Prince of Darkness
Written and directed by John Carpenter
Starring Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Alice Cooper
Review by Jordan
“Cause precedes effect – fruit rots, water flows downstream. We’re born, we age, we die.”
John Carpenter films move to their own unique, synthesised-heartbeat rhythm. In the case of his Apocalypse trilogy, bookended by The Thing (1982) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994), they march inexorably towards a suitably downbeat and appropriate conclusion, backed by a pulsing score and style that escalates from a groove to a cacophony of sound.
Prince of Darkness, the second entry of his loosely defined saga, builds intrigue early with a premise involving the imminent release of a malevolent evil, contained for 2,000 years in a cylinder hidden underground in the catacombs beneath a church, and the priest who employs a theoretical physics professor and his brightest students to uncover the science behind its form, including how it might be preserved or defeated before it confirms humankinds demise. Then, progressing into a more traditional “Us vs. Them” scenario as the students working closely with the substance become possessed and turn on the others, as lifeless strangers begin surrounding the church’s exterior, the film works to combine its story ideas on a scientific approach to religion with special effects horror.
While it is a shame that the imaginative core ideas are a set-up for a more basic struggle of survival, with all manner of high-tech wizardry and technical speech that had me searching the back catalogue of my mind to determine if I’d learned these terms before (tachyons in particular are rather relevant, though hypothetical) ultimately failing to serve much useful purpose beyond the initial engagement, the premise here, backed by violence that doesn’t shy away from impact, is truly frightening, and the stake of failure, dire.
A moment at the film’s end involving a mirror as a gateway to another dimension, and the almost-end-of-word result of it being utilised, is brave and a precursor to what the director would later tackle in his 2006 episode in the Masters of Horror series, Pro-Life, using womanhood and birth in a juxtaposed manner to introduce death into the world, disguised as life. These lingering moments, as well as a mainly expositional script that actually suits the material and another memorable Donald Pleasence performance, render Prince of Darkness one of Carpenter’s most underappreciated classics, and arguably the scariest film he’s made.