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Prince of Darkness

Horror movie directed by John Carpenter

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Wade through a lot of '80s cheese, and you'll find a pretty creepy movie.

  • Feb 22, 2009
  • by
Over his long career, John Carpenter made a few classic movies and a pretty fair amount of junk. Classics include HALLOWEEN, THE THING and to some, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and most questionably BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Junk includes THE FOG, CHRISTINE, THEY LIVE, GHOSTS OF MARS, etc. (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is its own peculiar little gem...not sure I can label it a classic.) The other day, I decided to take a LONG overdue 2nd (or perhaps 3rd) look at the John Carpenter film that originally gave me the biggest chills of all. I knew even in 1987 that it wasn't a great movie...but there was something about it that just gave me the willies. So when I watched in 2009, it was a giant cheese-fest of `80s clothing and hairstyles, with a typically grating John Carpenter score and barely passable performances. BUT it also managed to give me the creeps.

In a rundown catholic church in the middle of skid row, a small, secret group of priests and nuns have kept hidden and secret an odd glass vessel that contains a swirly, glowing green viscous liquid. This liquid has special properties, and a renowned priest (Donald Pleasance) is convinced that the container is barely holding in an evil presence capable of ruling the world.

He goes for help to a scientist, philosopher and former debate opponent (Victor Wong)...hoping that a scientific explanation might assist, as the religious implications are too great to bear. Wong assembled a group of grad students to help, and they bring all their equipment and all their skepticism to the church one evening...determined to figure out what they're dealing with.

I'll cut to the chase...the liquid appears to be Satan, trapped but very close to escaping. His goal is to provide doorway for his father, the "Anti-God" to come into our world. You can imagine that the consequences of this would be dire.

What I LIKE about the film is the combining of science and faith. The faithful are suitably freaked out...but gradually, each and every scientist is just as scared. Before long, everyone trapped in the church has become a horrified believer. The scientists figure out the "scientific" basis for what Satan and his dad are brewing up...but it's not less terrifying for having a scientific basis...it's MORE terrifying.

Some of the students begin to experience dreams, in which computerized voices claiming to be from the future, are sending messages back to the present in an effort to encourage a change in what is about to happen. It is these images that gave me the biggest willies back in the `80s, and they still work for me today. For me, Carpenter simply latched on to a way of presenting this idea that got to me in a way I can't explain.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS is not only a "Satan returning to earth" film...it is a slasher movie. At first, it is the homeless vagrants that are bowing to the will of Satan who refuse to let anyone leave the church. The "leader" of these bums is played by Alice Cooper, of all things. There are plenty of gory deaths, including the first death by impaling on a bicycle that I can remember seeing. While the gore is not up to the standards of today, it is convincing enough to avoid shattering the feeling of creepiness. Bad things happen to most of the characters in the film.

I use the word "characters" loosely. It's mostly a group of young adults from various demographic groups, playing completely predictable parts. It's a sort of a kick to see Jamieson Parker just months before he became a star of SIMON & SIMON (remember THAT dreadful TV show?). He has a porn star mustache and the clothes and hair that no doubt made him a "hunk" in his day, but make him look like a goofball today. Victor Wong looks great in his part as the scientist, and he invests his role with conviction...but isn't entirely convincing. Donald Pleasance, a Carpenter favorite, seems a little lost here, as though he was never able to make much sense of what he was supposed to do as an actor. Although he had another 7 to 8 years of acting ahead of him...he's clearly in the twilight of his career and it's a little bit sad to see.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS is hardly a great film, at least when I look at it as objectively as I can. Cardboard characters, gore, and a silly story about an anti-God. Alice Cooper as a zombie-like homeless killer! Yet I can't bring myself to toss it on the garbage heap of forgettable junk...there is a talent for understanding what is frightening lurking just below the cheesy surface. If you're willing to spend 90 minutes of your time on a gamble that this film may not work for you as it did for me, I will recommend it. But you've been warned...you'll either laugh and fall asleep OR you'll get a decent case of the willies.

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More Prince of Darkness reviews
Quick Tip by . March 30, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
I saw this movie for free on YouTube back in October of 2010.  Quite frankly, I thought this movie was too cheesy and its characters were really bland, though it does redeem itself a little bit for that "bedside scare" scene near the end, which was pretty creepy.      In John Carpenter's "Trilogy of the Apocalypse," Prince of Darkness is by far the weakest of his efforts.  Stick with the other two movies in this trilogy, The Thing and In the …
review by . May 10, 2009
Prince of Darkness (1987) was another dark and depressing film from John Carpenter. It's also the second part of his unofficial trilogy of Apocalyptic films. A group of scientists, grad students and theologians gather inside an old cathedral. In the basement of the building is a mysterious jar containing some liquefied remains. The people who were choosing for this experiment must stay the night inside the cathedral. A few of the reluctant students don't want to waste their time looking at a giant …
review by . November 14, 2008
Prince Of Darkness
The movie begins with an old priest dying as he clutches a strange little box to his chest. Father Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence) takes the key and discovers the two thousand year old secret hidden beneath the church, strange vat that is now beginning to come alive with green goo.     Loomis goes to Professor Howard Birack (played by Victor Wong) who lectures on parapsychology at the local college, and requests that he and his students join him at the church to study the …
review by . October 06, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Fans of science and religious horrors will find this to be an interesting combo, one that has been fighting the other for as long as we know. This however is not the source of friction in the movie, here the science takes a huge lead and infuses the movie with eerie sense of reality that some might not feel otherwise, for those who aren't afraid of the devil, this movie will chill them as there is some gross, dark stuff going on that walks a fine line between bizarre and disgusting, seeping into …
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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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About this movie


Starring Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blout
Directed by John Carpenter
Writer:  John Carpenter

Product Description
A priest summons a professor to an old church to see a canister of liquid Satan. Studio: Uni Dist Corp. (mca)
DVD Release Date: 10/07/2003
Starring: Donald Pleasence Victor Wong
Run time: 102 minutes
Rating: R
Director: John Carpenter
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Director: John Carpenter
Genre: Horror
Release Date: 23 October 1987
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: John Carpenter
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
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