While cleaning the basement in his church, a priest (Donald Pleasence) comes across a canister filled with a volatile green substance. With help from Professor Birack (Victor Wong), he realises that the liquid is Satan’s spirit.
I had heard about Prince of Darkness, I knew that it was a John Carpenter movie and some people said that it was one of his most underrated. I didn’t know much about it except it was supposedly involving the potential end of the world and had Donald Pleasence playing a priest. It turned out to be quite great, way better than I thought it would be.
The script is quite clever and engaging, with an intriguing supernatural narrative. The scope is bigger than anything I’ve seen from Carpenter before, with this really being a big fight with the world at stake. Right away, it sets up this otherworldly tone and properly maintains that from beginning to end, with this unearthly atmosphere that still feels very much classic Carpenter. At the same time, despite the stakes of the movie, much of the movie is very contained. It generally takes place on one location over a day, a church, and it succeeds with this. It touches upon some quasi-philosophical topics while not getting heavy handed about it, and it still knows what it is. Sure, some of the science and religion talks don’t always gel and is a bit clunky, but that almost adds to the charm in a classic 80s horror way. It does contain some horror slasher conventions like how many of the characters are being killed one by one over the course of the film. It may be slow for some viewers, it definitely takes its time especially when compared to Carpenter’s other movies. However the payoff is great, and the movie concludes with a fantastic climax. Looking at all the elements, this could easily be Carpenter’s most ambitious and unusual film.
Really the biggest weak link of the movie are the performances and the characters. The cast are a bit too big for the movie, probably so that there’s enough people who can be killed in this movie. As a result though, it’s hard to get attached to most of them. You do somewhat care about the main cast though, mainly Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong and Dennis Dun. The performances are a bit mixed, with the acting ranging from passable to hammy, to occasionally bad.
John Carpenter directs this film, and as usual his work is good. It has this intense apocalyptic and unnerving atmosphere, with a sense of dread throughout. From the point that the movie starts, you get this feeling that something is wrong and off, and that feeling only escalates as the movie progresses. It’s filmed incredibly well and there are some memorable scenes, especially towards the climax. The setting of the abandoned church is just great to watch the characters run around in. The movie is gruesome, and the practical effects and the makeup are amazing, they have aged surprisingly well considering this movie is from the late 80s. Every John Carpenter score has a way of sticking with you, and Prince of Darkness is no exception. The music from him and Howarth is very synth heavy as usual, making the film’s atmosphere feel even more eerie and chilling.
Prince of Darkness is an atmospheric, slow burn and thrilling horror movie. If you like Carpenter’s other horror movies like The Thing and Halloween or even just likes 80s horror movies in general, it is worth a look. Currently among Carpenter’s best movies that I’ve seen and one of his most underrated.