Prince of Darkness | Varied Celluloid

Prince of Darkness

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 17 - 2012

Prince of Darkness (1987)
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, and Lisa Blount



The Plot: Prince of Darkness begins with a priest, played by Donald Pleasence, inviting Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) to visit his church in Los Angeles in order to investigate a very peculiar finding. Birack begins to assemble a large number of his students along with several other experts. The goal is to fully investigate a large cylinder found in the basement of this church. Filled with swirling green liquid, this cylinder seems to have a great deal of power surrounding it. Among Birack’s brightest students are Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker) and his girlfriend Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount). As this large assembly of young scientist look to spend the night in this decrepit old church, their preliminary investigations begin coming up quite irregular. The green slime appears to be sentient, and it is rapidly increasing its complexity. The lid on the cylinder dates back seven million years and yet shows a great deal of intellect in its design. Nothing seems to add up in a logical sense, and yet things become even more frightening due to the homeless strangers who are currently surrounding the church. These people, who appear to grimace at anyone that stands inside of the church, show no physical reaction to our characters who are currently inhabiting the church. As the night moves on, it becomes more and more obvious that whatever is in this cylinder holds a very dark secret that may very well hold clues to the end of mankind as we know it.



The Review
Everything that I recently wrote about George A. Romero, which you can read within my review for The Crazies, can equally be attributed to John Carpenter. This is something that pains me much more than many other filmmakers. During the late seventies through until the early nineties, John Carpenter went on a tear that will likely never be duplicated. Everything that he touched turned out to either be a critical/cult success, or was actually a box office draw. Often, they were mutually the same thing. When I think back on what made this period so special in his work, and I think about what the film world has collectively lost, all I can come up with is the fact that Carpenter was working on a heightened level of inspiration during these years. His films were all vastly different from one another and all featured varying ideas that covered very different aspects of genre cinema. He was a one-man hit machine, and these films all stand the test of time. Prince of Darkness is the second feature from Carpenter’s self-titled “Apocalypse Trilogy,” which began with The Thing and finally concluded with In the Mouth of Madness. The three films have nothing to do with one another from a narrative standpoint, but each film has mankind facing extinction in very different ways. The Thing showed mankind fighting back against an extraterrestrial being, In the Mouth of Madness saw man’s own creation, the fictional narrative, coming back to destroy him, and then Prince of Darkness shows mankind fighting back against a physical manifestation of true unbridled evil. Satan, the devil. Although Prince of Darkness is the abused stepchild of this trilogy, I am of the opinion that it is one of Carpenter’s very best creations.

Carpenter, for the things he did wrong, made up for it in making movies that relied on more than just the fundamentals of whatever genre he worked in. Halloween might have been one of the few truly “genre” features that he made during his most successful run, but in actuality it was he who was creating the slasher movie genre at that point. He had influences during this period, but he was the one introducing his audience to the motifs of this very particular style of thriller. In Big Trouble in Little China, he decided to mix adventure films with martial arts and science fiction. With The Thing, he gave a classic horror film an even more claustrophobic location and instigated a great deal of paranoia. They Live took on consumerism, and Escape From New York was an apocalyptic vision of street crime becoming dominant through a haze of Nintendo imagery. Such films may have fundamentally been b-movies, but their ideas were what made them special. Prince of Darkness is no different. Exploring the lines where theoretical science and religion meet, Carpenter steps up to his neck in ideas that would be difficult for even a less productive filmmaker to try and cover. Yet, here is Carpenter discussing scientific laws while tying together religious beliefs into a cohesive whole.

The movie is surprisingly well researched for a quick and independent horror movie that was made by a director who was already quite busy during this decade. The film presents numerous scientific abnormalities that completely defy all logic, but the film doesn’t try to avoid discussing these matter. In scenes where the green gelatinous goo is first being discussed, there are lines of dialogue discussing how a cellular being is being formulated out of thin air, which defies Louis Pasteur’s discoveries, and then going from a lower state and becoming more and more complex, which essentially breaks the second law of thermodynamics (which states the opposite, that objects slowly slip into chaos and not become more organized). There are brief discussions of tachyon transmissions, differential equations, and the relationship between matter and anti-matter. Prince of Darkness may not be 100% grounded in scientific reality, but for a horror geek who likes science, there is a lot to draw you in with this movie. And yet, within all of this insanity, we also have a very strong time travel subplot that pushes the film and actually becomes the most organic piece of horror within the movie.

Describing Prince of Darkness to an unsuspecting audience is not the easiest thing in the world to do. A heavy mix of genre aesthetics and ideas, the film doesn’t play out in a way that would make it easily digestible for most audiences. In fact, it’s probably the most open-to-interpretation film within Carpenter’s filmography. The science fiction elements, especially the time travel elements, even makes it possible that our movie takes place within a loop that could potentially change within the second time around. With multiple potential realities possible, the film can be viewed in either positive or negative ways. Going along with this strange science fiction twist is the religious horror that the script is based around. Delving heavily into the book of Revelation, Carpenter finds an interesting way to twist religious doctrine in a way that becomes compatible with his script. Theorizing that in the same way that anti-matter exists, there must also be an anti-God. The anti-God is of course Satan, and the film then becomes about the forming of the anti-Christ who will come to fulfill biblical predictions. Although Carpenter twists around the role of Christ, claiming him to nearly be of extraterrestrial origin, he still keeps to the basic premise of what is discussed in the final book of the Christian bible. This all becomes very heady stuff, and combined with the nightmarish visuals that are compounded by the absolutely fightening shot-on-video transmissions from the future, Prince of Darkness can very well give you a terrifying evening.


The Conclusion
Before sitting back down to watch Prince of Darkness, I thought for sure my personal opinion of the film would drop. Let’s face it, there are definitely some cliche moments throughout the first half of this film. For instance, the way the cast drop like flies makes the movie seem as if it is building into yet another eighties slasher. However, once the audience gets past all of this, you can truly appreciate what a horrifying tour-de-force this is. A bleak film about the end of the world as told through a prism of science, religion, and gore, Prince of Darkness is a must see, especially for Carpenter fans. I give it a five out of five. A debatable rating, but I can’t help it, I love this movie.




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