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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Day 250: Prince Of Darkness

Prince Of Darkness
Pretty. Insane, but pretty.

Satan. Lucifer. Beelzebub. Scratch. Dick Cheney. The Devil has many names and comes in many forms. Some believe he is a physical being, torturing condemned souls in the fiery pit of Hell while others believe he lives within every human being, causing us to do evil. Whether you believe in Heaven and Hell or God and Satan, the Devil makes for a pretty good horror movie villain. Since just about everything regarding his Goatship is open to interpretation, writers and directors are free to design how he looks as they see fit. While some movies go for the traditional pitchfork and horns, others go for something abstract. And then there's John Carpenter who adds his own little twist with his brand of horror.

Prince of Darkness is a 1987 horror movie written and directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing). The movie stars Jameson Parker (JAG, Simon & Simon) as metaphysician/student Brian Marsh and Lisa Blount (An Officer And A Gentleman, Box Of Moon Light) as fellow student Catherine Danforth. Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance, Halloween, Escape From New York) approaches their professor, Howard Birack (Victor Wong, Seven Years In Tibet, The Last Emperor), in need of help. A fellow priest who had recently died, left a box containing a key to an underground labyrinth beneath an abandoned church in Los Angeles. Inside the labyrinth is a cylinder filled with a swirling green liquid that appears to be growing in power. Birack gathers his students at the church, including Brian and Lisa who have begun to fall in love, in an effort to find out just what is in the cylinder. They are joined by other specialists including a woman to translate ancient text from a 2,000 year old book found next to the cylinder. The group notices that homeless people, led Street Schizo (Alice Cooper, Suck, Wayne's World 2), begin to encircle the church. When a group member leaves the church, Street Schizo impales him with part of a bicycle. After parts of the book is translated, it is revealed that the liquid is a conscious, living embodiment of the Prince of Darkness, Satan. Satan's powering is growing, changing the sky and overloading their computers. Loomis tells the group that the Church had been keeping the information about Satan a secret for thousands of years in order to protect humanity. Various members of the group begin to share the same dream, which appears to be a warning from the future. Satan is able to finally free itself from the cylinder, shooting liquid onto Susan, a radiologist with the group, making her into a slave. She begins possessing other members of the group including Kelly, who had a strange mark on her arm earlier in the day begins to physically change. She becomes the ultimate incarnation of Satan, complete with fantastic powers. Birack and the priest discover that Satan is the the son of an even more powerful entity and plans to bring him into this world. Surrounded and out-numbered, how will they be able to stop Satan from bringing his father into our reality?

Who wants Jell-O?

I'm a fan of John Carpenter's work so it came as a bit of a surprise when I came across Prince Of Darkness because I had never heard of it before. How can a movie by the man behind such classics as Halloween, The Thing, and Escape From New York just go completely under the radar? I think part of the problem is that the movie is too abstract for the average movie-goer. Thanks to mainstream media, we all have a preconceived notion of what the Devil should look like and a swirling green liquid doesn't fit that idea. I appreciate the desire to be different and I feel it works in the movie's favor since it's not your average horror movie. The general idea for the movie came from Carpenter's interest in theoretical physics and atomic theory and it shows. It's nice that the movie tries to give a scientific explanation for things, but it occasionally gets bogged down in specifics, leading to some confusion and bordedom. There is a good amount of action in the movie, though, with some nice violence and traditional horror scares. A lot is crammed in to the movie and certain aspects, like the dream message or Brian and Catherine's relationship, aren't really given enough time, especially given their importance.

Carpenter creates a great atmosphere that lasts throughout the movie. Shot with wide-angle lenses in an anamorphic format, the movie is very unsettling. The gothic feel of the church adds to the overall creepiness brought out by Carpenter's signature synthesizer music. What really sticks out to me are the small, minor changes in the actors when they become possessed. Much like spider-walk and head spinning scenes in The Exorcist, the unearthly sounds coming from the possessed group really touches a nerve. The acting is pretty good all-around and every plays their parts well. Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, who plays a group member named Calder, mixes strange giggles with weeping that send chills up my spine. The ending is quite good I actually had a nightmare related to this movie, so you know it has something working for it. The movie doesn't have your typical scares, but it manages to stick with you.

"We can't find Waldo anywhere!"

Prince Of Darkness is an underrated and undervalues horror movie from one of the masters. John Carpenter is able to craft a scary, surrealistic movie with a good amount of action and suspense. The abstract ideas and specific detail may keep some people away, but it's worth sticking with the movie. The atmosphere throughout the movie is very good thanks in part to the creepy music and creative camera shots. While it may not be the most well-known John Carpenter movie, it is well worth the time to watch. It is fun, scary, and unique. If you need a movie that will make you think and feel that you may not have seen before, Prince Of Darkness is a good choice.


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