Prince of Darkness (1987)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: September 24th, 2013
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
I certainly wasnít the first person to sound the trumpet for Prince of Darkness when I dubbed it an unsung treasure back in 2008, but I like to think that so many people have finally come around to it that it really no longer deserves that label. While Iím not really in the business of gauging this sort of thing, something tells me that still isnít quite the caseólike a lot of Carpenterís oeuvre, it wasnít an immediate hit, but I think this one is forever destined to be a little more divisive because itís just so damn weird.
Even though itís the middle chapter of Carpenterís unofficial ďApocalypse Trilogy,Ē itís quite unlike any film in his canon. Where he typically leans on narrative efficiency, Carpenter seems to be aggressively mired in a thick mythology that unwinds as the film creeps along. After seemingly drawing inspiration from the likes of Chariots of the Gods, theoretical physics, and everything in between, he cooks up a unique doomsday scenario that finds Satan stewing as a primordial ooze beneath a derelict Los Angeles church (St. Godardís, for the record). When a priest (Donald Pleasence) discovers its existence and a 2000 year old conspiracy perpetrated by the church, he enlists a local physicist (Victor Wong) and a cadre of graduate students to investigate.
What they uncover becomes increasingly bizarre, if not immediately ominous: as they begin to arrive at the church, theyíre shadowed by a bunch of hive-minded homeless people (headed up by Alice Cooper), and the shocks come early and often. The Satanic goop defies all laws of physics. Newly discovered ancient texts are far more advanced than they should be. Jesus is revealed to be an extraterrestrial sent to warn the world about a prehistoric evil lurking beneath its surface. By the time the mythology gets around to theorizing about God and anti-Gods, it feels like a bunch of nonsense (and the preponderance of pseudo-philosophical dialogue doesnít help). Carpenter himself has admitted that heís not quite sure whatís going on during large chunks of the film.
Remarkably, that seemed to have only been a minor inconvenience because Prince of Darkness doesnít just workóitís a downright effective piece of horror that burrows itself into your soul by sheer force of will. While itís the most malformed and clunky of the apocalyptic trio, itís arguably the most oppressive of the bunch thanks in large part to Carpenter and Alan Howarthís incessantly brooding and pounding score. It also helps that Carpenter is wise enough to frontload his script with all of his mythological mumbo jumbo, as the film eventually evolves into a purely cinematic horror show that relies on some familiar tropes: itís essentially a haunted house movie with demonic possession (now that I think about it, it feels like Night of the Demons played straighter than straight, complete with goopy effects and disfigured makeup).
Itís arguable that itís just a little too small scale for Armageddon, though that obviously owes to Carpenterís typically small budget; however, the microcosmic lens is actually right in line with the filmís themes, which often ponder about the operation of tiny elements within the immensity of the universe, a notion thatís deftly foregrounded by the image of worker ants plying in the glow of a TV broadcast about a newly discovered supernova. In a film thatís full of unnerving ideas, that might be the most disturbing: when the end finally arrives, it begins with something of a whisper thatís presaged by mysterious, metacognitive dispatches from the future.
That infamous motifówhich recurs in piecemeal fashion before the filmís climactic twist (of sorts)óis one of Carpenterís finest moments, as it embodies the bewildering experience that is Prince of Darkness. Its obfuscation is a form of its mystifying function: it presents a world where both science and religion are left at a loss, as the tenants of each are shattered. Everything perpetuated by the church has been a myth to hide a more terrifying truth, while science becomes some sort of lackey for an ancient entity. It would seem as though Carpenter is particularly interested in inverting Deism, which posits that the world has been left to unwind on the watch of a benevolent God that embedded some universal truths and laws that mankind could unlock to achieve perfection. In Prince of Darkness, itís quite the opposite, as any semblance of order has actually been in the service of absolute chaos. They donít call Satan ďThe Great DeceiverĒ for nothing.
Scream Factory has confirmed the filmís status as a cult favorite with another entry in their Collectorís Edition series, and this release represents a nice upgrade from Universalís lackluster DVD efforts. The presentation alone makes it a worthwhile purchase, as the film looks incredible; Carpenter expectedly litters the screen with stark visuals that are finally done justice here, and this is especially a huge improvement over the now ancient Image DVD release. The soundtrack is even better, and, while the original 2.0 mix is preserved, Iíd recommend the 5.1 DTS-MA remix because it allows the score to become a menacing character in and of itself. Carpenter has famously told the story about how Halloween finally came to life after adding music, and Iíd say that Prince of Darkness owes just as much to its moody, pounding synth beats.
The Collectorís Edition also boasts a fair amount of special features. In addition to porting over Carpenterís commentary from the Region 2 DVD, the disc adds newly commissioned interviews with the director, Howarth, Cooper, and effects artist Robert Grasmere. The four segments add up to about 45 minutes and are joined by an alternate TV version opening, a trailer, a stills gallery, radio spots, and another episode of Horrorís Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark. Thereís also an Easter Egg that reveals a 12 minute Q&A session with Carpenter from last yearís Screamfest (itís moderated by Brian Collins, the lucky bastard of HMAD fame).
Finally, like many Scream Factory offerings, the reversible cover art features the original poster art, which is personally noteworthy in this case since it doubled as the VHS art that scared the shit of me whenever I came across it as a kid. In short, Scream has done everything that any Prince of Darkness fan has wanted for the past decade. Hopefully, this Collector's Edition will add more to its legion. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: