Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Favorite Era: Prince of Darkness (1987)

John Carpenter's 1987 flick Prince of Darkness is my favorite horror film of that year.  A moody, interesting little bit of apocalyptic horror, it takes hard science stuff and blends it with religious horror elements to make a utterly creepy, fascinating horror flick.

An ensemble piece along the lines of The Thing, it concerns a priest played by Donald Pleasence who invites a professor colleague of his and some assorted grad students to investigate a mysterious container that has been stored in an old church in Los Angeles for quite some time.  Turns out said container has an evil force within it that can possess people and turn them into mindless zombies and it is up to everyone to stop it before it gets loose.

We've got a good cast of Carpenter regulars, some nice f/x, an uncommonly smart script and some nice spooky atmosphere as only John Carpenter can do.  Let's take a closer look.
  • As with Phantasm II, I discovered this at about three in the morning on KTLA.  It's part two of what Carpenter considers his "Apocalypse Trilogy".  The other two films are The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness.
  • I like the rather sparse character setups Carpenter goes with, quickly giving ostensible leads Bryan (Jameson Parker) and Catherine (Lisa Blount) a romantic relationship and establishing the friendship between the priest Donald Pleasence plays and Professor Birack (Victor Wong).  We also get the setup to the mystery in the church, all as the opening credits roll.  This is a really well pout together film.
  • Equally good is the overwhelming sense of dread the opening few minutes conjure.  This is more a film about scary ideas than scary imagery and events.  It's a pretty tall order to serve up weighty stuff like metaphysics, the reality of faith and hard science along with a group of zombified homeless people led by Alice Cooper plus all the bugs you could ever ask for.  It's easily Carpenter's most ambitious film if nothing else.
  • Thankfully, Pleasence and Wong deliver the science and philosophical stuff in such a way that you aren't bored or confused.  Actually, this might be my favorite performance from both men.
  • The cool thing about this is film is that unlike most of the other horror films being made and released around the time, the cast is entirely adults.  The closest we get to the usual is the Dennis Dun character and even then he's just scared witless.
  • One little thing I find amusing is how nobody in the film has any problem cursing like a sailor and taking the lord's name in vain in a church right ion front of a priest.  Just something I find funny.
  • The film has a nice, deliberate pace that really helps the story.  If it were a rush job, the inherent complexity of the story would be bowled over, and as it stands you still have to watch it one or three times to really get what the hell is going on.
  • The shared dream aspect is a wonderfully creepy touch and the way the dream itself is realized is very effective.
  • The film really picks up steam about an hour in when one of the researchers who has had a minor injury becomes a vessel for the evil force and undergoes a rather nasty transformation.,  The f/x work is quite good throughout the film.
  • A rather effective bit is Pleasence's character losing faith and trying to get it back.  It's a nice bit of acting from the man, he always delivered the goods no matter what the film was.
  • I also have to say that Dennis Dun and Victor Wong are always fun to watch and here they are just plain enjoyable as hell.  Dun is great as the jerky wiseguy and Wong is simply awesome.
  • I dig the ending sequence where the possessed researcher is trying to pull the evil out through a mirror.  I also love that the first thing the priest does as soon as he sees this is to grab a large axe and go after the evil.
Prince of Darkness is a challenging, fascinating little horror flick that engages the mind first before going for the horror stuff.  It's not 100 % successful (the last act is a bit shaky as the horror tropes kick in) but it's still a really, really good film.

One last note, I strongly recommend snagging the Blu-ray of this movie that was recently released.  It's worth every penny.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.