Prince of Darkness (1987) — John Carpenter vs. the Devil

“I’ve got a message for you, and you’re not going to like it. ‘Pray for death.'”

Kyle’s rating: Future Kyle told Past Kyle that Present Kyle would enjoy this. And I did/do/will!

Kyle’s review: Satanism from the stars. Age-old light just now reaching Earth. A deathbed revelation. Swarms of insects. Quantum physics explaining the unexplainable. Liquid Devil in a bottle. An abandoned church with a blasphemous secret. Faith and science forming a desperate alliance. Mouth-spray demonic possession. Mirror gateways to hell. An enigmatic force controlling insects and worms and homeless people. Alice Cooper. One of the Simons from Simon & Simon. Donald Pleasence. A man disintegrating into black beetles. A giggling man slitting his own throat. Cosmic signs of the apocalypse. Victor Wong. An axe in the right place. A nice redhead. The perfect extracurricular school assignment. News broadcasts from the future beamed faster than light into the subconscious to be revealed in dreams. A final sacrifice.

All directed by John Carpenter.

I really fail to understand why Prince of Darkness isn’t more appreciated by horror aficionados. My grandma recommended it to me long ago and it just blew me away. There isn’t much blood, but like the classic Halloween this is more about atmosphere and suspense than in-ya-face gore. Ominous signs in the sky and peripheral oddities seem to offer warning, or perhaps instructions.

After learning the secret of an abandoned downtown church, a priest (Donald Pleasence) pleads with a quantum physics professor acquaintance (Victor Wong) to help him decipher an ancient text and penetrate the mystery of a green swirling liquid trapped in an bottle that can only be opened from the inside. The brilliant team of college students chosen by Wong for the assignment (including Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount) are apprehensive, and as they move into the old church for the weekend and more and more wackiness pops up, you’ll start to share their dread yourself just sitting there watching.

As the army of the possessed homeless begin barricading the entrances and traps the unknowing students inside, we see that green liquid has begun pouring out of its glass prison. What is the liquid? Why is everyone having the same dream? Is love worth nothing in the face of eminent doom, or is it the only thing that matters? Don’t ask me, you’ll have to rent Prince of Darkness to find out.

I’ll admit this film does have some weak elements, but on the whole it’s very coherent, thought-provoking, and sinister. The team utilizes technology and places their belief in computers and science, but ultimately it will come down to faith and sacrifice. Unlike other horror films the sun does not offer salvation. No one on the outside can or will help them. It’s up to the trapped survivors to save themselves and, if possible, prevent the return of something monstrously evil that has been trapped for millennia and is yearning to be free.

Their debates over what they’re dealing with and what it all means can be ruminated over long after the credits roll, but before you balk realize there are plenty of scares to be found here. The cast is strong, the abandoned church makes the perfect backdrop, and the plotting and direction are swift and slick.

Prince of Darkness is definitely worth a look if you’ve passed it by before, and be prepared to think a little while you’re entertained (hopefully that’s not a foreign concept to you!). And if you ever see a glass or bowl of flowing green liquid in a store, even if the shady man behind the counter swears it’s just a newfangled lava lamp, DO NOT BUY IT!

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