Release: 26th November 2018
A research team finds a mysterious cylinder in a deserted church. If opened, it could mean the end of the world. .
There is almost a sub-genre of John Carpenter movies that tend to take place in a single setting. From Assault on Precinct 13 to The Thing to Prince of Darkness, every so often Carpenter decides he wants to lock a bunch of people up, insert an exterior threat and shake well. Available for the first time is this shiny 4K restoration, Prince of Darkness is possibly the oddest duck of all that Carpenter has ever produced (and we mean odd in a good way, not in a shambolic way ala Ghosts of Mars).
Prince of Darkness is tonally all over the shop. Too silly to be frightening, too chilling to be goofy, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit religious horror; Prince of Darkness has more personalities than Robin Williams. Despite this, Carpenter seems intent on trying to make all of this excusable. He layers exposition on exposition without ever really explaining anything and displays an unending obsession with people standing still. But for all of its pseudo-scientific spiritual babble, the one thing that Carpenter fails to address is just what age his protagonists are supposed to be. If they are in their 20’s, then studying physics must be a horribly stressful experience. There is also an offbeat sexualized undertone to this group of mostly asexual b-listers. It is something that is never explained, or even explored, but the idea of sharing fluids and ’infecting’ each other (something mirrored by the continual presence of a likely disease riddled homeless populous), seems like it might have something to do with historical instances such as the AIDS epidemic. Or maybe it is just a tenuous aesthetic to gross out viewers.
The film is far from Carpenter’s best work and comes at the back end of a decade where the filmmaker really hit his stride but had a lot of ups and downs. The water spewing 3rd act feels like it is borrowing heavily from The Thing in an effort to generate some momentum, while the tame and frankly underwhelming ‘violence’ reeks of someone trying desperately to ‘tone down’ for a more generous age rating. Alice Cooper’s cameo is the standard Hollywood affair, adding nothing to the film except a famous face and the expectation of something way darker than what arrives, while Carpenter’s usual self-made score is possibly the biggest culprit in creating a synth-laden kitsch, when what is needed is a more menacing tone.
Nowadays the film would likely be just as hammy if not a lot darker; with it pitched as The Omen meets Interstellar. So, to say that Prince of Darkness had dated, would be a comment of a superficial nature; because thematically it would be right at home in today’s market. It lacks the bolshy camera work of Halloween, but you could also say that although the execution of the film’s special effects are limited, they show great technical prowess and confidence from Carpenter. This is another element of the film that in today’s market would make it something unique. With this in mind, the fact that Prince of Darkness is receiving a special limited re-release this season means that it’ll fit quite nicely amongst your Blumhouse productions and your James Wan universes. At any rate, it still has one of the best deadpan jokes of any horror film; “I didn’t mean what I said. You don’t look Asian at all.” Now THAT is a quote fit for the White House. Currently the home of the true Anti-Christ.
To learn more about the cinematic re-release of Carpenter’s 4K restorations. See https://www.johncarpenter4k.co.uk/
Film Grade: C+
A bunch of recycled features are supplemented by a new Retrospective. Everyone seems quite pleased with themselves, but Carpenter seems suspiciously absent.
Special Features Grade: B-
Maybe for some this is classic Carpenter. For others, not so much.