Some movies don’t need a lot of introduction and Prince of Darkness is one of them. I still remember how it scared the shit out of me in the nineties. And it’s still quite good, some 35 years since its release. Granted, it does have a couple of flaws so we’ll start with them. For the first thirty minutes, character development is simply horrible. It’s full of stereotypes and bland dialogue making the already slow pacing even worse. Fast forward a bit and some of the decision-making and action sequences seem forced and pointless.
Reading all this, you might be wondering what makes Prince of Darkness such an effective movie or even if the movie is actually worth watching. Well, once the main plot is revealed everything gets thrown into this pressure cooker. You end up in that dark place too along with our protagonists. The atmosphere will never reach a boiling point leaving you in nightmarish chaos along with the rest of the crew in the church. You will feel trapped in this cramped and cursed environment with practically no way out. All the small details and scenes will soon start to amount to something much, much larger.
Prince of Darkness is the second part of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy that starts with The Thing and ends with In the Mouth of Madness. Here, he blends science and religion, trying to create this monster that would appeal to both worlds. We venture into the realm of pseudoscience and conjecture borrowing from many different sources. I recognized Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods as one of them. However, Carpenter also offers some hard true scientific facts that are quite familiar now but weren’t back then. You have to remember that this was a time before The Internet.
The eldest member of The Brotherhood of Sleep, an ancient Christian sect just died clutching a small box in his hands. Inside the box, the priest sent to investigate this, finds a key. A key that opens a heavy door inside a seemingly abandoned Los Angeles church. Terrified with what he had found, he enlists the help of quantum physicist Professor Howard Birack. Along with a group of his students and scientists, they will try to get to the bottom of this. And indeed they will.
If you look at the main story here, it’s surprisingly simple and used many times before. You have a bunch of students at a dangerous location dying one by one. However, this is where Carpenter’s genius becomes apparent along with those little details I mentioned earlier. For example, the dream sequence was masterfully crafted with a strange and eerie vibe to it. And it’s hard to forget too.
The visuals are impeccable with that horrifying and otherworldly vortex of evil. I’m, of course, talking about that cylinder with the green and blackish liquid swirling inside it. It looks positively terrifying and when you add to that the church ambiance you get one hell of a setting. Literally. Most of the movie takes place in a single location over the course of 24 hours. The cast was pretty good with old guys running the show. However, I must mention Dennis Dun who was fucking excellent here.
And while we’re talking about visuals, it’s also worth mentioning that one special effect, in particular, will become quite famous in the following decade. Stargate is the movie that borrows it. I know that Prince of Darkness is not a perfect movie but it has a lot to offer. Apart from Donald Pleasence’s speech about religion, I would also like the mention the ending that’s unsettlingly good. Especially when you consider the premise of the movie. Hell man, I still get the chills every time I watch this scene.
There’s a new and restored 4k version available now featuring superior image quality. It gave a whole new life to this eighties classic so be sure to watch it. And if you’re looking for movies like Prince of Darkness check out our Rabbit Reviews selection of Occult Movies. Finally, I do have to mention that film critic John Kenneth Muir suggested that the movie serves as a parable for the AIDS epidemic. AIDS epidemic that was rampant at the time of the filming. If you want to know more, here’s a link to Muir’s full review. In my personal opinion, I don’t think this was the case but who knows.
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard
Fun Facts: The idea for the movie came from a dream Debra Hill had about a dark figure emerging from a church and filling her with dread.