Oct. 17: Prince of Darkness (1987):
John Carpenter is one the best horror directors of all time, and many of his films, such as Halloween and The Thing, are very well known. But today we'92re looking at one of the most unfairly ignored of Carpenter'92s films, Prince of Darkness, which is as frightening as the best of his other films, and uses some of his familiar themes to delve into some deeply unsettling ideas.
Immediately out of the gate, Carpenter creeps us out, managing to create tension pretty much using only moody direction and ominous music. An elderly priest dies in bed, clutching a box that contains a key that unlocks the basement of a creepy old church. Inside is found a mysterious giant cylinder full of swirling green liquid.
A priest (Donald Pleasance) seeks the help of theoretical physicist Professor Birack (Victor Wong), who enlists a group of his graduate students (led by Jameson Parker and his magnificent moustache) to go to the church and study the cylinder.
Once the group arrives at the church, odd things begin to happen almost immediately. The group discovers that the cylinder can only be locked from the inside, and that whatever is inside it can be charitably called dangerous. We might call it Satan; in the movie it'92s referred to as the '93Antigod.'94
While in the church, all the people have the same incredibly creepy dream, which seems ominously like it was shot on a video camera and begins with the phrase, '93This is not a dream.'94
Soon, homeless people outside start to act even weirder than normal (including a cameo by Alice Cooper as the head hobo: '93I'92ve got a message for you, and you'92re not going to like it'94). They become zombified by the Antigod, and trap the main characters inside the church. Meanwhile, the Satan goo is infecting members of the group, making them turn on the rest.
Prince of Darkness has its share of traditional horror movie elements '97 zombified homeless people, creatures made of maggots '97 but it also flirts with much deeper horrors. The movie does an interesting job of trying to reconcile science and religion in the context of a horror movie, and there are some really fascinating, rather horrifying ideas thrown out regarding the nature of evil and reality and our conceptions of them. The movie doesn'92t stop with the mere idea of a super-powerful evil entity; it questions our most fundamental ideas about the basis of reality.
Despite all these large ideas, the film is rather small in scope, taking place almost entirely inside the church. Carpenter made quite a few films, such as The Thing and The Fog, in which characters are trapped somewhere by an evil trying to get them; the idea even pops up in some of his non-horror movies like Assault on Precinct 13.
This movie includes a lot of Carpenter'92s pet themes, like the presence of a faceless villain, almost the epitome of evil, like Michael Myers in Halloween, the Thing in The Thing or the ghost leper pirates in The Fog, but Carpenter doesn'92t feel like he'92s repeating himself. Instead, he combines some of his favorite ideas into a new terrifying whole.
Prince of Darkness may take its time to build tension before the main plot kicks in, but it has the kind of scares that will really stick with you after the film is over. The movie is a real underrated gem in Carpenter'92s filmography. And if you need any more convincing, just know that writing about Prince of Darkness has made me decide to go watch it again right now.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97 The Church (1989): An Italian horror film directed by Michele Soavi, it'92s an atmospheric chiller that also deals with a group of people trapped in an old church with an angry, murderous evil.
'97 Quatermass and the Pit (1967): A Hammer horror film from Britian in which a Martian spaceship is dug up in the London Underground, and begins to exhibit psychic powers over the people nearby.
'97 Assault on Precinct 13 (1976): It'92s not a horror film, though some horrific stuff happens in this early film from John Carpenter. After the police kill some gang members in a raid, the gang traps a group of people in a police station that'92s about to close down and begins picking them off one by one.