Friday, October 30, 2009

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness is a 1987 supernatural horror film directed by John Carpenter. While it's not one of his best, it does manage to generate enough suspense that I would recommend it, especially if you enjoy his other films.


Basically, a secret priesthood, the Brotherhood of Sleep, has been keeping a strange relic, an alien containment device, for thousands of years, though the device dates even beyond that. A dying man gives the key to the device's location, in an old urban church, to a priest (Donald Pleasance). Desperate for help, Pleasance implores Pr. Birack (Victor Wong), a noted expert of both applied and theoretical physics, to translate the ancient text of the Brotherhood and help stop the relic. Birack brings in some scientist colleagues, a translator, and his own advanced physics class, few of whom prove very useful, so that we can have an actual body count. The device starts to possess worms, insects, and homeless people, before moving on to the scientific team, and they start picking each other off. Mayhem ensues.

Prince of Darkness is all the more frightening for its implications than any actual scares. We see a dude consumed by beetles collapsing limb by limb, people spitting psychokinetic fluid into each others' mouths to possess them, and some decent if lame makeup work. The plot is extremely hokey. I will buy that Jesus was an alien here to give us the technology to stop the Anti-Christ from awakening through this demonic relic, but why build up all the powers for this demon if its sole purpose is to reach through a mirror and pull his daddy, Satan Sr. into the world? Seems like a waste of time to me. But alas, it's part of a 'prophecy', the shittiest plot device ever. Also, I noticed Satan's hand was big and red and clawed...much like the satan in the cartoon they are showing in an earlier scene. That was silly (but fun).

The acting is alright, but I could care less about the romantic leads played by Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount. More interesting are the regulars Carpenter brought in from his other films, like Victor Wong and Denis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China) and Donald Pleasance (Halloween). Alice Cooper has a small role as one of the possessed homeless folk that surround the church, and he's actually pretty good. The effects are interesting, but often the makeup looks lame. My favorite set piece was the chamber in which the relic was being held, surrounded by crosses and candles, but it was pretty much forgotten for the second half of the film. The Carpenter synth score is sufficient.

Really, the best thing about this film is that it has that same freakish direction and atmosphere which permeates Carpenter's better films. It's bizarre enough that you'll want to stay tuned and see what happens next.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (I've got a message for you, and you're not going to like it)

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