Today I watched John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987)
Continuing John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, Prince of Darkness follows a physics teacher and his best students as they attempt to investigate a strange cosmic mystery. In the basement of an old Catholic church in Los Angeles, priests have found an ancient vessel that holds a strange, malignant ooze. Professor Howard Birack and a handpicked group of students are brought to the church, many specializing in quantum physics while others have knowledge in the fields of ancient languages and biology. As they investigate the object, they find it to be truly ancient and possibly also conscious. From there things get real weird as this primordial consciousness begins to exert it’s will upon the world around it. Simpler animals like bugs and worms begin to flock to this thing while the students begin to share a strange dream with premonitions from the future.
Arguably the strangest entry into the Apocalypse Trilogy, Prince of Darkness presents a picture of faith shattering cosmic evil. As much as many rational atheists would have us think otherwise, belief is pretty damn important to human beings. Maybe not belief in an all powerful, all loving god, but smaller things like the belief that tomorrow will be good or that scientific peer review is being properly carried out. The evil force of this movie is something of an anti-god in the Christian sense, so it’s attack on belief is rooted in the human belief of goodness. You can start to see why this is such an odd film as these philosophical concepts are pretty out there. In that sense the film lacks the visceral punch and relatability of The Thing, though it is still fascinating in it’s own way.
As this film is composed of some rather heady subject matter, it is heavily dialogue and character driven and I found it rather hit and miss in this field. To no one’s surprise it is genre regulars like Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong who make the best of it, and for the most part the rest of the cast follows their lead. But then there is Dennis Dun as a character who seems to be entirely defined by bad jokes that are often of the racist and sexist variety. I get that he is probably supposed to be annoying, but they succeeded a bit to handily in that regard and he is totally insufferable. Aside from this I think the movie really works if your willing to let it’s sometimes stilted philosophizing get in your head. This film manages to express a form of literary horror that is extremely rare in film, probably because it is so hard to pull off. While this film may not always work, it is effective enough to be quite a commendable piece of cosmic cinematic terror. 4/5