Sunday, 15 August 2010

Prince of Darkness

John Carpenter's 1987 film Prince of Darkness comes right near the end of a dazzling run of films that began with his debut feature Dark Star in 1974 right thru to his last film of worth, They Live, also from 1987. In Prince of Darkness, a group of theologians and scientists led by Father Donald Pleaseance and Professor Victor Wong, are held up in the basement of an inner-city church, deciphering ancient texts and carbon dating a mysterious canister of swirling green gas, that is, the very essence of evil - and it wants to get out...

Interestingly on the laserdisc commentary for Halloween, Carpenter acknowledged the influence of Dario Argento and Suspiria whilst making his iconic slasher classic, but the spirit of Argento is most felt in a sequence in Prince of Darkness when a character is slashed with a scissors by an assassin that could have wandered out of an Argento film. In fact this may be Carpenter's most Italian film - there's a scene where a man literally crumbles into a writhing mass of cockroaches, and the climax that recalls the mindwarp of the final act of The Beyond. There's also a nice bit of business involving a surreal dream sequence which reoccurs throughout the movie and appears as fuzzy video-shot footage, the kind of thing that's over used nowadays, but must have been quite startling back in 1987.

Alice Cooper and friends stand guard for the Prince of Darkness

Carpenter's direction is as stylish as ever, truly he was a master of shooting in 'scope. Looking back on the film some 23 years later, the film has a pleasing sense of retrospection to earlier Carpenter films, namely The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13. In the latter film, Carpenter's heroes were surrounded by the Street Thunder gang, while here its a gang of murderous derelicts, led by a creepy looking Alice Cooper. Donald Pleaseance makes his third appearance in a Carptenter directed film, and Victor Wong and Dennis Dun return from Big Trouble In Little China.

In the current absence of a Blu-Ray, Prince of Darkness is best served by Momentum's R2 DVD, which sports a good transfer framed around 2:35, and comes with a commentary track by the director. I haven't sampled it myself, but when Carpenter's on good form, he's worth listening to. Incidentally, Hammer fans will appreciate Carpenter's homage to the studio during the opening credits where he credits his own screenplay to a Martin Quatermass.

2 comments:

  1. I found this one underwhelming in the theater in 1987 - and haven't revisited it since - though it has made it to Blu-Ray just recently. It's so well regarded though - I probably need to check it out again - I'll probably find more to love this time.

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  2. It's definitely a film that has aged well even though it doesn't have the snap of They Live or Big Trouble In Little China, but seeing it today brings feelings of warm nostalgia and sometimes that's enough for old timers like us... On a side-related note, and I know you're not into music so much, but Prince of Darkness is heavily sampled on DJ Shadow's Endtroducing album - strange to hear it among the jams and breakbeats, but I was listening to the album last year and I was thinking... "I know that sound from somewhere"

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