Sometimes we get so caught up in what’s coming out next at the cinema that we forget to look back at what we might have missed. We got thinking about this, and our reviewers decided to examine some cinema from the year that they were born.
If you ask people to name some of their favourite John Carpenter films they’ll usually give you some of the bigger names, like Halloween, The Thing, or Escape From New York. These are all great films, and ones that I love, but one that it seems that people often forget about is not only one of my favourites, but also from the year I was born: 1987’s Prince of Darkness.
Prince of Darkness follows an unnamed priest played by Donald Pleasance, who requests that quantum physicist Professor Birack (Victor Wong) and his students join him to investigate at a church in downtown Los Angeles. The church was home to the mysterious sect known as ‘The Brotherhood of Sleep’, which is all but gone. The priest needs assistance in investigating a mysterious cylinder in the church basement, filled with swirling green liquid, and a strange, ancient text.
The team of young scientists begin their investigation, discovering that the text claims the liquid is the corporeal embodiment of Satan. The liquid seems to defy all scientific logic, and the scientists begin to believe it may have otherworldly origins.
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I’ve got to be honest, the combination of logic and the supernatural, of science and religion presented in Prince of Darkness is one of the things that I love most about this film. It takes the standard horror trope of otherworldly forces and tries to give it a grounding in our understanding of the modern world, presenting it as perhaps a science that we just don’t understand yet. The idea that Satan might be the son of an Anti-God, a being who presides in the anti-matter universe, is so crazy it’s actually kind of brilliant and something that could only come from a mind as creative and skilled as John Carpenter.
Despite some kind of new ideas about the science of the devil the film is very traditional horror fare, with a group of people trapped in a location they don’t want to be in as they’re slowly picked off one at a time. In this case it’s because the church gets surrounded by a group of homeless people under the influence of the supernatural forces, who will kill anyone trying to leave the building. The fact that these homeless killers are led by Alice Cooper makes these scenes kind of brilliant too, especially when Cooper breaks out his famous impaling bike trick from his live shows and uses it on one of the poor scientists.
Much of the action in Prince of Darkness is like this, sudden and violent, with some very gruesome and disturbing moments. Whilst the film doesn’t splash gore around it does show enough to leave you feeling very uncomfortable during these moments, and it’s more the abject fear that the characters go through that makes these deaths intense over blood and guts.
Thankfully, Carpenter seems to bring back a lot of the stuff that made Halloween such a good horror for this film, and relies on the slow build of tension during the early stages of the movie to keep viewers on edge. You spend time getting to know the characters, and begin to care about them to the point where some deaths will leave you crying out in disappointment as they’re people you wanted to see survive.
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As with many of his films, Carpenter also provides the music for the film, and it immediately adds to the atmosphere. He knows how to produce tension through slow camera shots and creepy music in scenes that would otherwise be fairly stale and boring with other directors. There’s practically no scene in the film that doesn’t feel slightly wrong or creepy, even those before anything really happens, because of how Carpenter directs the camera and deploys the soundtrack in the right way.
Prince of Darkness might be one of the John Carpenter films that gets overshadowed by the director’s bigger hits, but is a film that should certainly not be forgotten about. Whether you’ve never seen it before, or just not seen it in a while, it’s definitely worth checking out for its amazing cast, bold ideas, and the ability to send chills down the spine every time.