Prince of Darkness

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Our rating: two lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Prince of Darkness
After 7 million years, the Son of Satan
can say that Mason Jars do indeed keep
their contents fresh the longest.
One might think that John Carpenter meant Prince of Darkness to be the anti-Halloween. Where Halloween was quite minimalist in its approach to horror intruding on the normal world, Prince of Darkness tells a story where the characters are forced to rethink the underlying assumptions of religion and physics. It's an exciting concept, that the Christian faith was originally destined to confront a physical invasion from an alternate dimension, and that that purpose has been lost over the centuries until the invasion begins. In our mind's eyes, we can see Carpenter enthusiastically pitching the idea to a studio exec with dollar signs on the brain. It's too bad that what resulted is a somewhat ordinary if over-written and under-scary horror flick.

An unnamed Catholic priest, played by Donald Pleasence (natch), discovers that the presiding priest at a small California church has died. The priest takes a key that was in the possession of his dead colleague, and goes to see his friend Professor Birak (Victor Wong), who teaches a philosophical brand of quantum physics. At the priest's request Birak organizes a group of grad students to take up residence in the aforementioned church. The grad students are a pretty standard bunch. You have the bland hero guy (Jameson Parker), the love interest chick, the annoying ethnic guy, the smart chick*, the ethnic chick, and the token black guy.

Prince of Darkness
"This box! This box is ultimate evil!"
Their task is to analyze an object in the church's basement, so that the priest will have some sort of evidence to give to the world when he announces that it is the key to humanity's destruction or salvation. It also has the effect of drowning the audience in meaningless scientific blather. Fortunately, the object comes with an instruction book which, when translated, says "Jesus was an alien and Satan comes in a can." We're paraphrasing, of course.

As a matter of fact, the big can o' Satan is the object in the church's basement. (To be entirely correct, the can actually contains the son of Satan.) The container is a pretty impressive special effect, a creepy churning thing that contains an eerie, green glowing liquid. This is the way we envisioned our Sea Monkey tanks before they came in the mail. Sea Monkey tanks are in fact small, oblong, and plastic with little "magnifying glass" bubbles on the sides, not at all like the ominous whirling column with which our heroes are faced. Sea Monkey tanks are similar to this artifact in that they too produce a feeling of dread, as you realize that your week's worth of chore money just went towards a liter bottle filled with microscopic brine shrimp.

Prince of Darkness
"But if you're not Pat Morita, that means
I'm not gonna get to meet Ralph Macchio!"
When Donald Pleasance's character announces that the container (the can o' Satan, not the Sea Monkey tank) contains "ultimate evil," we couldn't help but laugh. In Halloween, Pleasance's character announced (with no apparent evidence) that Michael Myers* was also "ultimate evil." We wonder if Pleasence doesn't walk around randomly announcing that things are "ultimate evil." We imagine him walking into the produce section of a grocery store and announcing, "These string beans are ultimate evil! And I don't like the looks of those rutabagas!"

In this case Pleasance turns out to be right, though: Satan's envoy is encased in the tube and is gaining strength fast. That green liquid we mentioned before starts escaping from its tank and before you know it, Lucifer's Listerine possesses the building's occupants one by one by squirting into their mouths. After being introduced to so many characters and sitting through all the psuedo-scientific babble, we would like to think that the son of Satan would do something more interesting than turn them into zombies with a predilection for whacking people over the head with pieces of wood. And worst of all, the liquid Beelezebub takes its damn sweet time in bringing about the apocalypse.

Prince of Darkness
"This typewriter! This typewriter is ultimate evil!"
The main story is broken up by a repetitive dream sequence, which only slows things down more. Everybody who sleeps in the church has the same dream. Birak claims that he has somehow determined that the dream isn't coming from his subconscious, therefore the dream must come from the future! Of course! He's right; the dream is being broadcast from the futuristic year 1999, where they have the technology to send "tachyon transmissions" back in time into people's dreams. When the dream's meaning becomes known, it turns out to be a creepy kicker that hints towards the possibility of a sequel, but since Carpenter has given no indication that he intends to make said sequel, Prince of Darkness would probably be a better film without the constant "dream breaks."

Don't think that we had an entirely rotten time watching Prince of Darkness; at this point Carpenter was still the master of the creepy scene, and he doesn't skimp on the cinematography. The atmosphere in this film is top notch, and must be seen in its original widescreen aspect ratio (as on the recent DVD) to be appreciated. The lens Carpenter used produces a slight fisheye effect around the edges of the screen, which enhances the surrealism of the situation: a team of scientists, wandering around a candle-lit church in the middle of the night, looking to catalog the Devil. Throw in a truckload of crawly insects and Alice Cooper as the leader of a band of zombified hobos who keep the scientists trapped in the church, and you've got the recipe for a creepfest that will have you turning on lights all over the house. Unfortunately, the second half of the film moves so slowly that turning the lights on may prove to be more entertaining.

Prince of Darkness
"Hey, if this is an abandoned church,
who's keeping all these candles lit?"

Prince of Darkness
"Wait! Don't drink that coffee!
I'm telling you, it's ultimate evil!"

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Read Dr. FreeX's somewhat more positive take on this film in the Bad Movie Report.

Review date: 7/16/99

This review is © copyright 1999 Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton. Blah blah blah. Please don't claim that it's yours blah blah, but feel free to e-mail it to friends, or better yet, send them the URL. To reproduce this review in another form, please contact us at Blah blah blah blah.

































* Though we have to wonder how smart she really is. At one point she claims to have done carbon dating tests on the "corrosion" on the metal container, and the results show that the container is 7 million years old. Unlikely. Carbon dating testing can only be done on organic materials, and the upper limit of the technique doesn't allow stuff older than 40,000 years to be dated. Go back!























































* Michael Myers the slasher villain, not the Canadian actor. Though arguments could be made either way. Go back!