The Film (4.5/5)
Prince of Darkness is the second film in what Carpenter himself refers to as his apocalypse trilogy. It is book ended by his cult masterpieces The Thing, and what could be referred to as his final truly great film, In the Mouth of Madness. Prince of Darkness is one of the lesser known films in Carpenter's filmography, although it came during the period where we was still capable of making top notch genre cinema. The film upon release had mixed reviews from both fans, and critics alike and came in the shadow of the failure of his brilliant genre mash-up, the Kurt Russell starring, Big Trouble in Little China.
After Big Trouble in Little China in an attempt to regain some of his creative freedom, and remain closer to his newborn son he inked a deal with an independent film company to create a series of 3 films. He would never complete the deal, but would create 2 of the most unique films of his career during this period the political-actioner They Live starring Roddy Piper, and this film Prince of Darkness.
It's pretty cliché to say this about Carpenter's films at this point, but his best films tend to be westerns in disguise and while many might look at the people trapped in a building against a supernatural force template and think Night of the Living Dead. I would take this to being something akin to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo with the Church as the stand-in for the local jail. This works in much a similar way as it did in Carpenter's earlier film Assault on Precinct 13.
The film follows a group of students lead by Professor Birack (Big Trouble in Little China's Victor Wong) as they take over an abandoned Los Angeles Church having been tasked by Father Loomis (Escape from New York/Halloween's Donald Pleasance) to investigate a mysterious cylinder in the basement of the church which is filled with a swirling green liquid. The group set out upon their task, and discover that the liquid is actual a physical manifestation of the Anti-Christ. During the two days the group are in the church members of the group find themselves possessed by the fluid, and begin to attack and possess other members of the group. All the while their escape is hindered by an ever increasing group of homeless people (lead by ALICE COOPER!) who are blocking off every exit to the church making departure without death impossible.
I didn't get to see Prince of Darkness until many years after it's release, by then it had a reputation as a lesser Carpenter film, and apparently had not yet been reevaluated. I remember renting it in an attempt to see every Carpenter film out at the time (This was around the time of Village of the Damned), and had my mind blown by the film’s paranoid and dark atmosphere, almost like a Lovecraft story with a liquid Satan. The film had a similar claustrophobic atmosphere to Carpenter's earlier film the Thing. This atmosphere is compounded with moments like the scene where Walter (Dennis Dun) gets trapped in a closet while some of Liquid Satan's possessed minions try to get at it him while some of our surviving heroes try to break him free from the other side.
Carpenter chooses a slower, more meticulous pacing which allows the films various nuances to be revealed and like The Thing allows the apocalyptic atmosphere that Carpenter was aiming for to come through more in a much greater fashion than in a much faster paced film. A special mention should be made to the FX in the film provided by Kevin Quibbell which are quite good and provide the requisite amount of violence needed in the piece.
The only minor issue I can take with the film is that some of the dialogue is slightly convoluted. This is mostly in the way the science students and Professor speak in a sort of pseudo-science mumbo jumbo. However, seeing as many great science fiction films and TV programs throughout the decades have fallen victim to using similar dialogue to explain away difficult plot points it's hard to slight Carpenter for using such a technique this late in the game (1987) with Prince of Darkness.
Prince of Darkness has been reappraised over the years with many now viewing it as another classic, or at the very least a near classic in Carpenter's filmography. A place it has certainly earned.
Scream! Factory brings John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness to High Definition life in what could only be described as a truly great 2:35:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The transfer is excellent for the most part with a solid grain structure, excellent fine detail, and colors which absolutely POP (seriously see the greens in the cylinder they look absolutely brilliant). There are some minor soft spots throughout, but that is sort of expected with a film of this caliber, and there isn't any serious issues with any damage to the print.
Scream presents Prince of Darkness with both DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. Both tracks are fantastic for the most part. The dialogue comes through completely audibly. Alan Howarth's score might just be the highlight of the track, and it positively pounds coming through clearly. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
The DVD for Prince of Darkness, if I recall was completely barebones. Scream Factory could have added ANYTHING interesting, and I would have been happy. They decided to go all out on this one, and created an astoundingly deep package in the process. The disc kicks off with a commentary track with John Carpenter and Peter Jason, the track is a very interesting listen. We then get a 10 minute video interview with Carpenter called Sympathy for the Devil. This is followed up by a near 10 minute interview with Alice Cooper who discusses his small role in the film (Seriously, I was so excited to see Alice interviewed here, I would have just picked up the set if they just included this). We then have an interesting discussion that runs about 12 minutes long with the effects supervisor (and actor) Robert Grasmere, and a 10 minute interview with the films composer Alan Howarth. Scream! has included another iteration of their Horror's Hallowed Ground series checking out the film's locations now, there is also a 12 minute Q & A from the 2012 Screamfest in honor of the films 25th anniversary. This is an Easter Egg, and an interesting one at that. The disc is rounded off by an alternative opening, still gallery, trailers, and radio spots.
Prince of Darkness is a completely underrated entry in John Carpenter's filmography. It has a fantastic atmosphere, and is grounded by a pair of excellent performances courtesy of Victor Wong and Donald Pleasance, not to mention a unique look, and premise. The A/V restoration is fantastic, and this one is so loaded with extras it is not hard to declare this one HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.