Prince of Darkness
Director: John Carpenter
Prince of Darkness is a highly atmospheric horror film directed by the master of genre flicks, John Carpenter. Following the cult success of his prior directorial effort, Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter delves back into his horror roots to unearth a frightening spectacle that is as thought-provoking as it is moody and surreal. Knee deep in foreboding doom and filled to the brim with an all-star cast of character actors, this late 80's entry really packs a punch. Consumed in apocalyptic tones and oozing that trademark Carpenter style, Prince of Darkness is a sorely under-appreciated horror film that delivers an engaging storyline, which should please anyone out there that likes their horrors crafted with genuine feel and unabashed heart.
The film begins with a local priest stumbling onto an unusual vile of green liquid in the basement of an abandoned Los Angeles church. Sensing an evil presence within the vile and fearing the worst, the priest enlists the help of Professor Howard Birack and his team of colleagues and graduate students to investigate the archaic relic. Once there the team begins to experience all sorts of unexplainable phenomenon which only seems to strengthen the longer they stay on the grounds of the monastery. With a malevolent presence consuming the lives of each of the researchers and an ancient evil beginning to breach itself into the world of the living, could this spell the end of the world for mankind or is this just a new beginning?
When it comes to an all-star cast, Prince of Darkness definitely takes the cake. The legendary Donald Pleasence embodies the role of the central priest character and he simply nails it in the doom and gloom department. His prophetic descriptions of an ancient evil or Anti-God is chilling and his presence in this film is essential in relaying to the audience that the events that are taking place in this movie are not to be taken lightly. The same can be said for Victor Wong, who plays the role of Prof. Howard Birack. He is equally fervent in his delivery and when the two share screen time together the film literally hits an authentic pitch that solidifies the severity of the situation at hand. It's amazing to see two of John Carpenter's most memorable characters like Pleasence, who played Dr. Loomis in Halloween, and Victor Wong, who played Egg Shen in Big Trouble in Little China, and to see them together in the same film is just pure cinematic bliss. If there was ever a foundation for this movie to stand on, it would be the performances made by these two absolutely engaging actors.
As for the rest of the cast, Carpenter spared no expense in keeping the quality consistent across the board. Among the long list of actors in this film, the real standouts are Lisa Blount as Catherine Danforth, Jameson Parker as Brian Marsh, Dennis Dun as Walter, Peter Jason as Dr. Paul Leahy, and Jessie Lawrence Ferguson as Calder. Everyone does a tremendous individual job with putting life into the picture, but it is the collaborative effort of the combined cast that really interjects a sense of purpose and authenticity to the production. From Blount's vulnerable and innocent young Catherine, to Parker's headstrong and capable Brian, to Dun's quirky and quick-tongued Walter, the cast is a cohesive force to be reckoned with. The best way to describe their function would be to compare them to the cast of The Night of the Living Dead. In that film, the cast consisted of stand-out performances and characters across the board which gelled so well together to form one single-minded surviving unit, that you felt apart of the struggle. In Prince of Darkness, you get that same feeling of being a part of the team and fending off the evil as it begins to take down each member one by one, and that is a tremendous asset for a film to have.
Another one of the long list of assets that Prince of Darkness has going for it is John Carpenter's impeccable ability to gradually build the tension as the movie moves along. These are especially prevalent during the many disposition moments of the film, where we begin to figure out what is going on inside this church by gathering the bits and pieces of knowledge that each character uncovers as they delve into the mystery of the liquid filled glass vile. Carpenter also uses a genuinely masterful visual mechanism in the form of visions of the future, which slowly begin to appear in small fragments, gradually revealing more and more of the mystery as the film nears its apocalyptic conclusion. The tension in these moments are quite effective, giving a tantalizing taste of what's to come, while simultaneously making us question the very nature of the film.
Of course with this being a horror movie, and a John Carpenter one to boot, you know there are going to be some wildly demented imagery in the mix and some insanely enjoyable situations to revel in. One of the most interesting aspects of this production is that it is a strange brew of religion and science fiction, with a zombie twist. Like a page straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Exorcist, the main villains of this movie are ordinary people, yet changed and deformed by the effects of this evil entity that is narrowing the gap between its world and ours. Initially the derelicts and vagrants residing around the church are first affected by the malevolent presence, then it soon spreads to the research team as the vile of liquid makes contact and then infects the rest of the crew. The overall theme of the film is, at its core, good versus evil, and through the presence of Donald Pleasence's priest character, you have an overwhelming notion that this is a spiritual war with God and Satan at the forefront. In a sense this is the essential premise of the movie, but Carpenter switches the formula up a bit and adds a futurist element into the mix in the form of a visual warning from the future. Add onto that the tried and true premise of a zombie survival horror flick and you've got yourself one hell of an original story while at the same time making for one devilishly good time at the movies.
Prince of Darkness is a wonderful Carpenter vehicle and the collaborative effort between the cast of characters and their essential roles in the film are perfectly executed and tremendously balanced. Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong simply knock their performances out of the park, while Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker and Dennis Dun leaving a lasting impression that really amplifies the enjoyability factor of this horror gem. Even Alice Cooper turns out an unforgettable performance as a homeless murderer.
In true Carpenter fashion, the atmosphere of the production is palpable, bringing about a heightened sense of believability to this otherworldly haunting opus that grabs you the minute the film begins to roll. With its motley assortment of genre staples, sci-fi elements, possession antics, heaven and hell parallels, and downright zombie-filled goodness, Prince of Darkness is an underrated Carpenter effort that truly deserves a wider and more appreciative audience. It's right on par with the rest of his horror-tinged classics and it's probably one of his most foreboding films to date, so check it out! This flick is.....
|Alice Cooper.... you dirtbag!|
|What is this? The Breakfast Club sequel?|
|Computers before internet porn was invented. So sad.|
|Don't drink that shit!|
|Something kinky's going down now.|
|It's time for Daddy Pleasence's story time. Yippie!|
|Put down the spit-wad! Nobody has to get hurt!|
|Don't cry... you don't look that bad.|
|This guy has got a splitting headache.|
|Looks like someone is ready for baseball tryouts.|
|Don't go into the light!|
|Get some rest. You need your beauty sleep.|
|Way to get ahead douchebag.|
|Well someone is all smiles.|
|Pleasence is the..... Decapitator!|
|Come on over Tim Curry.|