Prince of Darkness

Prince of Darkness is currently available on instant Netflix.

Prince of Darkness (1987) – Rated R

“A cylinder of mysterious, green liquid is found in an abandoned church. It may contain the ultimate evil: an ancient iniquity that longs to escape. Several physicists try to comprehend what’s happening and race to save the world, even as they’re being turned into zombies one by one. Director John Carpenter fills Prince of Darkness with his trademark mix of horror and humor.”

“I’ve got a message for you, and you’re not going to like it. “

John Carpenter loves to destroy the world. Prince of Darkness is the second film in his loose apocalypse trilogy, following The Thing (1982) and before his ode to Lovecraft, In the Mouth of Madness (1994).

In a reversal of The Fog, the first half of Prince of Darkness is riveting as the mystery slowly unravels. The religious scenes without dialogue that take place during the credits are particularly well done. The book, the key, and the container of liquid are very creepy. The second half is enjoyable but fails to live up to the potential provided by the first half.

One of the things I love about Carpenter is his constant, excellent use of the 2.35:1 widescreen format and his great eye for the blocking of scenes. His electronic score adds to the suspense. Unfortunately Carpenter is not an actor’s director. He has an eye for choosing talent but not always getting the proper performance.

Jameson Parker (Simon of Simon & Simon, or was that Simon?) is woefully wooden here as our lead, Brian Marsh. Equally wooden and lacking any chemistry with Parker is Lisa Blount as female lead Catherine Danforth. It doesn’t help that some of their dialogue is pretty clunky. Dennis Dun provides some comic relief as Walter, though some others have found him irksome.

Thankfully Donald Pleasance does a wonderful turn as Father Loomis, a play on his character of Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween. Pleasance was an amazing character actor that seldom got to lead, presumably because of his balding, portly physique. Returning for Carpenter from playing Egg Shen in Big Trouble in Little China, Victor Wong has a blast here as our Quatermass-like scientist, Professor Howard Birack. Also fun here is Peter Jason as Dr. Leahy. Jason would go on to appear in Carpenter’s They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, Escape from L.A. and Village of the Damned.

A side note: I understand this is grad school but Jameson Parker is 40, Lisa Blount is 30, Dennis Dun (Walter) is 35, Jessie Ferguson (Calder) is 46 and Dirk Blocker (Mullins) is 30. Yes, grad students are older but not by that much. Were there no bright young students in the class?

Prince of Darkness is a favorite horror of mine but it is definitely a flawed masterpiece. Watch it for the plot, theme, atmosphere, Victor Wong, Alice Cooper, and Donald Pleasance. Just try and overlook some of the poor dialogue and acting.

People Watch: Joanna Merlin, who plays the bag lady, would go on to be a regular on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Judge Lena Petrovsky. Alice Cooper not only plays ‘Street Schizo’ but also contributes the title song Prince of Darkness to the soundtrack.

The Night of the Generals – Nazis Gone Wild! week

This is Nazis Gone Wild week! The Night of the Generals is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Night of the Generals (1967) – Rated PG.

“It is 1942 in Warsaw, and tenacious Wehrmacht Intelligence Maj. Grau (Omar Sharif) is led to Paris as he attempts to pinpoint who of three generals is responsible for killing and then slicing up a hooker. Among the suspects is Nazi Gen. Tanz (Peter OToole), a known sadist. Anatole Litvak directs this grand-scale World War II film based on the Hans Helmut Kirs novel. Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray co-star.”

“The Fuhrer has ordered General Tanz to solve the problem of Warsaw.” – “How?” – “Meticulously.”

Major Grau stops the Doctor in his detailed description of the crime – “Thank you Doctor – there is no need to be vivid.”

Ha ha – right away you can tell this is a late 60s film. The first scene involves the discovery of the butchered prostitute.

Earlier than the 60s and you could not have this subject matter. If it were a 70s film, they would have shown you the body. If it were the 80s then the corpse would be nude. If it were 90s or later then they would have shown you the actual murder in excruciating detail.

Still this was a difficult movie to film as the production code was still in effect. The MPAA would replace the production code in 1968 with our now familiar ratings system. This film had to hide a lot of the sexually related material. You can even catch a shocking if brief conversation referring to homosexuality – something unheard of with the code in effect.

Direction is a little off. Up until the third act, the few scenes set in the 60s seem disjointed and most do not segue well back into the story. On the other hand some of the segues, particularly one that removes modern tourists and replaces them with German soldiers, are very nicely handled.

The film seems quite bloated at 2 hours and 23 minutes as, even though this is a murder mystery, they wanted to include a lot of the detail on the razing of the Warsaw Ghetto (a little misplaced time-wise) and Operation Valkyrie.

Omar Sharif is the investigator Major Grau. He positively beams with joy upon finding out that the murderer is most likely a General. His makeup is quite interesting as it is used to allow him to pass for German. Unfortunately his performance really consists of that one note of impishness.

Peter OToole is his usual flamboyant but eminently watchable self. He could make reading from the phone book fascinating. He is wonderful at playing damaged psyches. His General Tanz here is quite fascinating and is based somewhat on Joachim Peiper.

Peiper was a wunderkind but is perhaps best known for performing the massacre at Malmedy during The Battle of The Bulge. Peiper survived the war but served time for war crimes. Much like Roschmann from The Odessa File, Peiper was alive while this was filmed but was assassinated in 1967.

There are a lot of funny parts in casting. Donald Pleasence, Nigel Stock and Gordon Jackson play General Kahlenberge, Otto and Captain Engel respectively. Here they all play German soldiers and earlier in The Great Escape, they were all trying to escape from German soldiers.

Charles Gray and Donald Pleasence both do a great job of playing Generals here. Later they would both oppose James Bond as Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Gray in You Only Live Twice and Pleasence in Diamonds are Forever). Joanna Pettet plays Ulrike here and Mata Bond in Casino Royale (1967).

I recommend this film but with some reservations. The film runs a little too long. Shaving a half hour off the run time would have improved the pace quite a bit. Overall the film is worth watching for the performances of the three Generals (OToole, Pleasence, and Gray) and for watching what one of the last production code films could get away with.

Just as a side note this film was a little glitchy on my Roku box. I had to watch part of it on my computer.

People Watch: There is a cavalcade of British character actors in the background here. Look for Patrick (Night Creatures, The Devil Rides Out) Allen and Harry (Theater of Blood, The Medusa Touch) Andrews in small parts.