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Prince of Darkness (1987)

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I have recently been on a horror binge from the 80s. Certain familiar movie names from this period will come to your mind and I can be ruthlessly

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Language : English

Director : John Carpenter

Writers : John Carpenter

Cast : Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Anne Marie Howard, Ann Yen, 

Genre : Horror

Imdb: Prince of Darkness (1987)

I have recently been on a horror binge from the 80s. Certain familiar movie names from this period will come to your mind and I can be ruthlessly certain that this review will not be about them. Until recently, this movie has schemingly avoided my detection and only a chaotic search for 80s horror brought me to a wondrous 4k remastered version online. 

Prince of Darkness is by all means a very John Carpenter movie. Yet not as acclaimed as “The Thing (1982)” nor as popular as “Halloween (1978)”. But it is Carpenter all right, and we are introduced to this world right away as the entry credits roll in. The synth kicks in and we are transported into Carpenter territory. Recurrent actors in Donald Pleasance and Victor Wong assume roles that are typically atypical and eccentric. And here too like usual John Carpenter fares, they are the soul of the movie – the former a priest faced with a faith-testing crisis of a lifetime and the latter a pedantic quantum physicist. 

A group of scientists from diverse practises, and the priest hole up in a desolate church that harbours an eldritch secret – in the hope of solving the mystery behind an ominous slimy green substance that seems to be doing more than just exuding neon green vibes. Warning messages from the future, a mercurian Devil in the re-making, and Space Jesus are some of the wacky themes explored. There is an atmospheric sense of dread and an ethereal presence of evil waiting to be unleashed, affably aided by chilling yet disconcertingly pleasant synth music. 

Prince of Darkness serves as an impassioned attempt at storytelling by screenwriter Martin Quartermass (a pseudonym Carpenter had chosen to pen some of his eerie movies of that time), to arrive at a handshake between theology and subatomic physics. While a lot of it is about bending science fiction to the limits of feeling strange, there is a joy to be felt in the exploration of topics that are far too few to be seen in popular culture.

Dubious as it may be with the plot, Prince of Darkness is still a Horror movie! It is paced well but doesn’t rush its way into horror shenanigans. The lingering sense of eldritch and the horror of the unknown drives the narrative. The movie is not likely to surprise you cheaply with jump scares and dirtily done twists – something that has taken precedence in the 2010s era of horror cinema. 

With a resurgence in alternative horror filmmaking heralded by the success of A24 films  (Midsommar (2019), The Lighthouse (2019) and Blumhouse Productions (Get Out (2017), The Invisible Man (2020)), we might be finally exiting the plague of the 2010s and ushering in a new age that will be welcoming of the 80s – It is time for some Classics again?

By all means, Prince of Darkness is still a B movie. But at the hands of master B movie maker John Carpenter, you have a movie that is worth revisiting every year. Particularly with your friends over a lazy hangout or with your date who is not very keen on a sensationalising horror movie. Prince of Darkness espouses the charm of the VHS era, of those films we go back to for comfort. 

Verdict
: 6/7 Stars

Excellent.

Trivia

  • John Carpenter states he set out to make a film that was atmospheric and dreadful. At the time he was noticing a lot of derivative horror films and wanted to try something new involving quantum mechanics and religion.
  • This is the second film in what John Carpenter calls his “Apocalypse Trilogy”. The other two are The Thing (1982) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994).
  • The genesis of the project came from Debra Hill describing a dream she had of a vague dark figure exiting a church which filled her with dread. John Carpenter developed the story around this idea in hopes of recreating the fear Hill really felt.
  • Alice Cooper originally asked John Carpenter if he could come to set just to watch a special effect, due to Cooper’s manager also producing the film. Carpenter eventually decided to offer Cooper a role as the leader of the anti-God-worshiping street people. Ironically, Cooper is a born-again Christian.
  • Carpenter’s love of science led to the story idea involving quantum mechanics and the crossroads of science and religion. He became fascinated with quantum uncertainty after reading several books on the subject, but he ultimately felt it was impossible to explain. “It was all mumbo-jumbo anyway, it was just a horror movie,” he said. Peter Jason suggested that the script touched on just enough of it to catch and hold viewers’ interest.
  • Although the film wasn’t John Carpenter’s first screenplay that he wrote since Escape from New York (1981), it was the first film since Escape that he directed but credited himself as “Martin Quatermass”. A similar thing he did on They Live (1988) but under the name “Frank Armitage”.
 
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Jinjil Abhiram

Better known as Abhiram, Jinjil is an engineering student, amateur filmmaker, full-time dreamer, and a professional procrastinator.
When not rambling about movies and tv shows binged during the week, he is writing about them.

Jinjil also maintains a site called Lost In Noir. Do Check it out.

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