Very few directors have a body of work as varied as John Carpenter. While the guts of his filmography is undoubtedly his horror films, he has enough variety that everyone should be able to find something of his they like. I don't have to tell you that 'Halloween' is what made him a household name, and while totally revolutionary and a masterpiece, most fans always have "another" Carpenter favorite. Some prefer his more action-oriented stuff like 'They Live' or 'Escape From New York', or maybe 'The Thing', or 'The Fog'. When it comes to just and amazing and almost untouchable genre filmography, John Carpenter is in the company of legends. So when someone has such an iconic line of work, it's easy for something like 'Prince of Darkness' to get lost in the shuffle. It has no huge stars, it's not looked at as being iconic or anything, but for fans of the film, it's sorely underrated.
As I was listening to his commentary on this film, he was talking about how he basically makes two types of films: heist films and adventure films, most of the time with a horror/sci-fi/fantasy twist. This is what he considers a heist film, except instead of a group of bank robbers, we have Donald Pleasence (Dr. Loomis from Halloween) as a priest who is watching over a container of green goo in an ancient church, and the green goo is Satan. Oh, and Grandpa from '3 Ninjas' is a physics professor that moves a group of his students into the church to figure out a scientific explanation for what is going on. And Alice Cooper plays a possessed zombie hobo. I didn't make any of that up. I promise.
A movie like this is the perfect example of what was so great about the 80's. You could pretty much make any movie you wanted, make something so entirely whacky and off the wall that it was bound to be looked at as a timeless classic. With a tiny budget of $3 million dollars, Carpenter continues to speak about how this is his most controlled movie. He wrote it, directed it, and per his norm, did the original score. Taking place in a church in downtown Los Angeles, we see an elderly priest on his deathbed in the opening, holding a box. Later, we're introduced to the always fantastic Donald Pleasence as a priest, and he's been given a key that was in this mysterious box, which happens to open a room in the basement of the church. In this room, is an enormous capsule full of a glowing, ominous green liquid. For an 80's horror movie, there's an exorbitant amount of talk about quantum physics and particles. In fact, almost too much. Are we watching Cosmos with Carl Sagan? From what I can gather, this liquid is the containment of the actual Devil, or the Anti-God as they state in the movie. It's actually pretty rare for a movie like this on the surface, to have such deep and interesting philosophical ideas. If the God we know is good and brings forth light, then this Anti-God, anti-matter, is the opposite and brings forth darkness. It's pretty refreshing to see such big themes take center stage in a movie about a tub of goo.
I mentioned Donald Pleasence, and this movie cements why he is one of my absolute favorite actors I've ever seen. He's never really talked about with the other British legends like Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, but as far as I'm concerned, he can outact anyone. You can give him the cheesiest of lines, and he will deliver them with such fire and passion and ferocity. There's a scene where he picks up an axe and chops the head off of a possessed woman, she picks her head up and puts it back on, and he starts backing up in horror and disbelief, shouting Latin incantations at the demon. Sounds silly, and probably is, but dammit, he is going for the gold in this. He can take a role or movie like this and make you believe you're watching an Oscar-winning film.
So with our priest, our professor, and our students holed up in this church, things start to go off the rails. One of the students is observing the Devil juice, and gets infected/possessed by it shooting into her mouth. The rest of the movie is her then infecting the others by squirting the liquid into or at least onto them. Did I mention Alice Cooper already? Well, the reason they can't leave the church is because there is a gang of homeless folk on the outside that won't let them escape. And the leader is played by none other than Alice Cooper. He even has one of the better kills in the movie by taking half of a bicycle and stabbing a guy in the chest with it. This was actually inspired by a gag from his legendary stage show where he stabs someone with a mic stand.
There are obviously lots of things about this movie I don't understand, and even John Carpenter doesn't understand them. The container was said to be 7 million years old? How did it get into the basement of the church? It's 10 foot tall and weighs half a ton. Why are these hobos seemingly drawn to the sun? It's obvious they're being influenced by the Devil, but why? Just to keep these people locked up in the church? They kill anyone that even walks onto the lot. How and why is Satan able to make his entry into the world through a mirror? And the biggest question of all, what is with the "shared dream", which is obviously a very important part of the plot, but makes no sense at all. We're shown this very creepy, bootleg-quality video of the outside of the church, and a dark, shadowy figure in the doorway. It's explained by the Priest that everyone in the vicinity shares this same dream. But then the physicist explains his theory that this is actually not a dream, but a signal, a transmission, sent from the future. Huh?
The amount of questions I raise from this movie might make it sound like I'm not too favorable, but quite the opposite. I love movies that make you think, that present such batshit ideas that you can't help but be a bit bumfuzzled when it's over. I usually question the things that I like way more than those that I don't. It's got the perfect mix of ooey, gooey blood and gore, theories about quantum physics, and talk of God and the Devil, that it just really has to be seen to be understood. I feel like so much of it is left unexplained and/or left open to interpretation, or most likely, Carpenter just didn't care to explain it. Fans of this film claim that it's *THE* most underrated movie of all time, or at least the 80's. I would probably argue against that, but I'll certainly buy the fact that it's Carpenter's most underrated. Do yourself a favor and savor the Devil juice...
Prince of Darkness gets 7 Satanic goo filled tubes out of 10