It was inevitable that a direct-to-video producer (in this case, the ubiquitous Stephen J. Cannell) would get the idea to dupe the big-budget Hollywood flick “Constantine” for the DTV market. And so we have “Demon Hunter”, which despite being devoid of the glam, glitz, hundreds of millions, and star wattage, is actually better by at least two football fields. Sean Patrick Flanery (“The Boondock Saints”) steps into the Keanu Reeves shoes as a demon hunter with a moral crisis, whose salvation comes in the form of a pretty young thing in heels, in this case Colleen Porch (“Starship Troopers 2”) standing in for Rachel Weisz.
“Demon Hunter” stars young Indiana Jones as Jacob Greyman, a freelance killer working for the Church, specifically Cardinal White (William Bassett). Jacob escorts priests to situations like exorcisms, and when the situation gets out of control, he deals with it by, well, killing the situation. Not a very happy camper, we learn Jacob is a half-breed — part demon, part human, a condition that makes him ripe for hatred by the demons and the Church. When creepy as hell Demon of Lust Asmodeous (played by the always creepy as hell Billy Drago) surfaces to do some bad things and have lots of sex with skanky women, Jacob gets the feeling this might be his last job for God. To assist Jacob, White sends chaste nun Sara Ryan (Porch). But what’s an innocent nun gonna do when the demons attack? Probably run would be my guess.
Watching “Demon Hunter”, I’m actually reminded of a spiffy little TV series called “Special Unit 2” that ran for a year and change on the now defunct UPN network a few years back. In the series, two former Chicago cops work for a secret unit called Special Unit 2 that goes around dispatching of supernatural creatures such as werewolves and vampires. It was revealed that every major city has its own Special Unit 2, a concept that mirrors “Demon Hunter”, which reveals that the higher branches of the city’s police force know about the demon problems. Unfortunately this angle is never fully explored beyond a singular 5-second conversation between Jacob and Sara after a violent confrontation with a beat cop. The whole thing intrigues me to no end, but alas, writer Mitch Gould does not share in my enthusiasm.
Breezing by at a brisk 78-minute clip plus opening and end credits, the bulk of “Demon Hunter’s” action is saved up for the final 25 minutes or so, including a sequence where Jacob and Sara invade Billy Drago’s Decrepit Hotel of Love. Much of the film is dependent on Sean Patrick Flanery selling his bad news character, and he does so without breaking a sweat. Not a surprise, as Flanery has always been an excellent actor. In fact, if you were to plug Flanery in the Reeves role in ” Constantine “, that movie would have been infinitely better. Imagine actually believing Constantine when he worries about his impending retirement to hell instead of snickering at Keanu Reeves’ inability to enunciate his lines. Oh, what could have been…
The action in “Demon Hunter” is quite good, and director Scott Ziehl does a fantastic job with the few resources he had on hand. There are a number of camera tricks used that I still can’t decipher, including an exciting exchange of flying fists between Jacob and Asmodeous during the Decrepit Hotel of Love duel. The decision to make “Demon Hunter’s” action rely almost exclusively on the inherent brute strength of the characters’ origins rather than fancy magic is a major plus. Although there are some super jumping going on, for the most part the action is very good — even pretty cool. You wish there were more, but then again, that would entail a longer running time and a bigger budget.
As you might expect, and being the opinionated fellow that I am, there are a couple of things I would have changed about the film. First of all, the title — “Demon Hunter” screams low-budget. Secondly, the voiceover narration by Jacob in the beginning and at the end is unnecessary. Lastly, ditch the flying succubus (Tania Deighton). “Demon Hunter” should stay a (literally) grounded movie about demons and angels in human form with super strength and leave it at that. Injecting flying succubus (one with really bad horn prosthetics to boot) into the whole thing just makes it cheesy. In fact, take out all the special effects completely would have been my choice.
Aside from those nitpicks, “Demon Hunter” is immensely enjoyable, and even has an uncompromising ending that’s rather surprising, even ballsy for such a commercial venture. The short running time is bothersome, as it usually is when a movie is this good that I want it to continue, or at least have more of it to enjoy. Without a doubt, “Demon Hunter” is an acquired taste, and fans of the genre will get the most kick out of it, while those who wallow in mainstream Hollywood formula won’t quite know what to make of it. The ending begs for a sequel, or perhaps even a TV series. Either way, I’d love to see the continued adventures of demon killer Jacob Greyman.
Scott Ziehl (director) / Mitch Gould (screenplay)
CAST: Colleen Porch …. Sara Ryan
William Bassett …. Cardinal White
Tania Deighton …. Succubus
Billy Drago …. Asmodeus
Sean Patrick Flanery …. Jacob Greyman