Cult Movie: Prince Of Darkness a strange little bad dream of a film by John Carpenter

The always creepy Donald Pleasance in Prince Of Darkness
Ralph McLean

I’VE always had a soft spot for John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness. It’s a film that rarely turns up on the director’s list of greatest ever cinematic creations but there’s something odd and moody about that 1987 chiller that does it for me.

Freshly released in a 4K restoration by Studiocanal, it’s a complex and overly fussy supernatural thriller that’s a bit too clever for its own good but manages to intrigue enough to keep you watching all the same.

The always creepy Donald Pleasence is a priest who gathers together with a gang of scientists in an old abandoned church to study a strange jar of green gloop that allegedly contains the very essence of Satan himself. As happens in such movies, some fool swiftly imbibes a little bit of this potent brew and before you know it all manner of hellish apparitions and diabolical doings are manifesting themselves in all their gory glory.

All the subsequent melting of faces and splashing about of gore galore can’t make up for a dense and often inexplicable script from Carpenter himself and that’s where the problems with this adventurous but ultimately flawed tale truly lie.

Carpenter used the pen name Martin Quatermass here and the connection to that old BBC sci-fi serial-turned-Hammer films series is significant. Where Quatermass writer Nigel Kneale was able to make thoughtful and often very prescient science fiction, Carpenter struggles to make any sense of the big themes he’s aiming at.

Pleasence is, as always, the personification of aloof calm among the satanic storm and there’s even the delight of watching Alice Cooper, no less, perform as one of the street people in a cast that mostly creaks with unlikable characters you’re more than happy to see disposed of as the movie meanders its way to its muddled climax.

There is a great sense of malevolence and moodiness on show here, though, that makes the journey worthwhile if you’re prepared to let the madness of the script drift on over your head. Carpenter is a film-maker deeply rooted in his horror and sci-fi traditions and he imbues his work here with a ghostly quality that’s hugely appealing.

It also looks stunning in its new 4K transfer. Colours leap from the screen and the image is crystal clear throughout.

Studiocanal have included an impressive doc, Malevolent – Unearthing John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness, as one of a host of neat extras here that should entice anyone wavering about making a purchase. Other gems on the disc include an interview with Carpenter himself that was originally included on a French DVD release from 2003 and even a tour of the film’s locations that takes you deep into the heart the film and where it was made.

It may lack the visceral punch of something like The Thing or the iconic impact of a franchise like Halloween but with Prince Of Darkness John Carpenter crafted a strange little bad dream of a movie that deserves a better reputation than it currently has.

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