THE DEVIL INSIDE, Dylan Dog,Demon Knight: Tales From the Crypt

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–Godzilla versus the Surfs

SPOILER ALERT

devil inside  I watched this movie, courtesy of Redbox for $1.23. THE DEVIL INSIDE is a film directed and co-written by William Brent Bell (2006’s STAY ALIVE). The narrative style of this film is a cross between “found footage” and documentary. A 2012 January release, the story begins in 1989 as a 911 call and a blotchy videotaped police investigation of a triple murder. A woman with a deep, weary and rather sexy voice calls into 911 saying, “I killed them all.” “Them” means two priests and a nun, casualties, we discover, of a botched exorcism. In this case, the devil is in the details–details the script fails to share because the story jumps forward to 2009 and the woman, an American wife and mother, Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley) is now an inmate in an Italian hospital for the criminally insane.

Naturally, Maria’s daughter, Isabella, an attractive young woman in her twenties wants to know what happened to land her mother in the funny farm in a different country. Isabella, whose father died shortly after the murders, hasn’t seen or spoken to her mother in over ten years. So Isabella, camera crew in tow-of course she’s an attractive twenty-something so she’s going to have a camera crew, decides to visit Mommie Weirdest in the old country. Maria now spends her life in a white room and she draws odd pictures, including upside-down crosses etched into her skin. Suzan Crowley, the actress playing Maria strikes me as one of those very good actresses, toiling for years in forgettable projects, and never getting a chance to show her acting chops. That’s unfortunate for the film. What little we see of her stands in stark contrast to the rest of the principal cast. Maria growls and purrs; the coiled menace within her is the only real scare this film has to offer. Her voice brings to mind Mercedes McCambridge’s demon voice emanating from Regan, the besieged eleven-year old in THE EXORCIST. It’s insinuating and truly creepy. The young actors playing Isabella (Fernanda Andrade), the “documentary guy” (Ionut Grama), Father David, the doctor-priest (Evan Helmuth), and Father Ben, the exorcist-priest (Simon Quarterman) can’t conjure up enough scare for a campfire ghost story. When you’re dealing with “The Devil,” or devils, you want to see him fight in the right weight category. Pitting these four against a really big baddie supernatural is like watching the Smurfs take on Godzilla. It’s hardly a fair fight. The rather bland unfocused Isabella seems confused more than desperate. Father David likes to help out on exorcisms but only if they don’t get him in trouble. Father Ben pouts and whines about how the Church won’t condone exorcisms unless there’s super duper proof of possession–but he’s gonna do them anyway–so there, Monsignor Meanies! To your self-respecting demon, these four are as challenging as drowning a bag full of kittens.

The plot spins its wheels, going nowhere, until it just stops abruptly. You get the feeling the production either ran out of money or film. Whatever. Regardless, the appetite for devil movies being what it is, the film’s earned over 50 million. Maybe someone made a deal with the devil after all. By the way–the weird nun on the cover is an extra–not a character in the story.

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Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

I don’t recommend Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

dylan dog  Last night, I watched Demon Knight: Tales From the Crypt. My next movie post was going to be solely on another comic-based movie–Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Dylan Dog…was based on a 1986 Italian comic book series by Tiziano Sclavi. So I watched this Netflix offering, a 2011 film, which was a mess from start to finish. Dylan’s director is Kevin Monroe, who directed the animated 2007 TMNT 4 (Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles). And therein lies the one of the problems–live actors are a lot harder to direct than animated characters. Animated films, (unless you’re Pixar) are by nature, two dimensional. With live actors, you need a little more “directing”. Monroe was blessed with two excellent actors in Taye Diggs and Sam Huntington. Brandon Routh in the title role needed a little more help. The only other film I had seen Routh in was Superman The Return. He is an extremely good looking actor and this is a mixed blessing. Mr. Routh needs some miles on his face–some character that draws us (ala Harrison Ford) in so that we project our own back story as to how they got there. Right now, Routh’s face is a blank sheet. His droning voice-over, meant to help us follow a confusing, muddled story, loses us in the first ten minutes. If Monroe, the director, knew how to work with actors, perhaps there would be a little more shading–something of interest to support the noir feel this movie attempted to create. As Dylan, Routh was as flat as a cartoon turtle. Knowing something about actors, having been one and worked with many as a casting director, I feel Routh is a work in progress. I hope that he continues to be cast without the burden of carrying a whole film and that along with paying that acting coach, he does some theater–which is an actor’s medium. A little Tennessee Williams would do him a world of good not to mention what’s going on currently in theater. I freely admit I don’t know. When I left production, I left it all behind and now am a consumer–an audience member. I want to see what’s behind Routh’s big brown eyes.

Whatever limited appeal this film possesses comes from Sam Huntington, who was Jimmy Olsen to Routh’s Superman. Huntington is now the resident werewolf on the SyFy Channel’s Being Human. George Bush senior was described as that “first husband–” the one you briefly married before you settled down. Huntington’s prissy “everyman” is the essence of your college roommate’s boyfriend–the one who always shows up to help you move. He’s so funny as the reluctant zombie–grossed out by his zombie needs, that he makes you forget the awkwardness of the film. Here’s another problem: the props. Couldn’t they get real sides of beef rather that plastic? It really distracted. Taye Diggs is such a compelling actor that he blows everyone else off the screen. And one more problem before I go on to Demon Knight. Dylan Dog is full of monsters because Dylan is the “middle man” between humans and the world of monsters. Most of the movie is spent with monsters, on behalf of monsters and fighting monsters, yet all the fight scenes are versions of martial arts. Where are the claws, the fangs, the bolts of lightening, the melting people, etc.? Other than throwing punches and tossing people around, the demons, vampires and werewolves are pussies.

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I recommend Demon Knight: Tales From the Crypt

demon knight  Now on to Demon Knight. This 1995 release was connected to TV’s Tales From the Crypt. It stars Billy Zane, William Sadler and Jada Pinkett with CCH Pounder and Thomas Hayden Church. The director, Ernest R. Dickerson has directed episodes of The Walking Dead and Treme as well as other high profile TV offerings. I had seen Demon Knight several years ago and what stuck with me was how much I enjoyed Billy Zane’s performance. So last night, I decided to take another look. Zane plays a demon and this little devil really enjoys his work. Zane, like Routh, has a handsome face, but he hasn’t let it slow him down. His performance in Demon Knight puts his melodrama-villain turn in Titanic to shame. If the Zane of Demon Knight were on that boat, Rose wouldn’t have given Jack the time of day. This film was a spin off of the TV series, Tales From the Crypt, and the series was inspired by those comics–the lurid, wild-eyed, bloody, bony stories we loved even though reading them led to many a night light. Demon’s story is simple. A man with a secret hides out at a hotel out in the middle of nowhere. He’s being chased by a demon who wants something the man carries with him. It’s one of seven keys and if the demon gets it, there’s lights out for all mankind and we’d better get used to a lot of slime and cackling. The man and the hotel’s few occupants are under siege as Zane and his army of zany demons, try to get that key. Each guest is tempted to hand it over. Among the group, there’s plucky little Jada Pinkett’s character, a convict on work release, CCH Pounder as the cynical hotel manager, Thomas Hayden Church’s sexy lout and William Sadler, an actor who usually plays a villain as the mysterious, weary guest.

Like a comic book, Demon Knight is in vivid primary colors. Dickerson trusts his actors to breathe life into the narrative and with a cast like this, you can’t go wrong. Even so, Zane is a stand-out. His career doesn’t reflect his gifts–I think because he’s a character actor trapped in the body of a leading man. He shows us the sexy allure of evil, how it dazzles and obscures the facts, and the lies, which he gleefully admits. If for no other reason than Zane’s performance, take a look at Demon Knight. It’s on Netflix. On a Saturday night, a friend or two, a bowl of popcorn and Demon Knight, you could do worse.