John Carpenter is getting a lot of love lately with new releases of his most iconic movies on Blu-Ray, ranging from "Halloween," "They Live" and "The Fog" all the way to this latest outing, "Prince of Darkness," brought to us by none other than Shout! Factory. Since most of Carpenter's movies had seen rather lackluster releases in the past, I was eager to check out this new Collector's Edition.
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 Carpenter's return to lower-budget horror movies. Carpenter is a director with a cult following - he widely recognized for his atmospheric visuals and the fact that he has created some of the best horror films of an era, 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 scientists from other fields 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 are 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.
But also 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 the 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 somewhat, and deteriorates, for a time, into a "Night Of The Living Dead" scenario. Carpenter yanks it back on track for the movies 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 signature techniques is his changing field of depth shot, which creates the illusion of subtle movement in an otherwise static camera setup.
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 movies 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 most of the current horror fare, has created characters with motivations that easily propel them through the entire story. On a personal note, I always find Alice Cooper's appearance as a street person superbly cool and appropriate. His performance is excellent and adds so much to the films 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.
To say it has been time for "Prince Of Darkness" to finally receive a proper treatment is a gross understatement. Fortunately for all fans of the film, Shout! has taken good care of the movie. With a 1080p high definition transfer that is incredibly clean and detailed, "Prince of Darkness" has simply never looked better. Not only does the transfer boast wonderfully strong colors that bring to life the atmospheric production design, but the transfer's solid black levels give the image exactly the kind of visual depth it always needed. Like "The Fog," John Carpenter often uses shadows in his visual vocabulary the same way other directors use light, to accentuate and to create mood, and this magnificently bold transfer makes the most of it.
Sharp throughout, there are only a few instances where film grain is evident and for the most part, "Prince of Darkness" looks like a major movie production all the way. It is amazing how Shout! Factory manages to simply wipe away the technical limitations that have plagued this film in the past, simply by providing a clean and properly restored transfer.
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 ostinato themes that, despite their simplicity, never get boring but rather stress the films 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".
I should also point out, I think, that this release restores the movie's original theatrical cut - there has been a completely re-edited version for TV audiences - and contains a remastered DTS 5.1 Master Audio track for the best experience.
The movie is accompanied by a commentary track by John Carpenter
As a cool extra you will find a brand new interview featurette with John Carpenter on the release. It is nicely done and gives the director the opportunity to reflect on the movie within the context of his entire career. Definitely check it out.
Also interesting is a similar interview featurette with Alice Cooper. The rock legend talks about his involvement in the movie and the fascination it held for him. Interestingly, this movie appearance coincided with the horror rock icon's own comeback into the limelight during the eighties, launching him into the second part of his remarkable career. Cooper is jovial as ever and shares a lot of little insights about his own personal feelings on horror, the genre's films and John Carpenter's work in particular.
"Prince Of Darkness" is a signature John Carpenter film, one that will fill every fan of the director with joy, especially because Shout! Factory's absolutely remarkable treatment on this Blu-Ray Disc 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 you will definitely want to re-experience this cool flick in high definition. It has just the right amount of gore, and is a film that moves beyond simple scares.