Prince of Darkness (1987)

Friday, February 23, 2007
John Carpenter's 1987 classic, Prince of Darkness, is probably one of the best horror movies ever made. Yes, watching it now, it's slightly cheesy, a bit unbelievable and the dialogue leaves something to be desired but give it a was the 80s! Here's a brief summary:

The last priest of the Guardians of Sleep, an extremely secretive sect of the Catholic Church, dies and his diary is passed on to Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance). Realizing what the sect was hiding in the basement of an abandoned church and the implications it could have for the rest of the world, Loomis enlists the help of an eclectic group of scientists and scholars to prove exactly what he's found and share the information with the world. It seems that evil is not simply lurking in the hearts of men, it's a metal cylinder full of fluorescent spinning goo. Originally of extraterrestrial origin and human-like form, Satan is threatening to walk the earth once more. Much mayhem ensues - projectile neon green slime-like vomit, possession, inter-dimensional travel, maggot eating transients (led by Alice Cooper himself) who impale scientists on broken bicycles to form new-age art, and worms that coat the surface of every window. As expected, good eventually triumphs over evil but in a unique way that only the mind of John Carpenter could dream up.

I love this movie. It scares the crap out of me, not an easy feat as I grew up watching horror movies and find most of them slightly boring. John Carpenter's movies are pretty much the only ones I've seen (with the exception of the original Exorcist and April Fool's Day) that have ever been able to scare me so much that I've slept with the lights on. Now that's quality movie making! After watching The Thing the first time, I couldn't look under my bed and literally leaped from the doorway onto my bed in order to avoid any bloody tentacles that might fly out from the darkness underneath. Let's not even discuss what happened during my viewing of The Fog, all alone, in the country, during a storm, the plastic on the windows shaking with each gust of wind.... Carpenter has certainly had his misses when it comes to horror movies, especially during the 1990s, but I can forgive him.

There is much about his films that I love. Where to begin? Well, to start, there's the music. Carpenter composes most of the music for pretty much all his films himself. This is in addition to writing and directing. Try to imagine the most memorable pieces of horror film background/theme music and invariably Carpenter will have likely made it into your top three (the music from the The Thing's "dum dum....dum dum....dum dum....dum dum...." as the dog races across the snow at the beginning is tops for me, followed by Jaws, and the Exorcist a distant third). Carpenter's music is simple but manages to convey the perfect sense of forboding, fear, and suspense. It typically stays constant throughout, merely changing tempo and volume. I'll never forget sleeping over at J's place during high school. As I lay in my sleeping bag on the floor, and the lights were turned off, I heard a slight giggle through the darkness. And then it happened. The music began. Unbeknownst to me, she had recently picked up a copy of the soundtrack to The Thing. She wouldn't answer when I yelled at her to turn it off. All that I could hear was that familiar "dum dum...dum dum..." I did not sleep that night as I tossed and turned, imagining bloody tentacles once again creeping out from underneath a bed.

He also finds actors he enjoys working with and employs them over and over again. Look at the list of Carpenter's films and the cast lists and you'll notice the same names popping up over and over again. Donald Pleasance - 7, Kurt Russell - 4, Jamie Lee Curtis - 7, Dennis Dun - 2, Victor Wong - 2, George "Buck" Flower - 5 (note I counted Pleasance's and Curtis' appearane in each of their Halloween movies despite the fact that Carpenter did not direct them all). And his characters are often cut off from the rest of the world, isolated and alone. Whether that means being stuck on the uninhabited landscape of Antartica, or stuck in a closet having to face a psychotic hockey masked killer by yourself.

I remember the first time I saw Prince of Darkness. My brother, his best friend Jason, and I had gone to the drive-in back home (shortly before it closed). They were showing a double feature - Prince of Darkness and some other not-so-memorable film that obviously sucked so bad I can't remember it's title. Things were going along fine, it seemed an interesting movie. Then the clouds rolled in and the thunder began rumbling in the distance. At the point in the movie when Susan gets a mouthful of evil green ejaculate (there's a nice image...perhaps I should have said vomit?) a giant flash of sheet lightning illuminated the night sky directly behind the drive-in screen. My father's tiny Hyundai Excel leaped as the three of us screamed in terror. Combined with the religious themed subject matter, combined with a bit of hokey science type stuff, it has left a permanent scar on my formerly Catholic psyche.

For me, this is a definate must see for horror fans. And I MUST recommend you also rent The Thing, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, Halloween (the original), Escape from New York (but NOT L.A.), and Christine.


Tanya said...

My latest DVD from LoveFilm was John Carpenter's "They LIve" - also recommended.

Gardenia said...

Great post! I didn't know Carpenter did his own music. He is a master - a bit gory for me - but yet he pulls it off with the right amount of terror - yeh, his movies SCARE me. He scares me. But can't stop watching them. I'm gonna order that movie!

Alasdair said...

I don't like horror movies, but then again I don't watch much in way of movies anyhow.

What I do like is your blog :-) Very, very well done.

Sheamus the... said...

hmmmm...looks like i am going to have to netflix...i am a sucker for these movies.

Piper said...

I'm a huge Carpenter fan and this is one of my favorites. It still holds up as scary and yes it is guilty of a lot of bad things. What I love most about this is the clash of science and religion. Trying to make the unbelievable, believable.

By the way, I'm hosting a Carpenter Blog A Thon April 9th-11th and invite all to join and spread the word.

Neil said...

I'm a big fan of the movie. Great post.

I wish to note, however, that the main themes in The Thing were written by Ennio Morricone.

Enrico said...

I lllllove Carpenter's movies..expecially this one.. a milestone amongst horror movies.

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