Dir.: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong, Jameson Parker, Peter Jason, Lisa Blount and Alice Cooper
After the tragic misfire of his big studio effort Big Trouble In Little China, John Carpenter retreated to the indie circles to lick his wounds and to heal himself creatively by making the lower-budget yet pleasantly intelligent Prince of Darkness, a movie which melds the elephantine theory of quantum physics (which I know next to little diddly-bot-squat about) with the spiritually sacred to make a heck of an exercise of suspense and eldritch horror that comes from the right hand of H.P. Lovecraft.
While not the director’s finest film, the most intriguing and compelling aspect of the movie is certainly the grounded approach to investigating the genesis of a mysterious canister of green goo which may not be of this world through the world of science and the approachable avenues of religion. Rather than have both human ideologies fighting for dominance, those on both sides come together in order to figure out the riddle of this substance and in the process try to save the world from an unfathomable fate.
The only big name actor in the film is certainly Donald Pleasence, along with the unmistakable Alice Cooper as a violent vagrant, but I find the lack of big-name celebrities foster a sense of realism in what becomes an increasingly abnormal situation. Jameson Parker (NOT ‘Price’) is very subdued in his role as physics grad student Brian, certainly not on the same level as say Snake Plissken or R.M. MacReady but when the time comes for him to step up to the plate, he does so a sense of quiet humanity and duty. Lisa Blount who plays Brians’ love interest Catherine is an incredibly pro-active character who obviously does show uncertainty towards the events unfolding, but she sticks to her guns and doesn’t allow herself to become a damsel in distress. Across the board we have a solid selection of thespians who manage to make an impression, which is what a film such as this needs when it comes to dealing with something quite out of this world.
While there are moments of striking violence and physical horror, the most potent aspect of the films’ chills come from the encroaching sense of dread that never lags in its pacing, be it from the ambient music, the visual style, the use of shadows and shapes as well as shot composition. As somebody who doesn’t know the grammar of cinema, there is the distinct sense that the unknown green fluid inside of that vial is a sentient character as is the very sky that darkens over the spires of the old church as the film progresses. The way the homeless army are filmed give the impression that they are sentinels made of organic stone that will only act on the behest of the entity which controls them.
All in all, while Prince of Darkness is not the pinnacle in Carpenter’s pantheon of films, it is perhaps the one that has made many people a fan of the director either casually or otherwise. The trademarks are there, the story is strong, the characters maintain interest and the concept is by all accounts unique. While not the masterpiece that The Thing or Halloween were (I mean come on, lets face it, which one of the mans’ films came close to either?) it is recommended to those who are seeking out a genuinely thrilling film that doesn’t skimp on the overt and the subtle or the profane and the sacred.
Dat Scary Synthesizer