FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 30, 2007

Film Club: Prince of Darkness

As you could probably guess, I've seen many horror films. I grew up watching them, and my intake kicked into high gear once I started reviewing movies here at Final Girl. Though I have an indomitable hope that there are still countless awesome, scary horror films I've yet to see, sometimes it's hard to keep the dream alive. Seriously, watching too much utter crap like The Cavern or The Last Slumber Party is enough to give anyone pause. I get envious when I encounter people who enjoy scary movies but have yet to see the classics; if someone tells me they haven't seen Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I have memories of seeing those films for the first time and how much they kicked (and still kick) my ass. "Le sigh," I think to myself, "How many horror movies are left for me to discover that will rock my face like Mount Rushmore? Have I seen it all? Is there no hope?"

Yes, I think "Le sigh". I won the French Award in high school and I try to maintain my skills. It obviously also adds a touch of class to my lamenting.

The point of all this is that Prince of Darkness (1987), this month's Film Club pick, was a great find. Getting your hands on some prime John Carpenter goodness for the first time is like finding out you have an eccentric rich great-great uncle who you never met but he just died and left you a million dollars- even if you have to spend the night in a haunted castle in Transylvania to collect it. Gawd I hope I have an eccentric rich great-great uncle.

An elderly priest dies clutching The Littlest Treasure Chest. Inside the chest is a key which unlocks the door to a super secret underground church...which houses an ancient container filled with swirling green goo...which has something to do with something evil...which is...the Prince of Darkness! Eyyarrgh!

Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence of Halloween, and yes the character's name is really Father Loomis- Carpenter certainly isn't above paying himself homage) seeks the aid of theoretical physicist Professor Birack (Carpenter alum Victor Wong) and his crack team of Super Grad Students as he tries to solve the mystery of the green goo and defeat whatever evil is afoot. Can science and religion work together to save the world?

It's a testament to Carpenter's skills as a storyteller (he wrote the film under the name Martin Quatermass, an homage to Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale) that we take the film seriously at all. The fact that the "Anti-God", the threat to all mankind, looks like something you'd find on a shelf at Spencer's Gifts (next to the static electricity globe, of course) and yet we're not laughing at it is amazing. The truth of the matter is, Prince of Darkness is frightening enough to rank with Carpenter's best work.

Despite the "we totally need to save the world from the fucking apocalypse" plotline, Prince is surprisingly small in scope. The film takes place over a day or two, almost exclusively in the small church where the Super Grad Students set up their headquarters. They're essentially held prisoner there when the church is surrounded by murderous, zombified homeless people (led by none other than shock rocker Alice Cooper), and eventually the Super Grad Students must battle each other as the green goo infects them one by one, turning them into murderous, zombified Super Grad Students. The set-up is reminiscent of earlier Carpenter films such as Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing, and Carpenter's love of westerns shines through again.

Prince also reminded me of Halloween in that it really takes its time to get to the "goods", building mood and an atmosphere of dread all the way. Professor Birack gives a speech early on about our perhaps-faulty perceptions of reality that echoes the talk of fate in Halloween; there are also plenty of visual omens throughout that we don't immediately comprehend. Sure, the homeless people start acting weird...

...but, you know, they're homeless, so of course they're acting weird. I mean, that's how people get to be homeless, right? They're weird? When the sun and the moon begin acting weird, we really know things are gonna get hinky.

There's plenty to be found in Prince of Darkness that's simply great horror, from the Bugs of the Apocalypse to some truly terrifying kill sequences to a far creepier than it has any right to be recurring dream sequence, which may in fact be a video broadcast from the future. Again, it's a ludicrous idea that, in lesser hands, would be completely ineffectual. Carpenter knows to keep the horror subtle, however, and the damn dream sequence got to me every time I saw it.

It's odd that the film doesn't go where you'd expect it to go; with all the talk of God and Anti-God and evil taking over the world an bringing on eternal darkness, you might think the film would turn into a bombastic, over-the-top battle of good vs evil with lots of wind and flashing lights and explosions. Carpenter doesn't take that approach, however, and as I said, he keeps things subtle and he keeps things small. The film doesn't end so much with a bang as it does with a whimper, but that's why it works. Everyone knows that atmosphere is more effective in the long run than a jump scare. That's not to say that Prince of Darkness is all build-up and no delivery, however; it's simply that it delivers the way Halloween delivers, in a way that will stay with you.

Consider my face rocked, much as Jameson Parker's face is rocked in a way that ensures him a spot in a future installment of Moustaches of Horror.

Give it up for the Film Club Coolies:

$7 Popcorn

Askewed Views
Craig Moorhead
Chuck Wilson
Chadwick Saxelid
Lazy Eye Theatre
Mermaid Heather

If you've got a review up, let me know in the comments and I'll add you to the Cool List. Thanks for playing, kids!


Clay McClane said...

I actually got one done this time!

Unknown said...

I was really bothered by Jameson's mustache. Don't get me wrong, it was a handsome stache and he certainly rocks it like none other, but one side was a little longer than the other. It was like it went just a little further down on the left side of his face than the right (or vice versa depending on your perspective) and I think that creeped me out more than anything else in the movie.

I really like the 'through the looking glass' angle of the story. There's something kind of creepy about mirrors, it seems like they could be a gateway to another dimension, doesn't it? It's an idea explored in a great way in the Korean movie Into the Mirror (Well worth checking out if you get the chance).

The McGuffin said...

I tried in vain to find a copy of "Prince" but it eluded me like true love. I'll keep looking...

I'm glad you brought up "Assault on Precinct 13"...that's one to re-revisit. "13" is almost a grindhouse movie. It's a grindhouse movie with a budget...and catering. "13" also has a small role from Kim Richards of "Tina Turner:Hound From Hell" fame.

Amanda By Night said...

I love this movie so much. I saw it for the first time when it was released back in the 80s and I was just blown away. Even looking at the still you have from the dream sequence is just chilling.

This movie really gets to me everytime I see it and I think it's sad that it's not heralded among Carpenter's best work. Every frame is gorgeous and filled with dread. An underrated masterpiece.

Stacie Ponder said...

Dreamy, I noticed that the 'stache ws lopsided, too- I kept thinking it was my eyes. Glad it wasn't. The end of this, the through-the-mirror bit, was well worth the wait. Great ending, haunting imagery. Thanks for the heads up- you're my Asian Horror go-to guy! :D

Don't worry, Robert, true love eludes all of us sometimes.

Wait, I mean Film Club picks. If you do manage to catch it at some point, be sure to weigh in.

Amanda, check out Craig's review as well- he's got a great still from the ending. There's some kickass imagery and mood in this flick, and it makes me sad that Carpenter can't quite seem to get there anymore.

Adam Ross said...

I think this movie is greatly enhanced by the lack of weapons available to the characters, it's kind of similar to Halloween in that respect.

The video transmission dream thingy is my favorite part -- it really adds to the urgency the characters face because the future somehow got really fucked up. Love how we never get a definitive answer on them either.

M said...

I like Jameson Paker's thrust-worthy, mustachio'ed sexiness -- very Tom Selleck. I bet Tom would also have been great in this role.

Anonymous said...

Better late than never. I have a little review in my blog: If you have a region free player grab the R2 DVD-it comes with commentary by Carpenter and Peter Jason. Other cool R2 releases are Starman (commentary with Jeff Bridges and Carpenter) and They Live (commentary with Carpenter and Roddy Piper!)

Anonymous said...

It's late, but I did it!

First movie (and review) in the my new digs.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thanks, guys! It's never too late. :)

Congrats on the move, Chad...I'm about to move myself and I'm not looking forward to it. Too...much...stuff...

Artur Coelho said...

Prince of Darkness... that is simply one of the most perfect horror films ever made.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "Halloween," no one ever answered my previous query - Donald Pleasance's characters from the "Halloween" flicks and "Prince of Darkness" are named Loomis...coincidence? Now, discuss...

PIPER said...


I've posted something at:


PIPER said...


No coincidence. Carpenter wrote it as an homage to Halloween.

Anonymous said...

Satan in a jar? I can't wait for the sequel: Cthulhu in a Can. On a Plane. With Aliens and Predators On it.

Seriously, though, this is a good movie. Good GOD, the voice in the dream From the future is creepy.

Ali McGhee said...

Interesting tidbit: In his album "Endtroducing," DJ Shadow samples the dream bit pretty extensively. It's worth a listen. Also, if you liked this movie you might want to check out a story by China Mieville, called "The Tain," which also plays around with some other-side-of-the-mirror creepiness.
This is one of my all-time favorite movies.

Heather Santrous said...

I'm late! I'm late! Actually I'm only late at getting the link posted for you. So here it is in all its....umm glory I guess.

Prince Of Darkness

B.Mooney said...

Random late comment. Loved this movie. Thinking about the repeated dream sequence, I still get chills (and as jaded as I am about the horror scene, that takes a lot)

eillio said...

hi, stacie, just discovered your blog. read a lot of your old reviews. great insights! anyway, i thought this film was underrated. i've had it on tape since 1988 and watch it at least once a year. love the imagery; the "satan's frequency" sequences are a nice touch. alice cooper as a the homeless evil presence? yes! also, that guy with the broken neck really has a way at looking at things:)

aderleth said...

Where have you been all my life? Fantastic blog! And oh dear God how thrilled I am to finally come out of the closet and shout from the rooftops "I LIKED 'PRINCE OF DARKNESS!'" I'm not ashamed anymore!

Okay, I'm still kinda ashamed. It's tough getting past Simon's mustache and Satan-in-a-Jar. Otherwise, what a delightful, underrated horror film! And what a fine blog!

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this site today, where have you been all my life Stacie? I saw this movie listed in your links and I'm psyched that so many other people recognize this for the masterpiece it is. I saw it when it opened in 1987, on a double date. Unfortunately, none of my companions could get past the fact that while this wasn't a "make you jump out of your seat" type of movie, it was far better in that the chills crept up on you afterwards, when you started thinking about everything you just saw. Needless to say, the post-movie discussion was pretty dull. After leaving my date's house about 1 AM, I had to drive home, through a largely wooded area on a breezy fall blackness except for my headlights, leaves blowing from the trees across the road, a half-cloudy sky with a full moon...that was an unnerving drive to say the least. Then I had to spend the night alone at a house in the woods. Lots of fun, thanks John!