The Film: Prince of Darkness (1987)
The Principals: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount and Victor Wong.
The Premise: Satan is a green liquid, trapped in a cylinder beneath a Los Angeles church. Fearing what this may mean, a Priest (Pleasence) invites a metaphysics professor and some of his students to come investigate the ooze. The Priest believes it to be something evil, and asks the scientist and his crew to study an ancient text that may hold the secret. When their findings reveal the truth, all hell breaks loose – with hoards of homeless falling under the power of the evil one and begin assaulting the church, just as Satan attempts to cross over to this world.
Is it Good: Oh yes. Prince of Darkness is a great John Carpenter horror film. It’s a unique premise, having Satan not only be liquid but also the son of the Anti-God, with both existing in the realm of anti-matter. It’s an interesting take on religion and serves the story well. Carpenter’s use of a recurring dream the whole group shares is creepy, and his use of it throughout the film really helps establish the suspense.
For the cast, the Alice Cooper aspect (he plays one of the homeless) has always thrown me off a bit, but is harmless. Pleasence is good as the highly nervous Priest. Victor Wong is great as the Professor and the rest of the cast are perfectly fine for what they’re there for: which is to be either possessed, murdered or sent through a mirror towards the Dark One.
Carpenter’s scores have always been a favorite of mine, and the trend continues here. He uses the pulsating synths better than anyone, and it’s great. The fact that they’re simple is not only charming but also manages to work with the film, rather than against it as some scores tend to.
I know this was received negatively when it was released in ’87, but I really think this is a truly classic John Carpenter movie. It’s small but with pretty big ideas, and does a great job establishing the points needed to advance the story. The Satan-is-a-liquid thing actually works, and the dream sequences are every bit unnerving today as they were 23 years ago.
If you’ve a horror fan you need to see this. Don’t expect the greatest thing ever, but it is a really good bit of Carpenter and possibly his last really good horror/suspense movie. Plus, the ending is classic.