Written by / 11/29/2016 / No comments / , , , , , , , , ,

MARTIN QUATERMASS WRITES/DIRECTS 'PRINCE OF DARKNESS'

Between BIG TROUBLE and THEY LIVE Year Released: 1987
While THE THING was arguably the greatest cinematic achievement of John Carpenter (here using the pulpy pseudonym Martin Quatermass, so we'll play along), HALLOWEEN his most popular and groundbreaking; ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK the downright coolest, edgiest; THE FOG his most sparse, economical and old school ghost story convenient; CHRISTINE his slickest; STARMAN his most sell-out mainstream; BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA his loopy loosest; and THEY LIVE, wielding a barrage of timeless cult-flavored one-liners and neatly edited fight scenes, is his most non-sellout, solid and cool action-flick mainstream; PRINCE OF DARKNESS, at the cusp of The Master of Horror's peak, is his most personal, comparable to the gritty Martin Scorsese MEAN STREETS (that both wrote themselves without help) verses the RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS: Yet this cult curio is written by Martin Quatermass who, known now but wasn't then, was the man himself and, while sharing elements of his past features including a HALLOWEEN body count and THE THING science-fiction terror, involving something from beyond able to alter human beings, PRINCE OF DARKNESS is different for several reasons...

Shout Factory Blu Ray new artwork
The lack of a genuine leading man hero, which would seem like the preppy half of TV's popular SIMON AND SIMON, is Parker Jameson along with leading lady Lisa Blount — who's even more reluctant to believe the Biblical theories driving the unexplained force they're monitoring...

Both without the energy of young leads, and wind up serving more as beacons to herd what feels like way too many characters (that Carpenter himself compared to the original THING, how a myriad of scientists walk in and out of rooms): they wind up doing paranormal experiments for USC extra credit within a large, closed-down Catholic Church where zombie-like homeless people stand guard outside including heavy metal icon Alice Cooper: pop culture fanatics seem to love the fact that Cooper slays the geek from another television show — Thom Bray from RIPTIDE...

Anne Howard Prince of Darkness Anne Howard
There are a good number of death scenes or near-deaths wherein the bodies come alive again to stalk the shadowy corridors and keep survivors at an even tighter restraint of space: And not the kind of screaming and suspenseful pandemonium that usually occurs when people die, one after the other, as the formidable antagonist, who in this case is The Devil...

And He's trapped inside what looks like a lava lamp imitating a barber shop pole full of Gatorade (which could be CHRISTINE's anti freeze): spewing deathly liquid into the mouth of, first, one of four sexy ingenues, and our personal favorite lass, serving as the most palpable killer later on, and even outshining Cooper, who remains spooky and peripheral outside, mostly unseen past the first and second act.

More Ann Howard, this time dead and loving it
Anyone looking for a jolting horror experience, this might not work since the spookiest moments occur in a shared dream by anyone who falls into a nap. As for the antagonist... who's spoken of a lot and only viewed within the glimpse of each quick dream...

Who knows, perhaps having Lucifer himself as a horror flick heavy is aiming too high for mainstream audiences, or fans of HALLOWEEN and its myriad of clones: Symbolically speaking, this particular DARKNESS is more like scanning the blueprints of a haunted house than being frightfully lost and vulnerable inside one. Alice Cooper and the homeless zombie troupe aside, the real human villain is a she, who, like Satan in many a book and film, has a human name few can remember. This is a reoccurring bit of subtle Carpenter humor: "Have you seen Susan?" "Who?" "Susan, the Radiologist, with the glasses."

John Carpenter's cinematography never disappointed... till later
Anne Howard is the girl next door type who does wear glasses but only at first, until taking them off or getting them taken off in a very green, wet manner...

Then turning into a pale zombie that eventually snowballs a host of others to take care of the survivors, including an actor who was pretty much the main action-star of Carpenter's Kung Fu comedy BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA while Kurt Russell watched in amazement... But here, Dennis Dun is horribly miscast as the sarcastic and reluctant character i.e. our token comic relief... He seems to be reading lines, and his forced glib humor doesn't elevate the chaos or allow the audience to escape the bedlam, as intended. On the plus side: It seems that no matter how many deaths or gruesome bodily-takeovers occur, the movie remains as mellow and constant as the signature synthesizer music by the director himself, providing an even-keeled, foreboding pulse that rarely speeds up, making even the most gory deaths seem completely normal, and commonplace...

Victor Wong and Anne Howard study the devil's details
In this location, they are... For PRICE OF DARKNESS, according to Carpenter in a DVD/Blu Ray Commentary track with his stock actor/buddy Peter Jason...

The latter who told us, personally, in a Cult Film Freak podcast, that his decision to become a crying zombie was an idea from his personal friend, actor extraordinaire David Warner (who loved Peter's interview but couldn't do one himself): Carpenter revealed this film was actually more like Howard Hawk's THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD than his own THE THING in that much of the story has a group of scientists roaming from one room into another...

DarkScore: ***1/2
The differences between both THING flicks (of the 50's and 80's) are many, but there's one thing that makes DARKNESS superior to Hawks's science fiction chiller: the number of people dwindle as the film progresses, which means things actually occur in-between...

Where the Demons hang out near the water cooler
And while the killings aren't extremely scary, there's a palpable sense of dread from the very on-set...

Cutting from a darkened corridor to the shiny exterior of U.S.C. where existential Philosophy professor Victor Wong teaches his class something about what's actual and what isn't... a theory he alters while aiding the Priest... And where cinematic Christianity and/or Catholicism usually has a temperamental knee-jerk reaction against scientific theories, because of the connection between our two polar opposite but equally wise old-timers, both religion and science is neatly hybrid, which makes Carpenter's script actually quite deep, thought-provoking, and refreshingly open-minded...

A death scene, but not really... no one really dies that quick...
But for those who stray from movies that may as well be Christian or Faith-based since, after-all, if centering on the Devil there must be a hero in God and Jesus Christ, don't fret...

According to a scroll discovered inside the church, Christ was more of a paranormal researcher than a messiah, and, with an extra terrestrial origin, he was sent to Earth to, along with his disciples, simply keep Old Scratch at bay... So that's the backstory, and what a controversial prequel JESUS CHRIST: GHOST HUNTER would have been. But in all seriousness, this lends a touch of science-fiction to the ancient-curse-horror element...

That's John Carpenter, not wanting all to know it's all his own
Which fits Carpenter's wheelhouse, and this is definitely his labor of love that's fitfully murky, creepy and remains entertaining from beginning to end despite a few Second Act scenes that drag a bit: And towards the conclusion we go back to one of John's first movies — his own personal Modern-Urban-Western that he also wrote himself, titled ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 about a group of survivors trapped within a particular location and, because of nefarious elements outside (gang members trying to enter a closed-down but sparsely occupied police station), they can't get out: Herein, instead of gun-wielding hoods there's Satan controlling a different kind of zombie altogether, which leads to another realization: While maybe not that original a body count horror since it's fairly obvious, judging by the personalities, who will buy the farm — for a Zombie flick, PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a morbid, meticulous and contained one of a kind treat...
Just from Prince of Darkness Anne Marie Howard is one of our fav scream queens (billed as Anne Howard)
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