Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness (1987) – So nowadays we’re always being inundated with trilogies, like with The Matrix films or the Dark Knight films. Hell it’s not a totally recent phenomena what with the original Star Wars trilogy (the only Star Wars that counts). What can be almost as interesting is a director’s thematic trilogy. These are films not linked by common characters or continuing stories but by a director and a theme. Gus Van Sant’s “Death trilogy” (Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days) would be an example as would Lars von Trier’s “Europa trilogy” (The Element of Crime, Epidemic, and Europa). Well horror icon John Carpenter, the man behind Halloween and Escape from New York, has what he calls his “Apocalypse trilogy.” The first chapter was 1982’s The Thing, one of my all-time favorite movies. The last was 1994’s crazy awesome Lovecraft-inspired flick In the Mouth of Madness. The middle film of this trilogy was 1987’s Prince of Darkness and I had not, as of Friday before last (the 13th!), seen it so I decided to check it out. If it was half as good as the other two thirds of the trilogy I’d be set for a great movie-watching experience.

After a priest dies, another priest (Donald Pleasance) investigates the metal box that the dead priest was clutching as he shuffled off his mortal coil. It contained the key to a derelict church that holds a horrifying secret in the basement. The priest contacts a professor (Victor Wong) to gather a team of students and experts in a variety of subjects (physics, philosophy, ancient languages, etc.) to analyze the church’s terrible secret. As the team arrives a bunch of homeless people (led by Alice Cooper!) surround the church, but the team thinks nothing of it. After translating some ancient texts they discover that the green liquid in a canister in the basement of the church is in fact Satan itself, trapped for centuries and hidden away by the Catholic Church. Some of the scientists are skeptical. Others are frightened. Either way the crowd of transients surrounding the church won’t let them leave. Oh, also it turns out Satan isn’t the big bad humanity always though he was… he’s just the son of something much, much worse… and now he wants to bring that something much, much worse to our world…

Well, let me start by saying the obvious: Prince of Darkness is not as good as In the Mouth of Madness and The Thing. However, being the weakest part of Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy doesn’t mean that this isn’t a pretty absorbing movie. I didn’t really get overly scared by anything in particular in this movie, but the ideas it toys with I find somewhat troubling. Having moved away from religion in my adult life, I don’t give much thought to evil incarnate. This movie brings science into it and even though it’s bullshit movie science that somehow lends it a certain… I don’t know, legitimacy? Only as far as the movie’s concerned anyway. I’m not really sure what I’m even trying to say here (the mark of great writing, right?) but the point is I found the movie creepier than I otherwise might have from the “scares” it provides. Except for Pleasance, Wong, and an often-annoying comic relief character played by Dennis Dun the characters are not in the least bit developed (or at least not memorably). That’s okay, though. The movie is more concerned with evil as a tangible real thing and that carries it. This is not Carpenter at his best, but it’s Carpenter doing some cool shit. If that’s your thing, check it out.

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