A catholic priest (Donald Pleasence, John Carpenter’s Halloween) enlists the help of a quantum physicist professor (Victor Wong, John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China) and his students to battle the forces of evil.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Evil isn’t like ordinary people. Evil never dies.”
Director John Carpenter became a household name thanks to indie hits like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Halloween (1978). Unfortunately, Carpenter’s mainstream Hollywood movies didn’t fare as well as his low-budget productions. Prince of Darkness marked Carpenter’s return to his guerrilla filmmaking days, but something is missing here — despite an intriguing premise, it doesn’t come together at the end.
Flawed as it may be, this is hardly a run-of-the-mill horror movie. I have to praise Carpenter (he wrote the script under a pseudonym) for attempting to break away from the supernatural movie formula. The writer-director explains God and Satan in scientific terms — matter vs antimatter — and that’s a genuinely interesting idea.
According to Carpenter, the Devil isn’t some malevolent ghostlike entity, but a substance made out of antiparticles, therefore it can only be destroyed by someone who understands how science works. This is why the heroes of the story are a group of brilliant physicists who work together to stop Old Scratch from destroying life as we know it.
Although some of the coolest sequences take place during the film’s last half hour, Prince of Darkness is nearly-ruined by a horribly-written third act. My main issue is that, as creepy as these scenes are, they undermine the serious themes of the film. It all ends with an over-the-top parade of gooey special effects that cheapens the movie.
I did like the fact that Carpenter built the story around scene-stealers Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong. By the late 1980s, the horror genre had become a teenager’s playground, so it is refreshing to see the two sexagenarian character actors get the best lines in a chiller. Pleasence and Wong aren’t Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, not even Sir Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but they do make a wonderful team.
Pleasence is particularly effective as the pragmatic priest who has come to believe that religion is a “necessary evil.” Even though his role is underwritten (you don’t know much about the clergyman), Pleasence is able to deliver a wonderfully restrained performance. Jameson Parker (TV show Simon & Simon) and Lisa Blount (An Officer and a Gentleman) provide a completely unnecessary, distracting romantic subplot. And, yes, that’s legendary rock singer Alice Cooper as one of the ghouls.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Prince of Darkness is quite possibly John Carpenter’s most ambitious movie project to date. It’s also an extremely good-looking production despite its relatively small budget. But this is one of those films that fails to give audiences what it promised to give. It would have been a better movie without the ludicrous special-effects laden finale. It’s at least worth a watch, regardless of the flaws. Color, 101 minutes, Rated R.
This is my contribution to The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon, hosted by RealWeegieMidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis.