Prince of Darkness
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter (credited as Martin Quatermass)
Starring Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Dirk Blocker & Jameson Parker
Music by John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
Production companies Alive Films & Larry Franco Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures & Carolco Pictures
Release date October 23, 1987
John Carpenter is as iconic in the world of Horror Cinema as the movies themselves.
To understand ‘Prince of Darkness’ I feel it important we look at the man behind its creation. Although he’d been involved in the film industry since 1969, whether it be as an editor or directing his own short films, it wasn’t until 1974s ‘Dark Star’ that he arrived as a fully-fledged writer/director. He followed that up with the ultra-violent crime movie “Assault on Precinct 13” in 1976, then wrote the Irvin Kershner directed thriller “Eyes of Laura Mars” in 1978, the first film he’d been involved with that made money at the box office. That same year John Carpenter created Cinema history with “Halloween” an independent movie costing an estimated $300,000 to produce, and yielded an incredible $60,000,000 back. It simply exploded at the box office and thus, Carpenter’s reputation as not only a great filmmaker, but as a producer who could utilize a small budget and get large returns was assured. Carpenter saved money on “Halloween” by scoring the soundtrack and hiring a relatively unknown cast, and shooting on locations often without permits.
Followed by “The Fog” (1980), “Escape from New York” (1981) and the second installment of “Halloween” also in 1981 (which he produced and wrote but didn’t direct), Carpenter had proved his first hit was no fluke and indeed every movie he’d made up until that point had cost relatively little when considering the box office returns. Then the first of what Carpenter has called his “Apocalypse Trilogy” was made in 1982, “The Thing”.
#The Apocalypse Trilogy are “The Thing” “Prince of Darkness” & “In The Mouth of Madness
In order for his vision to be realized, and with his financially successful box office record speaking for itself, he was provided with $16,000,000 to make “The Thing”. The film itself is flawless, it’s well written, well cast, and Carpenter made a slick looking science fiction film starring Kurt Russell. By rights it ought to have been that year’s best performing science fiction movie, but there’s no way Carpenter could have known that ‘E.T’ would take the number one spot at the box office, nor could he have predicted already established franchised movies like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ would be released as well as other science fiction movies with major stars like ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Tron’ would be released in what was a competitive year in that genre. In the end ‘The Thing’ found its self-placed at number 55 in that year’s list of most successful grossing movies. The small conciliation being that the John Carpenter produced “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” made number 51 one in the list.
‘The Thing’ (for this writer at any rate) ought to have made much more money and have been seen by many more movie goers upon its release, but fate had other plans. The following year (1983) he became a director for hire and took on the film version of Stephen Kings ‘Christine’. Perhaps he was shattered mentally as a writer, having barely stopped writing/producing/directing for five years at that point. As 1984 arrived, Carpenter came back with two movies, ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ which he had limited involvement with, calling his first draft a “great shaggy dog story absolute bullshit, but what a great story. While I was writing it, I couldn’t figure out the third act. A friend suggested the revenge of the crew against the people who put them there, but I thought it was too much like The Fog.”
That movies screenplay was eventually completed by Wallace C. Bennett, freeing John Carpenter up to get back behind the camera and simply direct again. Although he may not have written ‘Starman’ he did make great use of its $24,000,000 budget by creating a great looking movie and with great performances from A List star Jeff Bridges and actress Karen Allen, all the signs were there that ‘Starman’ would be a hit. Fate intervened again, with the movie barley making back its budget. Suddenly Carpenter wasn’t looked upon by investors as a good risk. His recent larger budget outings simply had not done the business required to attract the kind of budgets Carpenter’s films deserved. In 1986 things got worse, ‘Black Moon Rising’ which he wrote and produced did nothing at the box office to speak of, but most bafflingly of all, the excellent action film (again starring Kurt Russell) ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ actually lost somewhere around $15,000,000 against its budget. Now, a cult film, fully appreciated for its brilliance (much like 1982s ‘The Thing’) in 1986 this was not good news for John Carpenter.
However as a seasoned Producer, he had a plan.
He knew no companies were about to hand him $20 million plus so instead he raised £6,000,000 to make two pictures which he had already more or less written. Those movies would be 1987s ‘Prince of Darkness’ & ‘They Live’. ‘Prince of Darkness’ is a supernatural movie, and as Carpenter has a tendency to re-cast actors he knows and respects so he brought in Donald Pleasence to lead the movie, and Dennis Dun (Dun had been the co-star of ‘Big Trouble in Little China’). The talented Jameson Parker also starred (for some reason I always get Parker mixed up with Christopher Stone of ‘The Howling’ fame but no matter). Pleasence plays ‘Priest’, a man of the cloth who invites quantum physicist Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and a group of the Professors students to the basement of an old monastery which belongs to a mysterious group of individuals known only as “The Brotherhood of Sleep” (probably because they appear to be able to communicate messages via dreams)
The Priest is desperate for the Professors help to identify a bizarre glass cylinder container which houses a spiraling green liquid which appear to have a life of its own.The scene is set. Professor Birack and his students take up residence at the monastery and begin hooking up computers and other equipment to the cylinder.
Things get strange very quickly. Firstly, the students notice a group of almost zombie like homeless people gathering around the building. Stranger still is the decoded messages coming from the cylinder seemingly from Jesus claiming that it’s the Prince of Darkness, Satan himself who is sealed in the cylinder.
Some of the students are not quite believing the whole thing, but the Priest is certain that the fallen angel is trapped in the cylinder and that the swirling green liquid is evil itself. One of the students decides he’s wasting his time and leaves, only to be brutally killed by one of the homeless men (who happens to be Alice Cooper in a fitting cameo).
Various members of the Professors team begin having frightening visions of a silhouetted figure stood at the monastery entrance, these dreams sequences are especially eerie and still give me the chills today whenever I watch the movie. Meanwhile things go from bad to worse as the seal breaks and the liquid splashes one of the students and she becomes sick. A few other students are exposed to the liquid and become like drones, doing the bidding of the Prince of Darkness.
The movie builds the tension and without hitting you with the ending spoiler something hugely disturbing is evidently successfully taking place.
John Carpenter directed and wrote this movie with the precision of a master and it paid off, literally, making $11,000,000 plus in profit. The film (like many of John Carpenters films) has gone on to become a cult movie, but it’s certainly lesser known by your average movie goer than say, ‘They Live’, ‘Halloween’, ‘The Thing’ or ‘Escape from New York’, and in my opinion, though it may not be talked about as much as those mentioned movies (certainly in the more mainstream Film press), ‘Prince of Darkness’ is very possibly one of his two best movies.
Its been given the Blu Ray enhanced treatment and if you haven’t gotten around to this one yet I strongly suggest you give it a viewing, I promise you, this is one movie that will stay with you forever after seeing it
TORCHLIGHTS CHILLERS REVIEW BY ANDREW JAMES BARCLAY
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