Monday, June 13, 2011

PRINCE OF DARKNESS


John Carpenter, 1987
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Dennis Dun

I don't give a shit what anyone says, this movie is awesome. Sure, the plot is ridiculous and represents some of the worst crimes against science in any horror film next to Event Horizon and the deplorable Sunshine. The entire movie reeks of the '80s from the clothes to the Alice Cooper cameo. The villain is a vat of swirling green liquid. And yet, Prince of Darkness works despite these things to create a reality jamming exercise in atmosphere and terror.

Everything in the plot is completely absurd. A church has been hiding a terrible secret in its catacomb-like basement for hundreds of years. A priest (Pleasance) inherits the secret and is determined to get help from the outside world. He contacts a sympathetic physics professor (Wong) who gathers together a group of scientists and students to spend a long weekend studying a strange vessel of sentient liquid that may or may not possess the essence of the Antichrist. With a dizzying array of bad science, the researchers are dispatched one by one as a growing army of homeless schizophrenics erupts into violence outside. It turns out that the satanic liquid is attempting to gain influence on the physical world in order to finally break through. Can they successfully interpret and thwart the threat in time?

If you can ignore the bad science and treat it as science fiction, then you'll probably enjoy the film. Between the differential equations, incorrect discussion of metaphysics, tachyons, dark matter, and countless other absurdities, there's a bizarre mixture of scientific and religious rhetoric that attempts to combine concepts of anti-matter and an anti-God. It's just absurd, making the leap from "so bad it's frustrating" right into "so bad it's I'm laughing with glee." And if you don't know about any of these concepts in the first place, so much the better.

Second, the plot is RIDICULOUS. A lot of films that sound great on paper don't translate well to the screen, but this is definitely a case where a rough outline of the plot makes you scratch your head and wonder how the hell it got made in the first place.

But as I said, I really do like this film. It has some great effects and the atmosphere of creepiness is as good as any mid-level Carpenter effort. It is simply a fun '80s horror film that defies all logic, but is great anyway. The performances are silly, but endearing, ranging from Donald Pleasance's anxious, flustered priest to welcome returns from Big Trouble in Little China veterans Victor Wong and Dennis Dun. There is no real lead in this film and ultimately there are too many characters. In the end, we are left with the tragic love story of two scientists, played reasonably well by Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount.

The best role, of course, goes to Alice Cooper, who has a large cameo as the head of the crazies gathering outside to do the bidding of their watery master.

The real reason to see this film is the amazing ending. Unlike so many horror scripts, Prince of Darkness actually gets stronger as the film progresses, concluding with a gripping finale that I would rate as good as any film in the American '80s horror canon. The dream sequence/radio broadcast is a unique, visionary touch and is genuinely unsettling. Prince of Darkness is the second film in Carpenter's Apocalypse trilogy, sandwiched between his masterpiece, The Thing, and the troubling In the Mouth of Madness.

Prince of Darkness comes highly recommended. It's available on a cheap region 1 DVD from Universal and you owe it to yourself to at least rent this underrated horror/sci-fi extravaganza.

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