Prince of Darkness – USA, 1987 – reviews

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Prince of Darkness is a 1987 American science-fiction horror feature film directed, written, and scored by John Carpenter. The film is the second entry in what Carpenter calls his unofficial “Apocalypse Trilogy”, which began with The Thing (1982) and concludes with In the Mouth of Madness (1995).

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The movie stars Donald Pleasence,  Victor Wong, Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount, with an entertaining extended cameo by Alice Cooper.

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Executive producer Shep Gordon was also manager to singer Alice Cooper and suggested Cooper he record a song for the picture. He also allowed the ‘impaling device’ from his stage show to be used in the film in a scene where his character kills Etchinson. The song he wrote for the film, also titled “Prince of Darkness”, can be heard briefly in the same scene playing through Etchinson’s headphones.

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Although Carpenter wrote the screenplay, in the film’s credits the writer is listed as Martin Quatermass, a homage repeated in the film with Kneale University. These were in reference to the British film and television writer Nigel Kneale and the famous fictional scientist he created, Professor Bernard Quatermass. The storyline features elements associated with Kneale (the ancient evil aspect of both Quatermass and the Pit and The Quartermass Conclusion, the idea of messages from the future from The Road, and the scientific investigation of the supernatural from The Stone Tape).

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Kneale, however, was irritated with this use of the character’s name in the film’s credits, as he feared that the impression may be given that he had something to do with the film. Previously, he had written the original screenplay for the 1982 film Halloween III: Season of the Witch for Carpenter, but had been so incensed with all of the changes director Tommy Lee Wallace had made to it that he had his name removed from the credits.

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There is a marked difference between the theatrical and the US TV version, which featured a mix of edits and extra scenes; they make for a different film, removing some of the plot and enhancing the idea that it was all just a dream.

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“Carpenter is at the top of his game here. He doesn’t clutter the story with a bunch of needless dialogue, and things progress and get revealed at a leisurely brisk pace and with the same sort of coming-into-the-middle-of-things feel that Big Trouble in Little China exhibited so well. This works to the overall narrative’s benefit…” Allusions of Grandeur

” … Prince of Darkness fails to take advantage of its claustrophobic setting and intercuts too many unconnected climaxes. Accordingly, although the film is consistently eerie and interesting. it is never really frightening or exciting.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“We genuinely feel like we’re about to see something special; a sort of grand showdown between a ragtag, makeshift Good and an overpowering Evil.  Then, after that initial burst of liquid, the reality sets in that there will be nothing grand about this movie.  Instead, it all feels so small and inconsequential; words that definitely should not apply to a film seemingly about the End of the World.” Battleship Pretension

POD might not have much blood, but it has an awesome suppressive atmosphere about it that stays with you even after the movie is over. There’s just something about the idea of being trapped in a building by a creature that actually thrives off of your disbeliefs and can control lower lifeforms like insects and Alice Cooper-impersonating hobos that I found to be especially creepy.” Happyotter

“One of John Carpenter’s best and most underrated films works through intelligent dialogue, carefully measured special effects, and excellent performances from an ensemble cast.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide

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“Prince of Darkness seems to be an inspired film with an inspiring premise, but like almost all John Carpenter films I’ve seen, the execution just isn’t there, and as a result the film falls short. This seems to be the bane of Carpenter’s movies — they’re always good and fun, but they never quite have that something that makes them Great films.” Beyond Hollywood

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“The terror and tension displayed is classic Carpenter, but it’s just at times things verge a little on the cheesy given the ambitious, outrageous narrative of the film, and some of the key characters end up as instantly forgettable.” Starburst

“When a movie promises us the Prince of Darkness, we expect more than a green thing in a tube that sprays fluids into people’s mouths, turning them into zombies who stand around for most of the movie looking like they can’t remember which bus to take. When we’re threatened with Armageddon, we expect more than people hitting each other over the head with two-by-fours.” Roger Ebert

“Refracting the traditional conflict of Good and Evil through quantum mechanics and sub-atomic physics, the sometimes talky script remains engrossing thanks to Carpenter’s chilling atmospherics. The claustrophobic terror generated by fluid camerawork and striking angles is reinforced by a narrative which builds slowly but surely towards a heart-racing climax.” Time Out

“Carpenter spends so much time turning the screws on the next scare that he completely forsakes his actors, who are already stranded with a shoddy script.” Variety, December 31, 1986

“After a slow start, Prince of Darkness picks up a lot of steam as it goes along.  And the final forty minutes are fucking sweet. It’s not perfect, but then again any movie that has quantum physicists for heroes, a major plot point involving the transmission of video images through time and space into people’s dreams, and giant jars of Liquid Satan had to be uneven.” The Video Vacuum

Cast and characters:

  • Donald Pleasence … Priest
  • Jameson Parker … Brian Marsh
  • Victor Wong … Prof. Howard Birack
  • Lisa Blount … Catherine Danforth
  • Dennis Dun … Walter
  • Susan Blanchard … Kelly
  • Anne Marie Howard … Susan Cabot (as Anne Howard)
  • Ann Yen … Lisa
  • Ken Wright … Lomax
  • Dirk Blocker … Mullins
  • Jessie Lawrence Ferguson … Calder
  • Peter Jason … Doctor Paul Leahy
  • Robert Grasmere … Frank Wyndham
  • Thom Bray … Etchinson
  • Joanna Merlin … Bag Lady
  • Alice Cooper … Street Schizo
  • Betty Ramey … Nun

Technical details:

  • 102 minutes
  • Audio: Ultra Stereo
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1

Budget:

  • $3,000,000 (estimated)
  • Worldwide Gross: $14,182,492

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