For many horror fans, Prince of Darkness begins the decline of John
Carpenter’s career. This is a decision not based on money at all; in
fact, some of Carpenter’s greatest artistic successes after Halloween,
including The Thing, Escape from New York and Christine, were far from
blockbusters. But Prince of Darkness is different in that it is an
How do I even explain this mess? Start of with this: the devil is in
a jar. Okay, so it’s a large jar, and he’s a swirling mess of green
light, but to simplify, old Scratch is in a glorified Ball jar.
Funny, but with a movie named after the dark prince himself, I
expected so much more. So what’s the big deal if Satan himself can be
trapped in glass? Well, he wants to get out. And who has Carpenter
sent to strike him down? Oh no, you have to be kidding me. Donald
Pleasence and a bunch of physics students? Sadly, I’m not jesting.
People who love Pleasence seem only to remember fondly his part as Dr.
Loomis in Halloween, and forget how many other throwaway horror films
he made. Who rounds out the other roles? Two holdovers from Big
Trouble in Little China, and one of the guys from Simon and Simon
(yes, I’m showing my age). And Alice Cooper the zombie. But even
shock rock’s prince of darkness can’t help this movie.
The problem here is that the script is a muddled mess. How are a
bunch of science geeks supposed to stop Satan? Is the message that
technology can conquer religion and evil? And if so, why do so many
of these students end up getting slaughtered? Why are there zombies
shambling around outside the church? Is the devil possessing people
at points? Into what category do the monsters fall? What exactly
will happen if somebody takes the lid off the jar? None of this is
clear at the end of the movie, unfortunately. And why on earth would
Carpenter, the same writer who crafted some classic lines in some of
his earlier scripts, have a character say "This is ca ca," perhaps the
worst line I’ve of dialogue I’ve heard in a serious horror movie?
(Carpenter used a pseudonym for the role; good choice) If Carpenter
had clarified a number of these points and removed some of the
atrocious lines spoken by his characters, perhaps this could have been
a decent scare flick. Instead, I’m left with a movie which appears to
have been filmed off a first draft.
The DVD provides only a trailer as an extra. There’s a
recommendations section, but it just shows the cover of 3 of
Carpenter’s other Universal movies.
What struck me most upon watching Prince of Darkness was how closely
it wants to imitate Carpenter’s The Thing, a far superior movie. The
sense of claustrophobia, the way in which Carpenter frames some of his
shots, and even some of the dialogue ape his earlier end of the world
tale, but only manages to fall flat in the final result. One of the
characters cops a line wholesale from The Thing, saying that trust is
a hard thing to come by these days. Unfortunately, starting with
Prince of Darkness, we could never trust Carpenter to produce the
level of work and craftsmanship he did in his earlier days.