Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Prince Of Darkness (1987)

A bunch of scientists come together in an abandoned church to investigate a mysterious object that seems to be defying the laws of physics. As the behaviour of the object gets stranger it becomes clear that there may be some higher power (or, more appropriately, lower power) at work.

Arguably the beginning of the end of writer-director John Carpenter's peak period (although he would follow it up with the fantastic They Live, and direct In The Mouth Of Madness before the REAL downward slide began), Prince Of Darkness is a messy film, yet it's also full of great individual moments that retain the power to scare the pants off viewers.

The script also has a number of brilliant ideas, including the clash of science and religion, methods of communication used by those with advanced knowledge, and the behaviour of tormented souls. It's just a shame that a lot of the actual dialogue stinks, with a number of uninteresting characters either trying to over-explain things or just forced to speak in a way that's supposedly reflecting their personality as they deal with the building horror.

But scripts are often the weakest part of a horror movie. It's not the worst crime. Prince Of Darkness could have overcome the poor script if the casting had been better. Sadly, it's the worst aspect of the film. Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong are the best of the bunch, although the former is sadly resigned to acting as nothing more than Doc Loomis in a dog collar. Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount are the central couple that viewers are invited to root for, I guess, and both pale in comparison to previous stars used by Carpenter. Parker, in particular, just feels like a second-rate Tom Atkins, which may make you wish that the real Tom Atkins had landed the role (I know I did). Dennis Dun is a fun presence, until his constant wise-cracking starts to grate during the more intense moments in the third act, and few others stand out, with the exception of Susan Blanchard, doing her best in every scene that she's in, and Jessie Lawrence Ferguson plays one of the creepiest characters to appear in any John Carpenter movie ever. And that's saying something. There's also a decent little role for Alice Cooper, as the mute leader of some strange homeless people who start to congregate around the church.

So we have a poor cast, overall, stuck with poor dialogue. Thankfully, that's not enough to spoil the film completely. Carpenter focuses on atmosphere and moments of real tension, all underlined by another fantastic score from the man, and he still manages to do enough good work to make this a small film that hints at a terrifying bigger picture.

It's not exactly top-tier Carpenter then, to sum it up, but it's also far from his worst.


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