Prince of Darkness (1987)
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Jameson Parker, Lisa Blount, Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Anne Marie Howard, Ann Yen, Alice Cooper, Ken Wright, Dirk Blocker, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Peter Jason, Robert Grasmere, Thom Bray, Joanna Merlin
1/2 (out of 4)
Mountain Dew is back in a whole new can!
Warning: Some spoilers ahead.
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is not a perfect film but there’s something about it that keeps me coming back to it. Perhaps it’s the thick amount of dread that permeates the picture, an atmosphere of unrelenting unease. This film incorporates a Lovecraftian fear of the unknown, a sense that the old dark powers being unleashed spell Armageddon and are also completely beyond our comprehension. It does this at a slow, deliberate pace, building up to something that is not so much visceral as it is thought-provoking and conceptually disturbing. Prince of Darkness is less of a “show” and more of a feeling. The best thing about it is that it’s full of ideas, more than enough for a few movies.
The fact that Carpenter likes to take his time is apparent in the 9 minute credit sequence, in which we are given two subplots – Brian’s (Jameson Parker) infatuation with classmate Catherine (Lisa Blount), and the incident which drives the main story – the death of a guardian priest from a secret Catholic sect called the Brotherhood of Sleep. The guardian has left a diary and a key, which falls into the hands of Donald Pleasence’s priest character (not even given a name – it’s just “priest” – a representative of religion in general, I think). The representative of “science” here is Professor Birack (Victor Wong) who teaches theoretical quantum physics (“Say goodbye to classical reality, because our logic collapses on the subatomic level… into ghosts and shadows.“) The priest has discovered an ancient artifact, seven million years old, in the bowels of an abandoned church in southern California. The artifact is a locked container filled with a swirling green liquid, accompanied by an ancient manuscript that seems to have been erased and rewritten through the ages. Prof. Birack gathers the best of his physics students and sets up shop at the church, filling it with all sorts of modern scientific equipment to be used in solving the mystery of the object. But the priest has already noticed changes around him – in the earth and the sky; insects seem to be organizing themselves under a new intelligence; the schizophrenic homeless in the neighborhood (with Alice Cooper leading them) have also gathered around the church and seem to be controlled by some unknown power.
I hope that watch is anti-universe resistant.
Here’s where Prince of Darkness reveals its intention to blow minds. What if I told you that Satan exists not as a fallen angel but as a malevolent fluid, buried eons ago by his daddy (not God, but an anti-God)? What if I also told you that he can possess (infect?) people, turning them into demonic zombies, and that Jesus was really an extra-terrestrial sent to warn mankind? But wait, there’s more: scientists of the future are sending video messages riding on tachyons to warn us about the future, which we interpret as dreams. Carpenter has weaved his own religious narrative with nods to classic influences like the aforementioned Lovecraft and the works of Nigel Kneale (The Stone Tape, Quatermass & The Pit, etc). (Note: “Martin Quatermass” is credited with writing the film; that’s just Carpenter in disguise.) I like how the director has combined science and religion here and uses particle physics/quantum mechanics as an influence (anti-God, like antiparticle – nice touch). I like the conversations between Pleasence and Wong (“But he was our prisoner, not yours!”). Even some of the dialogue between Parker and Blount have a sort of quantum-mechanical quality (Brian: “How do you know what I was going to say what you think I was going to say?” Catherine: “Because if you don’t, I don’t want to know.“)
There are some effective scenes – Cooper impales a victim on a bicycle frame (a recreation of the mic-stand trick from his live performances), a man is stabbed repeatedly with scissors while standing in a pool of beetles (there’s a brief shot of the weapon in motion that reminded me of Argento), the scene where Satan (in a possessed host) puts his decapitated head back on, and finally, the video/dream sequences which are both chilling and cool. (DJ Shadow even used them). Like I said, the movie isn’t perfect – the score, while very good, is overused, and the pacing is a little too laid-back (where you would expect things to pick up, Carpenter simply keeps the same speed). However, I still get a kick out of the story, and his mingling of religion, physics, and fate. There’s also the idea that while science may eventually supplant religion, it won’t be enough to save us. Add to that the kind of foreboding that compares to the director’s The Thing, great performances from Victor Wong and Donald Pleasence, and the wonderful wide angle shots that you would expect from Carpenter’s work. Prince of Darkness is probably his most underrated film.
- Bill Gordon
Buy Prince Of Darkness (Collector’s Edition) on Blu-ray
Buy Prince of Darkness on DVD
I’m never shaving this off… ever!
Prince of Darkness finally gets the Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Shout! Factory. The transfer (1080p, 2.35:1) is fabulous. Supplements include: new interviews with Carpenter and Alice Cooper; an alternate opening from the TV version which suggests that the entire film is just a dream of Brian’s; an audio commentary by Carpenter and actor Peter Jason, which is pleasant enough to listen to but doesn’t hold a candle to any of the commentary tracks featuring Carpenter and Kurt Russell. I would have liked more insight into his thoughts on the script (For example: Was he trying to make a statement about the homeless? What about the references to homosexuality? If nobody examined the canister, would it have opened?) There’s a segment for Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, where host Sean Clark visits all the set locations for the film (the church, USC, etc), a segment with Alan Howarth, the film’s co-composer, and a segment featuring Robert Grasmere, who was visual effects supervisor as well as actor (“I have a message for you, and you’re not going to like it…“). There’s also an Easter egg that takes you to Screamfest 2012, where Carpenter does a Q&A. Overall this is a great release from Shout! Factory and a must-have for fans.
Crap! My mascara’s running!