Movie Review: Prince of Darkness

Director John Carpenter
Starring Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Annie Marie Howard, Ann Yen, Ken Wright, Peter Jason, Alice Cooper, Thom Bray, Robert Grasmere, Ken Wright

This is another one of those examples where you have an opinion of a film from the first time you view it, but then at some point in your life, you revisit it to find yourself seeing something more than that first time. I was there opening weekend for this new Carpenter flick and don’t remember if I actually knew anything about the story before hand, but would never miss out on seeing his latest. My first thoughts were that even though I loved the music, I didn’t feel the same way about the film. I felt it was too slow and honestly the idea of a liquid evil or monster was just damn silly. I was also a little confused at who they were trying to bring from the other side, Satan or Satan’s father? Just a little too disjointed for me. At least, at that time. While my love of the score Carpenter did never wavered, eventually scoring a copy from a Japanese CD release (at a pretty penny), I never thought to go back to the film. I mean, if you don’t like something, why go back? But when one of Shout Factory’s Blu-rays came out, I picked it up during a sale and I figured I better give it another shot, trying to be a little more open-minded this time.

As a student of the genre, a true cinephile, or whatever we wish to call ourselves, the difference in us viewing a movie the first time in your 20s and then in your 50s is quite different. You’ve probably learned a lot more about cinema in general, different themes, angles, to even catching and understanding the possible winks to the audiences, that you entirely missed the first time. That is 100% accurate with me and this title. I sat down with a sparkling new Blu-ray, cranked the volume, turned the lights off, and began to immerse myself into this journey into dread and darkness.

In between my two viewings, I had been introduced to the Quatermass films from Hammer Studios (and the original BBC broadcast versions), as well as Nigel Kneale, who birthed all of the stories, as well as other ones he did, such as The Stone Tapes (1972). Had I experienced all of that before first seeing Prince of Darkness, I would have seen the homage to Kneale and the kind of film that Carpenter was trying to make. Watching it now, knowing all of that, I started to understand it more. A lot more.

First there is the simple connection of names, from Carpenter using the pseudonym of Martin Quatermass as screenwriter, to some of the character names taken directly from the Quatermass series, such as Lomax and Marsh, while the name Susan Cabot came from the actress from the ’50, starring in such films as The Wasp Woman (1959). But there is much more than just names, such as the style and the kind of ideas that Kneale would present in his stories, using scientific theories, mathematics, and such. Here, we have a bunch of students that are brought in by their professor to figure out just what exactly this green liquid is that is floating around in this jar in the basement of an old church. It apparently has been there a very long time, kept hidden from the world by a secret sect of the church called The Brotherhood of Sleep. The more they dig into this ancient puzzle, the more they realize it is something much bigger and older than they thought. This transcends beyond God and the Devil, to the very basis of good and evil and their possible origins, which very well could be from outside of our planet. While they don’t lay everything out for the viewer (which I think very smart), they give you enough to start to wonder or at least ponder different possibilities.

Yes, there are still a few things I had issues with but they’ve become minor to the events that were happening. The connection this evil was making with the “lower” life forms around, from insects to the homeless wandering about near the church, to the incredible eerie shared “dreams” the students were having was a brilliant touch and very effective. From the very opening of the film, with this ominous music, it starts building that sense of dread, and doesn’t build up. There never seems to be a point where the good guys just might figure all of this out and come up with a winning plan.

Donald Pleasence returns to work with Carpenter, the first time since Escape from New York and Halloween II in 1981. He plays the priest that has recently become made aware of this liquid and would like answers to what it is, calling in this professor for help. The more digging they do, the more it has him questioning his own faith. Victor Wong, who played the humorous hero Egg Shen in Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986), takes a very serious turn in his performance here, trying to explain to everyone the dangers they are facing. Dennis Dun, also from Big Trouble, plays one of the students, along with Jameson Parker, Susan Blanchard, Anne Marie Howard, Dirk Blocker, Lisa Blount, who had more than a few genre credits, such as Dead & Buried (1981) and Cut and Run (1985). Of course, we also have to mention the appearance of Alice Cooper as one of the homeless people that seem to be taken over by this evil force. While they all have varying degrees of character development here, the real focus for me is on the puzzle they are trying to solve.

I will agree that it is not Carpenter’s strongest film and there still are a few issues here, such as some of the characters I don’t think have too much depth or background before going under the influence of the strange power there. But even with that, in viewing it this time, I found the story itself to be incredibly compelling that any character flaw went by the wayside, or didn’t really bother me as much. Instead, I found myself being sucked into this void of never ending dread that starts from frame one. Of course, the music helps with this feeling right from that first note. With the “dreams” coming through to explain or confuse us more, I think that is the part I like the most because it’s not laid out nice and neat. We know that Carpenter was known for open ended films or where the good guys don’t necessarily come out on top, and I think as we’re watching this story unfold, you just don’t know where it is going to go this time out. And while some might not care for the ending, as I did back in 1987, I thought it worked really well during this viewing.

So to prove at least one thing with this review is, as the saying goes, never say never, meaning never think that your opinion on a film won’t change over the years. It has happened to me more than a few times, swinging both from negative to positive as well as the opposite too. It is all about what we’re bringing to the viewing at that particular time. So keep your eyes and brain open! And John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is one of the best examples of this in my experience.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Prince of Darkness

  1. I also saw this at the Theater. I like the creepiness of it but was also confused by the story and didn’t feel like it was the kind of movie I’d watch again. About a year ago I re-watched it and like you, had a totally new insight into and liked it much better. Its funny that we had the same experience. I guess its just one of those movies that gets better on second viewing or requires a more “mature” viewer.

    Liked by 2 people

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