unbought bargain bin dvd releases can bring them.

Demon Knight
Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight was the first of two in an as-of-yet-incomplete trilogy of spin-off movies from the popular HBO show, and while it's got sex and comedy and mutilation etc., it's not really of the same "snarky EC comic-influenced/macabre parable with twist ending" formula that the show followed (although there is a clever sequence where a Tales from the Crypt comic mirrors what's going on in the movie frame for frame.) As I said, it's much more like a Carpenter movie with a lone badass (Bill Sadler, appearing in what must be his only theatrically-released lead role) holed up in a single location that's under siege by a bunch of monsters, led by slick, chrome-domed demon Billy Zane (this marking the middle of his "villanious role" career between Dead Calm and Titanic.) Sadler (the "knight" of the title?) is some kind of Connor MacLeod-like ragged hermit who happens to be immortal, tasked with carrying Jesus' blood around in a crucifix-shaped flask so that Zane and his clawed companions can't use it to take over the world somehow. It's the flask itself they need for some reason, the blood inside actually hurts them - Sadler uses the liquid to create membranes across door and window frames that seal out Zane's gang and protect the unfortunate folk in the church-turned-hotel he happens to stumble into on this particular demon night. Trapped along with Sadler are a pre-Willy Jada Pinkett, Lowell-era Thomas Haden Church and the always delightful Dick Miller: the group fight amongst themselves, turn on each other and try to find a way to escape as Zane exploits their weaknesses to his advantage in an attempt to gain entrance and obtain the all-important flask.

Demon Knight
When I saw this in the theater - jesus - 17 years ago, I was instantly sold the minute Sadler is introduced mixing himself some ketchup and mustard soup and scarfing it down. Not as weird and amazing as Marion Cobretti cutting himself a piece of pizza with a pair of scissors, but still enjoyable. Zane seems to be having a blast ripping people's guts out while lamenting the loss of his designer sunglasses, shooting fire from his penis at one point and using his demon powers to tease the desperate survivors. These are the scenes that make Demon Knight so enjoyable, even though they are clearly derived from the Nightmare on Elm Street model of victims being transported to a surreal dreamscape in which they are seduced by whatever's been established as their characteristic vice; even the aforementioned "comic book/live action" sequence had already been done in Nightmare 4 or 5 (Billy's older sister Lisa Zane was the one who killed Krueger in Freddy's Dead, a family connection which may have very well netted him the part of the nameless "Collector"). The best one by far is dipsomaniac Dick Miller tempted by demon booze and nude Hooters girls in a simulated tropical bar setting - fuck Jack Torrance! Not so easily enticed is CCH Pounder, who runs around most of the movie with one arm - when Zane offers her the arm back, she extends her stump: "Is that a yes?" "No, that's me giving you the finger!" Pounder has another nice moment when she barks "Get that pussy off the table!" and the resident floozie instantly hops off her perch. After a beat, Pounder clarifies: "I meant the cat." That's what you get for letting the Pounder loose! With Demon Knight, Dickerson delivers a brisk 90 minutes of action, gross-out set pieces and comedy; it makes up for being derivative by never being dull. The real challenge came with Bones, for which he was tasked with taking goofy pothead/urban linguist Calvin Broadus and turning him into a believable badass monster.

Now try as they might, rappers-turned-actors haven't made much headway into Hollywood horror films. Ice T got to pull a bat out of his afro in Leprechaun 4: Leprechaun in the Hood, but other than that he didn't have much to do. Busta Rhymes embarrassed himself by appearing in the awful Halloween: Resurrection; Redman got killed by a doll in Seed Of Chucky; Rah Digga was the sassy nanny in the 13 Ghosts remake...based on these examples, there's no question that Snoop Dogg's role as pimpin' numbers runner/neighborhood favorite Jimmy Bones is by far the most prestigious. It may have seemed like funny stunt casting, but Snoop is actually perfect as the soft-spoken mack in a polyester pimp coat and Lincoln Continental who's murdered by his crew after rejecting a corrupt cop's plan to peddle crack 'round the neighborhood, his bones buried in the basement of the gothic brownstone where he was killed. 20 years later, some kids hoping to turn the building into a club to launch their positive message music group* disturb the bones of Jimmy Bones, thus freeing his soul from hell so he can seek his vengeance. Snoop - who had already been fake-killed and resurrected by the devil in the Murder Was the Case short film - is a surprisingly intimidating boogeyman, his performance no doubt enhanced by the direction of Dickerson, who guided Tupac to his most memorable role in Juice** and turned Ice T into a sympathetic hero in Surviving the Game. It was also a smart move by the director to have Snoop's character be played by a literal dog for half the movie, a doberman that projectile vomits maggots into the hero's face before announcing that "the gangsta of love don't eat no fried chicken!"

How can you not love a horror movie with the title card appearing in graffiti? Dickerson returns to Demon Knight's workable formula - one central location (in this case, a cool skull-shaped brownstone), a playful yet unrelenting demon who picks off the characters one at a time - and strikes a similarly dexterous balance of laughs and gore to turn what could have been a silly rehash into a pleasure, solid B-minus horror movie. The supporting cast includes Khalil Kain (Raheem from Juice), the beautiful Bianca Lawson, Deezer D from Fear of a Black Hat and Pam Grier, who kind of awesomely plays herself in flashbacks wearing a giant afro (I don't remember her looking like that in the 70's.) A'la Demon Knight, Bones is a bastard son of the Elm Street series: like Freddy, Bones has a creepy nursery rhyme theme song and a cache of bad puns, including one about being on "a high - a supernatural high" that rival Freddy's worst (thankfully the painful "soul food" pun was already taken.) In its defense, Bones (and Demon Knight) is better than half the actual Nightmare films and has enough of its own personality to make it stand out. One nice touch is Ricky Harris' severed head that stays alive after being separated from its body by Bones to argue with him: "I killed you, you kill me - we even! Damn, why you gotta get all meta-fuckin-physical, shit!" Severed heads are Dickerson's visual motif: there's a whole "trophy room" full of them in his Hard Target-like Surviving the Game and Demon Knight has a memorable Dick Miller decapitation. Another great visual is Dickerson's representation of hell as an H.R. Giger-like wall of writhing pitch black bodies that Bones' victims are sucked into: again, kind of a throwback to the squirmy souls caught inside Freddy's chest in the Elm Streets, but still a neat-looking and well-executed idea.

Sadly Bones was not the launching pad for Snoop to become the next modern horror icon, but he's believable as the smug pimp who's got all the stats while all anyone else gots is "quo," transformed into a vengeful hellspawn. Following this and dramatic roles in Baby Boy and Training Day from the same year, his film career was reduced to cameos in a predictable stream of stoner comedies and playing Huggie Bear in the big screen Starsky & Hutch.*** For his part, Dickerson went on to direct episodes of such beloved shows as The Wire and Dexter; I never saw his Masters of Horror because, well, those are mostly unwatchable. I guess I should check it out (if it's on Netflix Instant.) Anyway, I'm glad he's working on The Walking Dead now because he's a super-competent and underutilized horror director.


Demon Knight 
BOX OFFICE: $21,088,568 from $21 million budget
imdb RATING: 6.5/10 (not bad actually)

BOX OFFICE: $7,316,658 from $16 million budget
imdb RATING: 3.9/10

* Leprechaun in the Hood also features a well-meaning positive message rap group who inadvertently ressurect the monster while trying to get their act off the ground. (That one's for certain; I haven't seen Bones in 10 years so I'm not 100% sure they're a positive message rap group...but they're definitely an unsigned music act who bring the monster to life.) 

** Juice also featured a number of rapper cameos including Doctor Dre, Fab Five Freddy and Treach. 

*** He did make another horror movie in 2006: Hood of Horror, in which he again plays a demonic dog.

247086_TV episodes & movies instantly streaming from Netflix. Start your FREE trial!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...