Monday, January 11, 2010

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Part VI in a John Carpenter film quest.

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun
Written by: Martin Quatermass
Directed by: John Carpenter

After the death of a priest in a Los Angeles church leads to the discovery of a cylinder in the church basement (containing a swirling green liquid), a group of physics graduate students from a local university is asked to investigate. After translating a manuscript found near the cylinder, it is discovered that the liquid contains the essence of the Anti-Christ. The manuscript portends that when the son awakens, he will then awaken the father (the Anti-God), trapped in another dimension. The remains of the Anti-Christ have been stirring in the preceding days, and the students' research finally awakens the demon. He assumes control of the students (one by one) from the inside of the church, while controlling the group of homeless people living outside. As their numbers decrease, the research team must stop the Anti-Christ and sever the portal before the devil is released.

Critics weren't kind to Prince of Darkness upon its release in 1987 (and for that matter, neither were audiences). And it left me feeling odd as the credits rolled. The movie is downright creepy, and it wasn't lacking in the scary department, either (to be fair, I don't have the stomach that horror fans do). And the movie certainly has a great setup. But it's the payoff that's disappointing, for me. There were some good scares in the second half (along with some unsettling makeup), but these weren't characters I really cared for. There was a romance in the beginning of the film that was never really fleshed out, reducing any impact that would have on the movie's climax. And the only character that had any personality was Walter (Dennis Dun), and he was the jerk of the group (any humor was derived from that particular role).

The zombie-movie elements of the possessed humans grew a little outlandish, as limbs were chopped, and heads hacked away (the zombie-movie angle was used to greater effect in
Assault on Precinct 13) , which took away from the psychological thriller aspect; one of the movie's strengths. The overly technical dialog (which many a critic had a beef with), I didn't mind, at all - especially when you had the intriguing idea of people in the future broadcasting messages back to the present through neural stimulation (dreams). Prince of Darkness faded from theaters and found a cult following in the years ahead. I have a feeling my attitude toward this film will change with another viewing.


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