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.

John Carpenter

John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors. I’ve been a horror junkie since I was a little kid watching the Universal classics on the Saturday TV matinee. My mother’s boyfriend took my sister, mom and I to see Halloween during its initial run and it was the first movie that ever scared the crap out of me. My friends Chuck, Mike, Calvin and I enjoyed Escape from New York and the Fog growing up

For my 18th birthday Mike and I went to see what I feel is Carpenter’s masterpiece, The Thing and it was the third film to ever really scare me (Alien was the 2nd). The effects were outlandish and completely over the top but what has really stuck with me through years of repeat viewings is how marvelous a portrait of paranoia this is. Other well-done paranoid films deal with the hero/heroine not being able to trust people/organizations/government. Carpenter took that a step further – while Kurt Russell is nominally the hero, the entire ensemble cast can’t trust each other and the film’s ending reflects that mindset.

I’ve really enjoyed John Carpenter’s films. He made some more really good films (Big Trouble in Little China, In the Mouth of Madness, Vampires) and even his not-as-good films are fascinating (Village of the Damned, Ghosts of Mars). 3 of John Carpenter’s films are available on instant Netflix as well as 2 episodes of Showtime’s Masters of Horror that he directed.

Assault on Precinct 13

1. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) – “This taut action flick from writer-director John Carpenter pits an understaffed police station against a bloodthirsty gang’s angry horde gathering outside the precinct’s walls… Assault on Precinct 13, co-starring Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston, is among his best”

This early effort is very tense and co-stars two of Carpenter’s regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Kyes. It is essentially an urban update of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. Carpenter would of course go on to remake Hawks’ The Thing from Another World. Look for the early scene in which John Carpenter breaks one of the Hollywood cardinal taboos.

Starman

2. Starman (1984) – “In this sci-fi love story from John Carpenter, Jeff Bridges — who received an Oscar nod for his work — plays Starman, an alien who crashes on Earth and takes the form of a recently deceased man in order to evade authorities. On seeing the image of her dead husband before her, widow Jenny (Karen Allen) is frightened. But eventually, Starman wins her trust — and her affection — and she agrees to help him return to his home planet”

A rare light-hearted film from Carpenter, this story really works because of Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. A sweet romance with a science fiction background and a dollop of humor, this is a good date movie.

Prince of Darkness

3. Prince of Darkness (1987) – “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.”

One of my favorite horror movies (I’m a sucker for apocalyptic movies), this one does suffer from the somewhat wooden performance of the two young lead actors but is redeemed by  wonderful performances from Donald Pleasence (Halloween) and Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China). Though the movie is serious horror, many of the names are in-jokes such as written by Martin Quatermass (actually written by Carpenter).

Cigarette Burns

4. Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns (2006) – “Hired by a millionaire collector (Udo Kier) to retrieve the infamous Le Fin du Monde — a violent movie that reportedly causes viewers to turn into homicidal maniacs after they watch it — an unsuspecting theater owner (Norman Reedus) begins to fall under the film’s spell. John Carpenter directs this unsettling installment of the “Masters of Horror” series, following one man’s search for the holy grail of horror cinema.”

This is definitely one of the best Masters of Horror shows.  Sadly that isn’t saying much – many of the episodes feel like they paid the directors to put their name on the show. Cigarette Burns is disturbingly creepy and darkly funny.

Pro-Life

5. Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (2007) – “When a scared 15-year-old girl (Caitlin Wachs) goes to an isolated clinic to end her pregnancy, her anti-abortion activist father (Ron Perlman) and brothers arrive, heavily armed and determined to force their way in and stop the procedure. But there’ll be hell to pay when the baby’s unearthly father gets involved. Emmanuelle Vaugier and Mark Feuerstein co-star in this episode of the spine-chilling Showtime series, directed by John Carpenter.”

Wow talk about your wasted potential. Take one of my favorite directors, add an underrated genre actor (Ron Perlman) and top with an interesting premise – this should have been knocked out of the park. Unfortunately it feels like John Carpenter was just in it for the paycheck. It is watchable but nothing special.