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.