Following in the footsteps of our recent wave of supernatural Blu-Ray releases, here comes a particularly ghoulish delight. Tales From The Crypt was an anthology series based on the 1950s-era horror comic of the same name that ran on HBO for seven seasons from 1989 through 1996. Executive produced by Richard Donner, Walter Hill, David Giler, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, the show was a gory hit — though often hit-or-miss — starring Hollywood royalty and notable up-and-comers and written and directed by big names like Donner, Zemeckis, Hill, William Friedkin, John Frankenhiemer and Tobe Hooper (and a number of first-timers like screenwriters Frank Darabont and Andrew Kevin Walker). It eventually petered out, but not before Joel Silver pushed two features into the pipeline, two-thirds of a planned trilogy— Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight and Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood, with the latter’s performance insuring that this film series died a premature death.
Demon Knight is by far the better of the two. Where most of the television Crypt episodes were short and sharp takes of retribution and comeuppance, Demon Knight was a preexisting screenplay written by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris and Mark Bishop that, while shoehorned into the Crypt format — complete with Crypt-Keeper bumpers — is actually better than the majority of the show’s episodes. Stylishly directed by Ernest Dickerson, formerly Spike Lee’s cinematographer and then best-known for directing the gang drama Juice (he’s now a big-shot TV director who’s helmed nearly a dozen episodes of The Walking Dead), the piece is an action/siege film-turned-crazed-horror story centering around Brayker (William Sadler), a drifter who’s after a demonic figure known as The Collector (Billy Zane). Brayker holes up with a diverse group ranging from tough girl Jada Pinkett Smith to Dick Miller as drunk Uncle Willy in a decommissioned desert church turned into a boarding-house as they battle The Collector and the terrifying demon army created from his blood. Intense but still playful, Demon Knight stands on its own as an impressive pre-CGI monster movie, thanks in no small part to the excellent casting — the scrappy Sadler and slick Zane are perfect as the leads — and the no-holds-barred monster action and inventive gore.
Bordello Of Blood, however, is a mess. Written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale back in their USC film school days, the script was bought by Universal when Zemeckis was about to defect to Steven Spielberg’s then-nascent DreamWorks and then reworked by Crypt producers Gil Adler and A.L. Katz, the former directing the project. The production was a disaster, stemming in large part to producer Joel Silver’s insistence that comedian Dennis Miller take the lead role. The smarmy Miller gets an occasional funny one-liner — no surprise as he ad-libbed most of his part — but is woefully miscast, as is model Angie Everhart as the vampire running the eponymous bordello, which is run out of a shabby funeral parlor. There are a few nice bits — Miller taking out vampires with a Super-Soaker full of Holy Water while The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” plays in the background is a highlight — but when Corey Feldman, as an obnoxious, horny vampire, delivers the best performance (even Chris Sarandon fumbles as a Southern televangelist), you know you’re in trouble.
Scream Factory has released both of the Tales From The Crypt films in packed special editions — both with rock-solid transfers and booming DTS-MA 5.1 audio — each centered around solid documentaries that are more than just the “featurettes” listed on the box art. “Under Siege: The Making Of Demon Knight” is a fun look back at the production, with just about everyone in the cast (save for Jada Pinkett Smith and Thomas Haden Church) chiming in on how enjoyable the shoot was, other than the day they brought in dirt to the Van Nuys air-hanger used as the shooting set for a WWI flashback that turned out to be piles of dried pig manure. Zane, in particular, is effusive in his praise for everyone and finally comes clean about how being bald in the film coincided with him losing his hair in real life. Special makeup FX supervisor Todd Masters reveals details — including piercings and weird accouterments — on the demons that can be barely seen in the finished film and Dickerson, a big horror buff (who’d later direct the underrated Bones), says he’s the one who insisted on hiring Roger Corman vet Dick Miller. Two commentary tracks — one with Dickerson, another with Masters and the FX crew — a Dick Miller tribute, the trailer and a still gallery fill out the disc.
“Tainted Blood: The Making Of Bordello Of Blood,” however, is much more brutal, with even writer-producer A.L. Katz admitting that this is not how one goes about making a movie. Everyone points to Dennis Miller's disruptive stargames as being the big problem— not wanting to do the movie, he insisted on a million-dollar fee, which not only did he get, but in doing so, forced the production to cut a huge chunk out of the budget. Miller and co-star Erika Eleniak both acted like prima donnas and insisted their entire characters be changed on-set. Angie Everhart was apparently a dream to work with, but the fashion model had never acted before— and was hired at the insistence of Joel Silver’s pal Sylvester Stallone. Filming in Canada to skirt Union rules, the film underwent massive special-effects reshoots when the Vancouver FX crew wasn't up to snuff and the film was reedited multiple times, removing subplots in the process, rendering chunks of the movie incomprehensible at times. It’s an honest look at a failed enterprise and is almost worth the price of the disc to non-fans. The disc is rounded out by a commentary by an apologetic Katz, a still gallery and the theatrical trailer.
Also available from Scream Factory is the original Amicus Productions 1972 anthology Tales From The Crypt (along with its sister film, Vault Of Horror aka Tales From The Crypt 2). Starring Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, Patrick Magee and a game Sir Ralph Richardson as a much hale-and-heartier Crypt Keeper than in the HBO version, this quintet of stories hews much closer to the comic and TV versions, with the various characters in situations that lead to grim comeuppance. “And All Through The House,” where Collins, who’s just murdered her husband on Christmas Eve and comes face-to-face with a homicidal Santa Claus, was remade as one of the first three HBO episodes, this time directed by Robert Zemeckis. Vault Of Horror has a similar set-up but with different connective tissue— instead of souls being tormented by the Crypt Keeper, it’s a group of English gentlemen (including Terry-Thomas, The Spy Who Loved Me’s Curd Jürgens and future “Doctor Who” Tom Baker) talking about their nightmares— all of which become real. Both films are a bit dated — the blood in “And All Through The House” looks like tempura paint — but effective; in Crypt, Peter Cushing’s return from the grave in “Poetic Justice” is genuinely haunting and “Blind Alleys,” about a group of elderly blind men taking revenge against the cruel director of their home, is positively chilling. There are no special features aside from the trailers, but, for the first time, Vault contains the unedited version of the first episode, the vampire yarn “Midnight Mess,” the theatrical version of which destroyed this segment’s bloody punchline with an awkward freeze-frame and black matte.
Anthology films are finally coming back into vogue with Trick ‘R’ Treat, the V/H/S and ABC’s Of Death series and this year’s Tales Of Halloween. Scream Factory has released 1987’s From A Whisper To A Scream (aka The Offspring), a quartet of tales pulled together by Vincent Price as a historian in a small Tennessee town that seems to be a nesting place for evil. The four stories — which range from a modern-day tale of lust gone awry starring veteran character actor Clu Gulager to a Civil War piece where Cameron Mitchell discovers an isolated farmhouse full of feral children — are only mildly effective, but the film is crudely effective and clearly a labor of love for all involved. This dedication comes out in the two feature-length documentaries— one centering around director Jeff Burr’s adventures in Super-8 filmmaking in small-town Georgia and the other detailing the difficult production and distribution of From A Whisper To A Scream. Both are worth the price of admission and are so well-crafted (by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures) that they end up overshadowing the film itself. We get a very honest, warts-and-all look at making an independent feature, with ample observations by Burr, producer/writer Darin Scott, writer C. Courtney Joyner and Gulager that goes through everything one needs to know how to pull something like this together that ends up being a mini-film school in itself. From A Whisper To A Scream may not be as slick as the two Tales From The Crypt Films (or as venerable as the 1972 Amicus one), but the fantastic documentaries make for a fascinating look at how it was put together with a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and a fairly uptight Vincent Price.