You know I don’t think I truly appreciated until now just how amazing the filmography of John Carpenter really is. Seriously look at this list – Halloween, The Thing, They Live, Escape from New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Christine, In the Mouth of Madness, that’s a great list. Sure you also have ones like Ghosts of Mars and Village of the Damned, but the good far outweighs the bad.
Prince of Darkness was one of the last remaining Carpenter movies I hadn’t yet watched so…I…I watched it. I thought I had more to say there but apparently not. Onwards!
Donald Pleasance plays a priest who discovers a large cylinder full of swirling green liquid that kind of looks like Zordon from the Power Rangers in the basement of an abandoned church. He brings in a team of researchers to look into just what in the hell this could be. Turns out – it’s probably the devil. Well, kind of. It might actually be the devil’s kid and he wants to bring his father through into our world. I think….or maybe the devil’s dad is someone different? I’m not sure but whoever it is, his plan involves turning people into zombies and then getting someone pregnant and then they’ll reach into a mirror and pull out the devil dad and then the apocalypse. Shit’s never straight forward with the Devil.
This movie’s fucking weird man. If that last paragraph didn’t convince you, perhaps the fact that the first death is caused by Alice Cooper as a possessed homeless guy and he stabs a nerdy guy (who is listening to an Alice Cooper song on his headphones for the record) through the stomach with half of a bicycle. Also at another point a dude bursts into bugs. And the zombies have to puke on other peoples’ faces in order to pass along the possession. It’s a pretty shitty situation for all involved really.
The characters are pretty ridiculously one note, and I think that’s because there’s far too many of them. There’s at least a dozen main characters so there isn’t a whole lot of time to flesh anyone out or get too attached to anybody. Nobody really has a distinct personality, though there is one guy that is clearly meant as the comic relief but it’s kind of ridiculous because he continues to crack jokes (not even one-liners, he is literally telling jokes with set-ups and punchlines) even when trapped in awful situations. Oh and he’s not very funny, so that doesn’t help matters either. So yeah, most of the characters exist solely as fodder, which is a bummer because Carpenter movies often have awesomely memorable characters.
Things can also get pretty slow at times. A lot of the time during the first half of the movie is spent with the characters putting in the research time and nobody is exploding into bugs or having demon babies or none of that stuff. Yeah we have the bicycle stab, and the image of a bunch of homeless people staring motionless at them from the street is pretty eerie, but it can still get pretty dull. Once they start to figure out “oooooo fuck you guys, Lucifer” things really pick up and don’t let up until the credits start to roll.
Speaking of, holy shit does this movie ever have itself some opening credits. They are still going almost ten minutes in! Yeah there is actual movie in between the names, but why do they go for so long?! It was even worth IMDB noting, so this must be some sort of record.
Anyway, what makes this movie worth a watch is its overall unsettling atmosphere. Carpenter is terrific at creating a mood. The music, the set, the direction, it all helps to create an air of dread. You’re pretty confident these guys are fucked but it’s all about watching things unfold as they discover more and more and realize just what the stakes really are. It’s the ultimate definition of “wow this would really suck”.
There’s loads of creepy imagery, though for me it’s all about the dream sequence. All of the characters start to have a shared dream, though it’s not actually a dream but instead a broadcast from the future. Its footage someone is shooting of the front of the church as a dark figure slowly emerges from inside. It’s creepy as all hell. It reminds me a lot of the part in Signs where the alien shows up in the footage of the birthday party. Every time someone has the dream, the figure emerges a little further and it really gave me the jibblies.
Prince of Darkness is somewhere around the middle in terms of ranking the Carpenter films. It can’t come anywhere close to matching his masterpieces, but it’s certainly leaps and bounds better than some of his stuff. It’s definitely worth at least one watch, though I know I won’t be revisiting it nearly as often as I do some of his other work.