John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness” : Retro Review
“I have a message for you- and you aren’t going to like it.”
I first saw Prince Of Darkness back when it was released to VHS, way back in the mid-eighties during my most formative years in the horror genre. I was in my pre-teens, I was already in love with Alice Cooper (who plays a small part in this film), I’d seen a couple of gems, and Prince of Darkness was on the New Release wall of a local video store. It left a lasting impression on me that endures to this day, and I nearly leapt for joy when I came across the new Blu-Ray release whilst perusing the video wall of a nearby Frye’s. Slap down some bucks, pop it in the player, and sit back for a fun ride.
The movie starts with the death of an old Priest as he lies with a small box laying across his chest. We come to learn that the Church has been keeping a secret deep within the bowels of a local parish, a room locked and guarded by the dead priest. His death marks the passage of duty to Donald Sutherland who decides to look for scientific help in examining this dark secret. The object beneath the church may just be the concentrated form of the anti-christ, a harbinger to bringing Lucifer out from the darkness and taking over our world. Students and Professors of Theoretical Quantum mechanics are brought in with a couple of experts from other fields to examine the church, the object in the basement, and the accompanying texts in order to unlock the mystery and possibly unravel some of the largest philosophical questions of all time.
Okay, these are some pretty big ideas which may be a little difficult for some horror fans to accept. Carpenter tackles the subject and delivers fantastic pacing for such a difficult subject; the audience is fully aware of the enormity without needing to have a degree in quantum physics. The plot has some great depth, but it’s kept simple and Carpenter builds the tension from one scene to the next as the stakes quickly rise. It’s not just going to pile up the bodies, the gore, and the screams when things eventually go wrong but all of those things come into play at the perfect moments leading up to full blown horror by the films climax.
It should be noted that Prince of Darkness is the second in what many fans refer to as John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (“The Thing” is the first with “In the Mouth of Madness” being the third.) - a series of films that have no connection to one another regarding the plot, but which thematically explore elements of “Cosmic Horror” along the lines of HP Lovecraft. “Prince” is probably the least recognized of the films as it was released with little studio support and directly on the heels of Carpenter’s box office flop; “Big Trouble in Little China” (now considered a cult classic and a remake was recently announced). It marked Carpenter’s return to independent productions and Carpenter’s disillusionment with the Studio System probably played a part in his choosing such an esoteric project.
I love this movie. There are some truly horrifying sequences that play havoc with the nerves and a couple of memorable deaths, but I wouldn’t put it on the top of my recommendation list. This is the film you see AFTER you’ve already seen Mouth, Thing, and definitely Halloween. It’s a worthy entry and definitely worth watching.
4.5 out of 5.