[Because it is Halloween and in honor of PRINCE OF DARKNESS's 35th anniversary on October 23, here is Mark's original review of that film.]
CAPSULE: A very demanding and very rewarding horror film. Horror and science fiction combine together to make a film for real long-standing horror film fans only. Lots of old stuff but a lot that even the long-time fans have not seen before. The last half-hour is a let-down, but it is hard to imagine an ending fitting the buildup. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
A lot of horror films are coming out about now. Released in one weekend are both PRINCE OF DARKNESS and NIGHT FLYERS. Earlier this year Clive Barker directed and wrote HELLRAISER. BELIEVERS, based on a respected horror novel, came out this year. Then there were a number of minor pieces of the NEAR DARK ilk. Horror, I understand, sells well on videocassette, so it is pretty tough for a horror film to lose money. I was vaguely aware that the aforementioned PRINCE OF DARKNESS was from John Carpenter, but he has had a spotty career. I like his DARK STAR, HALLOWEEN, THE THING, and maybe a few others. His most recent, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, was a good idea that went amazingly bad. But then things are not always what we expect. PRINCE OF DARKNESS, for example, turns out to be the best thing that Carpenter has ever done. It may well be the fantasy film I will want to remember from 1987.
For 2000 years the Brotherhood of Sleep have kept secret what Christianity was *really* about--have kept secret the true nature of evil and of the Devil, a secret with roots far older than humanity. Now, 2000 years after they discovered the secret, it is becoming important to understand it once more. The laws of physics are changing and the focus of all that is happening is one small rundown church in Los Angeles. There a group of scientists, their graduate students, and a priest are trying to unravel the mystery of what is happening. And what is happening will tie together particle physics, mathematics, and orthodox Christianity.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS has everything it needs but the payoff. The final third of the film is good Carpenter-style suspense, but it fails to live up to the promise of the first two thirds of the movie. If it had, this would have been an excellent science fiction film as well as a good horror film. As it is, PRINCE OF DARKNESS is rich in ideas and has some good suspense to boot, but doesn't quite deliver.
I really enjoyed the film, but have to give this film a qualified recommendation. It takes a lot of effort just to understand as much of what is going on as the director wants to show you. There are many scenes that are deliberately disturbing and a lot more that are violent, though it has been pointed out to me that there is very little actual blood. If you haven't seen many horror films, you may not find this one worth your effort; there are a lot of other good films out there. If you have seen a lot of horror films, you will recognize little ideas here and there from (are you ready?) DRACULA, THE EXORCIST, THE THING, THE QUIET EARTH, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, THE KEEP, and THE TERMINATOR. Yes, there are recognizable ideas inspired by each of these, yet there are so many new ideas in this horror film that the familiar ones are outnumbered.
The name of the man who crafted all these ideas into a single screenplay is Martin Quatermass. Perhaps that is a pseudonym and even a film reference. Since some of the images, like the marauding street schizophrenics, are reminiscent of images out of Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, it is at least conceivable that the film was written by Carpenter himself. In any case, it is often hard to follow exactly what is happening; the film makes the audience work a little. And a little knowledge of paradoxical 20th Century physics helps to set the atmosphere (that's a remarkable statement all by itself!).
If you are tired of seeing old ideas rehashed in horror films, PRINCE OF DARKNESS will show you a lot you haven't seen before. You people (and me) who wanted to see a horror film of power in Clive Barker's HELLRAISER: sorry, Barker didn't deliver, but PRINCE OF DARKNESS is what you were expecting. I'd give it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.
DISCLAIMER: As might be obvious, a film that audaciously plays with ideas will appeal to me more than to the viewing public at large. A prime example is LIFEFORCE, itself a film that gave a science fictional alternate interpretation to traditional beliefs.
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Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2022 Mark R. Leeper
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