Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
To describe John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness as merely a fine piece of horror cinema is to give this film a huge disservice. Prince of Darkness is more than horror, it's actually a very interesting piece of science fiction, that dabbles in occultism and the age-old mysticism that have always surrounded organized religion. Although the film contains zombies, demons, roaches, worms, beheading, blood, and a lot of screaming, the main thrust, the oomph that makes Prince of Darkness special is the way Carpenter attacked the tired and almost cliche theme of the devil boss himself taking over the Earth.
Instead of doing the film in the conventional horror way: witches, Satanists or other demoniacs who urge for their master to make his apocalyptic entrance in our world, Carpenter cooks up this whole theory wherein Satan is actually a creature from another dimension, or planet, and the Catholic Church has kept hidden inside a glass structure (which looks like a cheaply made bright green lava lamp) the Prince of Darkness, which awakens just in that moment where a supernova just exploded and some light particles, or quarks, or whatever, lands in Earth to urge the ooze to turn into an actual living creature, which infects everything it touches like a mind-controlling parasite. Carpenter's theory is complex, he uses scientific banter to raise the film's standing much higher. There's talk of telepathy, visual signals from the future, quantum physics, Catholic history that Carpenter struggles to jive and mix into a coherent whole. Surprisingly, it works and despite the kookiness of it all, is actually very entertaining.
Carpenter starts it off wonderfully. A priest mysteriously dies leaving a key to a darkened chamber in a closed-down church. A man, Brian (Jameson Parker) stalks a beautiful girl Catherine (Lisa Blount)who turns out to be his classmate in a philosophy-physics class under Professor Birack (Victor Wong). The key left behind by the dead priest is used by another priest (Donald Pleasance), who troubled by what he discovered, contacts Professor Birack, who in return, instructs his students who are experts in physics and other scientists to spend a weekend in the abandoned church to measure the happenings in scientific terms, and find out what can be done.
The premise is fantastic and Carpenter's filmmaking is quite admirable. His script (using pseudonym Martin Quatermass) maybe heavy handed but Carpenter's filmmaking makes up for such, using deadpan humor, or expert scare and shock tactics to allow the viewer to swallow the implausibility of everything. It's fine horror, with tinges of Romero zombie-fest (with the homeless schizophrenics surrounding the church in hordes), Italian schlock (there's an abundance of worms, and other creepy crawlers), and American exorcism scares (the near-latter part reminded me a bit of William Friedkin's The Exorcist). The sci-fi angle is more for thrills and chills rather than serious thinking, but Carpenter's insistence on the far-fetched theory may give the film some sudden pauses to its near-perfect pacing, but everything is forgiven when Carpenter turns the last twenty minutes into a hair-raising, mind boggling, exhilarating ride to a conclusion that will leave you scratching your head by how Carpenter came up with an unexpected stroke of genius.
This post is my contribution to Lazy Eye Theater: John Carpenter Blog-A-Thon.