The good, the bad and the retro

Tales from the Crypt (18) Ernest Dickerson Somebody to Love (15) Alexandre Rockwell Nana (no cert) Jean Renoir
Before the House Un-American Activities Committee drove it off the news-stands, the EC comic book Tales from the Crypt helped rot the brains of a whole generation of adolescents: it was morbid, sadistic, nasty, brutal and vulgar. Yes, that good. Almost four decades on, some of the boys who were damaged for life by the comic - including Walter Hill, Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis - clubbed together to produce a cable television show of the same name, the success of which accounts for the appearance, and the unwieldy title, of Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight.

A couple of narrative twists aside, this production fields two big surprises. The first is that its director is Ernest Dickerson, the cinematographer who made Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X blaze and shimmer like David Lean epics gone streetwise; the second that, though a touch too handsome for its grungy contents, there's nothing ponderous about the movie: it's as gleefully corny and lacking in taste as the EC comic.

Like John Carpenter's last decent shocker Prince of Darkness, Demon Knight involves both the imminent repossession of the universe by satanic forces and a motley gang holed up in confined space - here, a remote hotel - and trying to stop them. Brayker (William Sadler) is the undead good guy, bearing a cross filled with the blood from Christ's wounds; the Collector (Billy Zane) is the malevolent representative of Old Nick. One by one, the hotel inmates are lured by tailor-made temptations. One by one, they get pulped. Not the sort of fare likely to modify anyone's sensibility, but exuberantly unpleasant. HUAC would have disapproved.

Somebody to Love is an oddity: though it's the first stab at a star vehicle for Rosie Perez (another Do the Right Thing graduate), it looks like a random assembly of out-takes from Reservoir Dogs, since the cast includes not only Harvey Keitel (as a vainglorious, washed-up actor) and Steve Buscemi (in utterly inexplicable drag), but Mr Tarantino himself, firing off one of his increasingly unamusing monologues as a stroppy bartender. And though it feels rambling, the plot is relatively straightforward: Mercedes (Ms Perez), a poor young Hispanic woman struggling to better herself as an actress, is in largely unrequited love with Harry (Keitel); Ernesto (Michael DeLorenzo), a still poorer young Hispanic man struggling to establish himself as a gangster, is in largely unrequited love with Mercedes. After many complications, including cameos from Anthony Quinn and (hey, just like Pierrot le fou!) Sam Fuller, it all ends in tears and blood.

Scene by scene, Somebody to Love can be engaging - Perez and Keitel would have to knock themselves out to be dull, and DeLorenzo makes his character's doe-eyed chivalry seem perfectly plausible. But the incidents never quite gel into a satisfying narrative. What seemed like freewheeling eccentricity in Alexandre Rockwell's last feature, In the Soup, now looks more like indulgent rambling.

Advance warning to Renoir fans: on 21 June, London's Institut Francais (0171-589 6211) will be screening le patron's silent film Nana (1926), with a live musical accompaniment by the Ensemble Flexus. Starring Renoir's wife Catherine Hessling as Zola's courtesan, Nana is the film to which, Francois Truffaut said, the director thought back when he made La Regle du Jeu. True enough; though whether Nana's first audiences could have seen forward to that sublime work is another matter. n All films on release from Fri

Kevin Jackson