Halloween Classic Review – Prince of Darkness (1987)

prince-of-darkness-1987

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.

4  transmissions from the future out of 5

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13 responses to “Halloween Classic Review – Prince of Darkness (1987)

  1. I remember seeing this film in the theater and it was the best experience. As a matter of fact, after reading your review, I would love to see it again. Who else could debate a phenomenon that is just as intangible as alien life but a theoretical physicist? This is like Dan Brown meets William Peter Blatty meets the Science Channel. Terrific review, Jordan!

  2. Great Post, love reading about a Carpenter classic. Have seen this movie a lot, but honestly that is pretty much the case with almost every Carpenter film. This one is one of his darkest (no pun intended) films, with ofcourse another great soundtrack. It even had a small appearance of Alice Cooper 😀 Thanks for sharing this one !

    • The soundtrack is particularly memorable! It’s a shame that people don’t discuss this more, but I suposoe that’s what happens when you make so many great films!
      Jordan

  3. I’d personally call this one my third favorite Carpenter film, with the The Thing taking first place and They Live in second. Prince of Darkness is an extremely underrated horror film that bridges the gap between religion and science. Which is more relevant today now that you think about it. All in all, great movie.
    Excellent review!

    • Nicely put. The thing seems to top most lists, including my own! And there really is more going on in Prince of darkness than most people would think, you’re right.
      Jordan

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