Prince Of Darkness (1987)
Cast: Donald Pleasance, Victor Wong
After a series of less-successful major motion pictures, some of which were said to have been strangled by studio interference, "Prince Of Darkness" marked John Carpenters return to lower-budget horror movies. Carpenter is a director with a cult following he is well known for his tasteful visuals and some of the best horror films the industry has ever produced, including classics like "Halloween", "The Fog", "The Thing", and "Christine". Unlike a number of his directing colleagues, Carpenter has always resisted the urge to produce overly graphic or gory movies, instead opting to use his unique visual and directorial style to create gripping and chilling movies.
"Prince Of Darkness" is no exception. The film starts with the death of an old monk, the last survivor of the "Brotherhood Of Sleepers". With his death, he leaves behind a key and a diary. A priest (Donald Pleasance) is intrigued by the items, and in studying them, discovers the truth about the Brotherhood. For 2000 years they have been guarding the Sleeper in an ancient crypt deep beneath the church. It is said to be the Ultimate Evil, the thing against which Christ warned mankind and it has been sealed inside a giant glassine cylinder, manifesting as a green, twirling, ethereal matter.
The priest turns to Professor Birack (Victor Wong), a renowned physicist, for help, who in turn recruits some of his students for a weekend field trip to the ancient crypt to study the subject. They are joined by other professors as well, all of whom are taken with the mystery of the sealed cylinder. Within hours they detect physical and metaphysical anomalies, clearly indicated and recorded by their instruments, and when they begin to interpret the data, it becomes clear that the Sleeper is awakening. While the scientists argue about whether they’re going to believe in what they see, the Sleeper manages to break the seal of the tube from the inside, and infects members of the team with a spray of its fluid. This fluid turns them into walking undead under the mental command of the Sleeper.
Outside the church, strange changes unfold. Ants, worms, and other insects manifest in great numbers, and homeless people begin to gather around the church as in a trance. The church becomes a trap with zombies on the inside and human monsters on the outside and any who attempts to break free are hunted down and killed. When the remaining scientists are cornered, the attacks suddenly cease… and make way for something even worse. One of the victims is changing, and as age-old scrolls predicted, turns into the final medium that is needed to set the Prince Of Darkness free at last.
The movie efficiently demonstrates the clash between pure, hard-fact science and the spirituality of religion. Unfortunately, after a grand start, the film loses focus in the middle, and deteriorates, for a time, into a "Night Of The Living Dead" scenario. Carpenter yanks it back on track for the movie’s intelligent, surprising, and unpredictable finale. He makes good use of his signature "something-is-moving-behind-you" shots, building suspense to a fever pitch. Another of his techniques is his changing field of depth shot, which creates the illusion of subtle movement in an otherwise static camera setup. Unfortunately, this technique is slightly overused in this film, and oftentimes it distracts from the actual shot.
The movie is surprisingly tight and believable. Continuity and logical errors are held at bay, which is astounding for a horror movie made on this budget. John Carpenter, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay under his pseudonym, "Martin Quatermass," has gone to quite some lengths to make sure the story wraps up nicely yet leaves you pondering what really happened.
He has employed some interesting plot devices, such as surreal dream broadcasts from the future, giving the movie the right mix of fantastic realism and unlike many of the movies of the modern day, has created characters with motivations that easily propel them through the entire story. On a personal note, I found it a very nice touch to find Alice Cooper starring as one of the leading zombies in the movie a role, I am sure, he enjoyed greatly. His performance, perhaps surprisingly, is excellent, and adds so much to the film’s overall sinister appeal. I also always enjoy the way Carpenter uses Victor Wong in a number of his movies to carry sympathy in Wong’s unique, almost self-mocking way.
"Prince Of Darkness" has received a brand-new <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer and is presented in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The image is sharp with lots of details even in the murky areas of the crypt and the dimly lit interior shots. The movie exhibits some film grain, which is visible in the DVD transfer but it seems toned down by the clean transfer and the top notch compression job of this disc. There are no artifacts in the picture and the overall image quality is very clear without <$chroma,chroma noise>. Colors are rich, even though some interior shots exhibit a very slight red oversaturation that is barely noticeable. John Carpenter is an auteur who studied making movies from scratch, and he enjoys being involved in all aspects of their production, from directing, writing, acting, all the way to composing. Not surprisingly, "Prince Of Darkness" once again features one of his very own musical scores, written in cooperation with Alan Howarth. Just as in earlier scores, he makes highly efficient use of themes that, despite their simplicity, never get boring but rather stress the film’s progression and actively help build suspense. His chilling theme from "Halloween" is a perfect example of this technique. He once again puts it to excellent use in "Prince Of Darkness". The disc restores the movie’s original theatrical cut – there has been a completely re-edited version for TV audiences – and contains a rich and clean 2.0 channel <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack, but unfortunately no subtitles or foreign language tracks.
"Prince Of Darkness" is a signature John Carpenter film, one that will fill every fan of the director with joy, especially because Image Entertainment’s splendid DVD treatment brings out the best of the movie. This film is miles above most other genre entries of the 80s and 90s, a time when horror was often degraded to mindless special effects orgies without story, continuity, or sense. If you like John Carpenter’s work, I am sure you have seen this movie before… but still, I have to recommend this DVD. For those who haven’t seen it… still, I have to recommend this DVD. It is a great, intelligent horror flick with just the right amount of gore, one that moves beyond simple scares and into the realm of the mental.