prince of darkness (1987)
starring: Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Peter Jason
directed by: John Carpenter
A team of scientists and a priest (Pleasence) investigate a sacred cylinder held in the basement of a derelict church. It seems that the cylinder contains the essence of Satan himself, who has been imprisoned in it for millions of years. Of course, now is the time that Satan fancies getting out…..and releasing his own father (the ‘anti-god’) from another dimension.
A hugely under-rated movie which is actually well-scripted and directed. The film is very much in the vein of Carpenter’s earlier efforts “Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)” and “The Thing (1982)” in the sense of building a siege-mentality – a group of people trapped in a confined space being hunted by something or someone. In “Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)” our protagonists were trapped in an abandoned police station and hunted by a vicious gang hellbent on revenge; in “Prince of Darkness (1987)” our protagonists are trapped in a derelict church and are stalked not by violent punks, but by Satan himself. One of the great things about this movie is that the church is not in some rural back-water, it’s in the centre of a city. (Other innovative themes include the idea that future generations are able to send messages back through time via dreams).
There are a large number of things in this film that I just adore: the opening credits, which last for 9 minutes, are epic and Carpenter’s score here is one of his best. The constant – yet eerie – pounding of the synthesisers gives the film an ominous underbelly of tension which doesn’t let up. Carpenter’s camera-work is first-class too – the sweeping exterior shots of the church and the skylines are perfect, as are the interiors of the church, which now not only imprisons Satan but our lead characters too. It’s amazing how Carpenter manages to make the inside of the church feel so large and cavernous compared to the outside world – a feat which he also accomplishes with the town-houses in “Halloween (1978)”.
Pleasance and Wong are a joy to watch, although admittedly other leads are less impressive. Dennis Dun does well in his role. Indeed, one of my favourite scenes involves Dun hastily providing a running commentary (from his sanctuary in a closet) on the physical transformation of the prince of darkness in human form. Peter Jason and Alice Cooper provide interesting bit-parts.
Prince of Darkness (1987) is a scary movie – it has cheap shocks of course, but it’s the power of Carpenter’s storytelling which really adds the fear factor – I was actually sweating with fear and anticipation towards the end of this movie.
The ending is inventive and there is a very memorable scene where we see the ‘anti-god’ – basically a grotesque hand plunging through a mirror – and a surprise twist too (one of the leads dies in a pretty harrowing scene). The final moments of the movie will stay with you for a long time and will make you think twice before glancing in the mirror again.
The bottom line is that Prince of Darkness (1987) deserves a re-evaluation. I have always been surprised by how harsh the critics have been on this movie, when in many respects, it’s one of Carpenter’s most accomplished – and serious – films. It’s scary, thrilling and thought-provoking. An adult horror movie.
hotdog rating: 8/10