Prince Of Darkness * * * * 1/2
Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: John Carpenter.
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Anne Howard, Ann Yen, Dirk Blocker, Peter Jason, Alice Cooper.
During the 70’s and 80’s director John Carpenter was delivering consistently, innovative pieces of work; his shoestring budget sci-fi “Dark Star“, followed by his homage to Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” with “Assault On Precinct 13” and his horror classic “Halloween” which was one of the original slasher films. He followed these up with cult classic “Escape From New York” before eventually delivering “The Thing” and “Big Trouble in Little China” to poor box-office receipts. Two highly undervalued films but ones that also marked the point where Carpenter couldn’t get his films the proper financial backing anymore. As a result, he went back to making lower budget films and “Prince of Darkness” is one of them. It may be lower budget but Carpenter’s abilities never left him.
For many years, in the basement of an abandoned church lies a vat containing a unknown and moving green liquid. It had been protected by a priest that had belonged to a secret sect and upon his death, the sinister secret of the vat’s existence is passed on to Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance) who enlists the help of a physics Professor (Victor Wong) and his graduate students to investigate. Upon closer inspection, they find that the vat contains the son of Satan who is intent on breaking free and releasing his father into the world.
Like most of John Carpenter’s films it’s his own music score that first grabs your attention – this is no different. His synthesiser mixed with pop sounds
set the foreboding tone wonderfully. Not before long, he hits you with a superlative concept of both science and religion combing to understand a super demonic power while also tapping in the subconscious and
incorporating dream-states, premonitions and the possibility of time travel through “tachyons“. Of course, while all this is going on, Carpenter is delivering the frights slowly but surely. His skill lies in his eerie use of space and being able to make city streets and rooms seem lonely and isolated. By doing so, the horror takes hold. He keeps the danger lurking – as if it’s just outside the door – and shows an absolute command of his material. He knows the tricks; the pace, the mystery and finally the satisfaction of a truly horrific delivery. This film creeps me out every time I see it and regardless of how I get my frights, I still get them. He sets in the panic amongst the characters at just the right time, cranking up his wonderful score and delivering a depth that is so often unappreciated in his work. He’s an intelligent filmmaker and, quite simply, this is one of his most frightening and affecting pieces. Due to budgetary constraints though, the film does have flaws; the acting is certainly one of them (I’ve probably never seen acting so bad in a film that I actually like) but if it wasn’t for these small indiscretions the film might not have worked as well as it does. If anything the abysmal performances add to the overall low-key feel. I don’t want to overstep the mark and fool people into watching something that they just might not appreciate as much as I do but if the faults are overlooked then there is much to admire here. Horror is definitely a genre that I’m highly critical of, so when one happens to be available that far exceeds the dross of today, it deserves to be looked at. Most critics have panned this film and to some extent I can see why but if you see beyond the poor performances, the slightly dated appearance and occasional sticky dialogue then you’ll still find that Carpenter’s intelligence and skill is at the core of this imaginative and deeply unsettling, Lovecraftian horror. (The second instalment in Carpenter’s ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’, starting with “The Thing” and finishing with “In The Mouth Of Madness“).
One of the most underrated horror films of all time with a director working within the confines of a very low budget yet still managing to transcend his restrictions and allow his abilities to astound. If only all horror had as much originality and concepts as ingenious as this.