I’ve always been a fan of John Carpenter. I grew up watching his films during the 1980’s and 1990’s, in particular, films such as The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York. All were favorites of my father and were frequently played in our household. Some titles, however, were ones I adored through the years but seemed to have slipped through the cracks, going relatively unnoticed amongst my circle and when I get a chance to throw them into my player, I tend to geek out. One such film, his 1987 release, Prince of Darkness, is a film that fits into this particular category and one, after having a hankering to watch, have done so and now want to share.
Prince of Darkness is the second title in what Carpenter likes to call his ‘Apocalypse Trilogy,’ which begins with The Thing and ends with In the Mouth of Madness. Obviously, growing up and being only six years of age at the time of this release, this wasn’t something I even pondered. However, now, it makes sense. Although not related in topic or content, all three deal with the end-of-times scenarios, whether by aliens or ultimate evil. According to the director himself, this screenplay was one that came to him while looking into atomic theory and theoretical physics. That tidbit is something to keep in mind while watching the film, as it might help explain why the approach taken wasn’t, and isn’t, one normally done.
The movie revolves around a priest who invites college professor Howard Birack, along with his chosen few of both academics and students, to investigate a curiosity in the basement of an old church located in Los Angeles. The thing in questioned stemmed from the death of another in the priesthood, and as chance would have it, possessions of the deceased are found by the mentioned priest (named Father Carlton). What he acquired was both the deceased journal and key. His own early investigations resulted in discovering not only the object, but also the fact the the deceased belonged to a long, near forgotten Christian sect called the Brotherhood of Sleep.
As the research team sets up, they begin to get mysterious readings. Combined with a text found within the old church, it is soon discovered by some within the group, Birack included, that the thing downstairs is actually corporeal embodiment of the Anti-Christ. Throw in some spewing liquid of possession, team member shenanigans and some mild bloodshed…well…you get the idea. Needless to say, as the more information is revealed to both the team and the viewers of the film, more and more fall prey to what lies inside the object. Homeless begin to gather and do creepy things outside. Team members go after one another to bring them into the fold, while those still untouched try to last through the weekend. What Carpenter does here that is different during this era of hack-and-slash horrors is offer plenty of tension. There isn’t much blood or gore. It’s all build up and release, as once the team reaches the church there is very little change of scenery.
One thing of note I found interest was the shared, reoccurring dream several of the team has. It is some form of tachyon transmission from the future. What is unique is, what you can gather as the dream happens again and again is that it is sent from the year one-nine-nine-nine…or 1999. A rather interesting choice given all the hubbub that actually occurred globally during this time.
As the film draws to a close, the evil is thwarted…or is it? In typical what-if fashion, Carpenter leaves the ending open to interpretation by letting the imagination run wild with what could possibly happen next as the credits roll.
This film has plenty of geek-tastics moments to those that are fans of Carpenters work, especially during this era. We see two fan favorites from Big Trouble in Little China return (Victor Wong and Dennis Dun), as well as other actors tied to his filmography, including Donald Pleasance. It’s also something of note that Alice Cooper makes an appearance in the film. Apparently, his manager was one of the executive producers and wanted the artist to write a song for the film. Carpenter cast him as one of the homeless that had fallen under the Darkness’ spell. During one scene, those familiar with the rockers performances during the era will notice the implement he uses to impale one of the researchers is actually the same from his stage act.
All in all, this is one of those under appreciated films that could possibly have slipped under your radar. If you want a suspense thriller that has that Carpenter feel, give this one a chance. Although nowhere near as after-theater popular as some of his films, it does have a small cult following. Plus, who would have thought a little theoretical science and atomic theory could bring about the end of the world?