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Awesome: 12.96%
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4 reviews, 30 user ratings

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Prince of Darkness
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by Mel Valentin

"Guilty pleasures? Look no further than this little gem."
4 stars

Imagine the following end-of-the-known-universe scenario. Satan exists, not in the netherworld of the Judeo-Christian imagination, but imprisoned inside another dimension for seven million years (give or take). To reach our world, and jumpstart the Apocalypse, he must pass through a newly opened trans-dimensional portal. That portal, in turn, can be only through the efforts of his Son, the Prince of Darkness/the Anti-Christ, who, taking corporeal form, can bend minds to his will, move objects telepathically, and open the portal between dimensions. The Prince of Darkness, however, has himself been imprisoned, inside a cylinder, where, in pre-biotic form (i.e., green viscous substance, a/k/a goo), he swirls and turns endlessly, waiting for his release. And that's only the beginning.

This utterly daft scenario comes to us thanks to the fevered, fertile imagination of John Carpenter (Halloween,, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live). Prince of Darkness, released in 1987 to mostly negative reviews and lackluster box office receipts, is one of Carpenter’s weaker efforts, hampered by an exposition-heavy, headache-inducing first half, slow, sometimes awkward pacing, minimal scares (and, sadly, gore), and stock, underwritten characters, most of whom are given perfunctory introductions before being unceremoniously dispatched in grisly ways or converted in zombie-like foot soldiers for the Prince of Darkness' plan to reintroduce his Father, the Anti-God, to our world.

After an elderly priest dies of natural causes, Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance, a welcome, if hyperactive presence in many of Carpenter’s early films), discovers a key hidden inside a treasure chest. He also obtains the dead priest’s journal, which speaks of Finding his way back to the dead priest’s church, Father Loomis discovers a locked door. The key, of course, fits. Descending into an underground chamber, Father Loomis discovers the Prince of Darkness of the title, or rather, the green, swirling goo locked inside a massive cylinder. Luckily, the cylinder sits on an unused altar. A nearby lectern contains an open volume, written in multiple, sometimes unintelligible, languages.

Rather than turn over his discovery to church authorities, Father Loomis seeks out an old friend and rival, Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong, Big Trouble in Little China), a physicist at the local university. Hoping to uncover the cylinder’s scientific properties (and a rational explanation, if any), Birack “volunteers” his graduate students, including Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker), Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), and Walter (Dennis Dun, Big Trouble in Little China). Birack also pulls in experts from other fields, including Dr. Paul Leahy (Peter Jason). Susan Cabot (Anne Marie Howard), Kelly (Susan Blanchard), and Lisa (Ann Yen). Additional characters are either left unidentified or identified later in the film, and slip into the background, ready to assume their respective roles as fodder as necessary. Carpenter obviously didn’t spend much time developing these characters. We shouldn't either.

After Father Loomis, Professor Birack, and Barrack’s students set up their impressive (for 1987 anyway) equipment in and around the cylinder, the characters scatter for the evening. One character wanders unattended into the underground chamber and becomes “infected” by the green goo, turning her into the Prince of Darkness’ love slave. She kills some, infects others (anyone who attempt to leave is met by zombie-like street people, new members in the Prince’s army). It takes awhile, but our fearless heroes and heroines eventually realize the threat the Prince of Darkness and his army poses, and do battle, but not until an entire day passes back into night. That’s right, the survivors simply retreat into a room for an entire day before doing anything. Worse, they leave poor Walter to fend for himself in a closet with flimsy doors. Pleading for help, they begin to dig through the wall, slowly, lackadaisically. Not only that, but when we finally get the opportunity to see Satan, we don't, or rather, we see an arm and a hand (interested fans are probably better off revisiting Ridley Scott's underappreciated fantasy/action film, Legend, with Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness himself).

This discussion leads us back to what grounds, if any, are there for recommending Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness? For horror fans, especially Carpenter’s diehard fans, no real reason is needed, outside of Carpenter’s name above the marquee (not to mention his screenwriting credit, penned under the name “Martin Quatermass,” in honor of a well-known character from a British series and theatrical features made in the 1950s and 1960s). More discerning fans (yes, there are discriminating horror fans), will want to know whether Prince of Darkness is, in fact, a well-crafted, absorbing science fiction/horror film, complete with the obligatory shocks, scares, and thrills, supported by tense, slow-building sequences that inevitably lead to those shocks, scares, and thrills. Prince of Darkness has a few, including one involving hundreds of insects, but Prince of Darkness owes its watchability or rewatchability to Carpenter’s interest in exploring bold ideas.

Whether hampered by a limited budget or short production cycle, "Prince of Darkness" obviously fails as a standalone film. Few critics or fans can defend it with a straight face, but maybe they shouldn’t try. Instead, leaving the horror aspects aside, they should give Carpenter (partial) credit for his ideas. In fact, Carpenter does reward his audience with one or two memorable images (e.g., the death by insect infestation of one character, the trans-dimensional portal, Satan’s hand and arm reaching across the boundary between worlds, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s famous mural in the Sistine Chapel of Adam and the Father of Creation, and the final, haunting image that reveals the identity of the character who speaks through dreams). How many other films, perceived by critics and audiences as worth watching (and, therefore, successful on some qualitative level), can make the same claim?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3003&reviewer=402
originally posted: 09/12/05 23:02:18
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User Comments

9/24/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
2/20/17 morris campbell one carpenters worst unscary boring crap 1 stars
10/18/11 AMflxguy Unusual, scary, even nightmarish. Excellent 5 stars
12/23/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Turning the Christian cornerstone inside-out makes this an extremely creepy flick. 4 stars
8/08/09 Zac Wow, you really didn't get this movie. 4 stars
3/15/09 Shift worker Not a great effort from a genius director 2 stars
12/03/08 Shaun Wallner Kept me on the edge of the seat! 4 stars
8/31/07 Dale M Good Premise and freaky at times, but the story is really underdeveloped. 4 stars
5/21/06 Mike Underrated -- some bad acting/dialogue, but great, scary concepts. 5 stars
8/24/05 Copper Another of John Carpenter's many embarassments. 1 stars
1/16/05 Jeff Anderson Lots of slow spots, acting is weak, but a cool idea and J. Carpenter still has it. Not bad. 4 stars
8/27/04 Al Guy Compared to the modern crap - this is a gem! 4 stars
8/16/04 Herolder Underrated. Sure better than most other horror movies 4 stars
4/10/04 American Slasher Goddess Passable fair for Carpenter. 3 stars
12/04/03 john creepy and atmospheric - the cast could be better except for Pleasance 4 stars
11/07/03 Nelson This movie is great, old but nice, I agree JC can do a lot better, but stills is great 5 stars
4/13/03 Kyle Carpenter can do better. 3 stars
3/18/03 Jack Sommersby Godawfully silly horror flick. Paper-thin material executed with flair of a cap gun. 1 stars
11/25/02 Deborah S. Hay i couldn't look in a mirror for days after watching "prince of darkness"!! 5 stars
10/15/02 Scott Blackerby This Movie is Underrated! It is a Great flick!!! 5 stars
9/21/02 kawar shah its ok set in a creepy atmosphere 3 stars
9/14/02 Mac Among Carpenter's worst. A waste of time. 1 stars
6/18/02 Charles Tatum Campy, with some great scenes 4 stars
3/23/02 Katie one of the scariest movies of all time - Carpenter is a legend 5 stars
8/05/01 E-Funk Who the fuck are these actors? Besides the dudes from BTILC...Scary Carpenter flick though. 4 stars
7/05/01 sebastion dillinger the creepiest thing is that it is relatively scientifically sound. 4 stars
5/24/01 Keith Galantowicz Not worth wasting an hour and forty-five minutes! 1 stars
12/01/00 Mike It was better in 1987 when I was a teenager 4 stars
8/28/00 Thor You've gotta just lay back and get into it, man! 4 stars
6/19/00 Ulatekk Great flick! Many quality kills! 5 stars
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  23-Oct-1987 (R)



Directed by
  John Carpenter

Written by
  John Carpenter

  Donald Pleasance
  Jameson Parker
  Victor Wong
  Lisa Blount
  Dennis Dun

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