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STUDIO Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME 102 minutes
• Audio Commentary
• New Interviews
• Theatrical Trailer
The Devil is juice but not for long…
John Carpenter (writer/director). Lisa Blount. Victor Wong. Jameson Parker. Dennis Dun. Donald Pleasance. Peter Jason. Alice Cooper.
This movie scared the living shit out of me when I saw it in theaters as a fifteen year old American. This movie bored the shit out of me when I saw it on home video in my mid-twenties. It was as if the film degenerated upon exposure. But it always haunted me. There was always something about it. When I started to get a little access and had a few projects going to where people asked me what my dream project was to remake it was always this. Prince of Darkness to me was John Carpenter’s biggest “almost”. Great grand ideas hampered by budget, cast, and the era in which it was made. I tried to find out where the rights were but they seemed to be scattered to the four winds. An impossible get. But still it was the project I wanted to do right if given the opportunity.
Until I watched this Blu-ray that was still my goal. Not any more. This film is perfect for what it is. Perfect.
Upon watching this film again it’s striking how it’s a tonal cousin to The Thing, a film which just so happens to be my favorite movie of all time. Number one. From the way the credits are served dark and cold mixed with introductory scenes to the overriding sense of dread that permeates every frame it really is John Carpenter riffing during the tail end of the peak of his powers. The mixture of science, mathematics, and theology at the film’s core marries well with Carpenter’s style and his minimalist approach to music. There’s no warmth and it makes the rather unspectacular look and delivery of the film somehow more unsettling.
There is a church in Los Angeles which has been closed for years, one where a lone Priest has kept a secret under wraps. His death along which some strange cosmic and atmospheric happenings all seem to point towards an event of some kind. Donald Pleasance inherits the dead priest’s gig but has the common sense to bring Victor Wong and his merry band of nerds along to figure out what the what is going on. There’s a container filled with spinning green mystery sauce and there’s an ancient text that reveals scary shit about our near future. Then, homeless people start to act very un-homeless. Shit is going DOWN.
Prince of Darkness is most definitely a lower budgeted John Carpenter film, an independent movie he did to escape the box office failures in his recent studio outings [sadly which includes outright classics like Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing]. As a result no characters really are given a lot of meat and without a Kurt Russell to really sell Carpenter’s dialogue the burden lies on the production design and the effects. The lower budget affects them as well so there’s definitely a lot of blandness to the overall feel. Luckily there are some absolutely amazing moments and ideas at play and Carpenter and his team pull off some minor miracles. Pleasance and Wong in particular are fantastic as the religion and science avatars in the movie and some of the ideas channeled through them are pretty thought-provoking but the real ace in the sleeve of the film is those moments that chill to the bone. The distorted VHS with a bad head “dream” of a mysterious figure in the entrance of the church. The “I’ve got a message for you and you’re not going to like it” sequence where a man delivers that chilling line before crumpling into a pile of bugs. The wet and stiff practical effects that are delightfully analog and show off in no way. The idea of Satan’s return taking this weird path and the transference of his Will through water and then mirrors. Set to Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s monotone and extremely effective music is just all fits together in a solid package that has allowed this film to endure and somehow become fresh again.
It’s hardly a perfect movie or even one that can be recommended to everyone as a cornerstone of its genre. it’s just perfect for what it is, when it was made, and what it was trying to say. Today it’d be filled with effects that show way too much, do it way too aggressively and loudly and it wouldn’t be nearly as… uncomfortable.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
Scream Factory’s done a great job here by retaining Carpenter’s old commentary track and delivering the film as crisply looking as possible. There are even some new bells and whistles available including some new interviews, including ones with Carpenter, Cooper, and Howarth. If you’re a fan this is an absolute must own and one of the very few whose new artwork is actually worth keeping in the case. Usually the first thing I do is flip the oftentimes lame artwork to the flipside where the original artwork resides. Not this time.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars