Prince of Darkness (1987) – John Carpenter

Buckle up, Bible-Belters. Get ready to be happy they’re teaching evolution in school. John Carpenter’s 1987 Prince of Darkness takes an interesting look at the gap between science and religion and attempts to bridge that gap using theoretical physics and creepy upside down camera shots. John Carpenter is a genius. He obviously put a lot of time and thought into setting this movie up. But I think his vision was too big to be a feature film. I bet his original cut of this movie was 4 hours long. You can just tell that some things weren’t fully developed. Prince of Darkness had a lot of potential, but it came off a little under-cooked because he tried to fit too much into it (just like his 1980 flick, The Fog).

The story is actually really interesting and ambitious. It’s sort of a study on the nature of good and evil. It makes you take a close look at the things you “know” about life and about our existence on this planet. Carpenter suggests that maybe there are things that are simply beyond our grasp in terms of scientific understanding. Most of the main characters are scientists and they encounter things that their education has taught them should be impossible. The problem is that this might be too lofty and philosophical to fit into a 2 hour movie. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is cool, and definitely creepy, but I don’t think it quite lived up to its potential.

The movie opens with the dude who played the grandpa in Three Ninjas (yeah, major throwback…) as a wise and spiritual physics professor giving a speech to his PhD students that basically says “the more you learn about the universe, the more you realize you know nothing.” He also stabs a zombie in the face with a chop stick at one point. He gets a call from Donald Pleasence who plays a wise old priest. The priest shows him an ancient cellar underneath an old church in a generic downtown metropolis (what?). There are some ancient relics and tomes there and a giant tube of green Jell-O that contains the soul of Satan or something. The priest senses that the evil force in the Jell-O is getting stronger so he calls the professor to come down with some students and colleagues to run some tests.

The evil Jell-O starts causing weird things to happen around the church. It drips upwards towards the ceiling and collects there instead of on the floor. Then all the homeless people around the church turn into zombies and barricade the doors so the science club can’t escape. All kinds of ants and roaches and maggots and worms start swarming all over the place. Every so often, the evil Jell-O squirts a frothy green load into somebody’s mouth and that person becomes an evil zombie of Satan. The crew starts dropping off and killing each other and getting up as evil zombies. One dude gets killed and then after yelling a creepy message of doom to the surviving team members, his body collapses into a pile of blood and cockroaches. Pretty gruesome. Also Alice Cooper shows for some reason and stabs a guy with a bicycle (what?). So the zombie horde tries to kill/assimilate everyone so they can bring evil (The Devil) into the world through some kind of liquid mirror.

Like I said, I feel like Carpenter had more in mind that probably got cut to keep the film from running too long. There are some odd character interactions and some pacing issues that I’m sure got introduced in editing. The characters make some odd choices that are a little hard to explain. But I think I can make peace with that stuff. The movie is actually pretty good, despite these structural flaws.

Of course, the movie has all the things we want from a Carpenter movie. He did the score himself and it’s perfect. He uses the latest in 80’s synth technology to really set the tone and give you that creepy feeling. It’s lit and shot perfectly. There are some great creepy shots and some pretty cool special effects. Nothing like The Thing though, but nobody was expecting that.

We so frequently see science and religion being at odds with each other so it was refreshing to see a scenario where they actually rely on each other. The notion that humans will really never fully understand the universe is an interesting one. Carpenter wants to scare you; he wants to disturb you; but he also wants you to think about things in a different way. To be fair though, you just have to take some of the theoretical physics and advanced math jargon with a grain of salt. I am by no means a Stephen Hawking, but I have to quickly mention that the dialog in these scenes needs some work. That’s all. It’s just a minor thought. The movie was still fun and creepy as hell.

  1. Is it scary: 6- A cool idea that makes you think. It’s not just scary because of zombies and demons and maggots, it’s scary because it challenges the way you see things.
  2. Originality: 9- I’ve got to give it to him here. This was a very cool idea. I haven’t ever seen anything quite like it.
  3. Blood: 5- It was fairly bloody. I could have handled more. The gore all came towards the end too. The first half or so is just set up.
  4. Believability: 5. Ehh, I think it could have been more believable if some of the plotlines were allowed to develop further. I kept thinking “wait, why is he doing that” etc.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 8- Classic Carpenter setting and atmosphere. Dark, grim and brooding. (As he frequently does) he makes you feel trapped somewhere with a menacing force that you don’t understand. There are some great camera shots and lighting too that really get the job done.

Final Score: 28/50


One thought on “Prince of Darkness (1987) – John Carpenter

  1. Pingback: Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter | DON'T GO UP THE STAIRS

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