Prince of Darkness (1987)
April 25, 2019 10:44 AM - Subscribe

A research team finds a mysterious cylinder in a deserted church. If opened, it could mean the end of the world.

Second in John Carpenter’s loose “Apocalypse Trilogy” (contains spoilers for all three films), along with The Thing (1982) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995).

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (2 stars):
The set-up for "Prince of Darkness" is pretty good. The priest (Donald Pleasence, looking worried) appeals to the scientist (Victor Wong) to help save the planet. The graduate students are introduced, and a small romance blossoms between two of them. The computers are wheeled in. I was looking for a cross between "The Exorcist" and "The Entity," but then the movie suddenly turned simplistic, and the evil Sleeper turned into a dud.

Let's face it. 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.
Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune (4 stars):
Working in the restricted setting he has long preferred (the action never ventures far from the church), Carpenter creates his suspense through a shrewd alternation of tension and release, horror and humor. For an audience that has become too accustomed to shock cuts, Carpenter uses his elegantly composed wide-screen images to divide our attention, directing our eyes to one corner of the frame while a crafty surprise prepares itself in another. As in “Halloween,” he has even inserted deliberately dead passages-long, actionless sequences that serve only to build up the pressure of anticipation. Allowing the action to slacken is a dangerous move in these days of flat- out, full-force horror films, but Carpenter knows what he’s doing: A control of rhythm and pace can have a greater influence on an audience’s nerves than any amount of gushing stage blood.

“Prince of Darkness” is a real tour de force, and a welcome return.
The Great Satan doesn’t just reside in man’s heart of darkness. Instead he lives in an opposite dimension, and manifests himself in this world in... bugs. That’s about the extent of the horror that John Carpenter conjures up in Prince of Darkness.

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.
posted by chappell, ambrose (12 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks, now I know what that half remembered movie from the '80s with the green cylinder and the physicists and the computers was actually called. That's all I remember about it....
posted by zengargoyle at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2019

I really like this movie. It's one of my favorite Carpenter films. I understand what Ebert is saying, but the fact that the Evil doesn't predictably decide to manifest as some kind of winged demon that can be physically slain makes it stronger and scarier. I suppose that either you buy the science of evil exposition or you don't. I am generally willing to buy any one crazy plot element just to see if a good film comes out of it. So I think it works just fine, and that the film is almost as thick with dread as The Thing. The scientists can't contain the evil!

The last five minutes are very resonant. In particular, I think the imagery of the portal is as good as horror gets, visually. It seems like it was a very strong influence on The Void.
posted by heatvision at 11:25 AM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Anyone who listened to Entroducing a lot prior to seeing the film will recognise it as being the source of the “messages from the future” samples.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love this ridiculous movie because it involves Alice Cooper killing someone with a bicycle frame. Only from the mind of John Carpenter.
posted by kokaku at 1:07 PM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

“I’ve got a message for you. And you’re not going to like it!”
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 PM on April 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

For a different kind of horror: that cathedral out in the middle of nowhere is now in the middle of the quite large suburban housing development that started getting built out in the mid-2000s as Markham or Vaughan metastasize.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:11 PM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

(I am a dumb and put my comment in this thread and not the ItMoM thread and now I am going to go into the box where I will feel shame)
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:51 AM on April 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

“You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year One-Nine Nine-Nine.”
Always gives me the shudders.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:26 PM on April 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

My wife and I always call this one "Satan in a Jar," which belies our absolute love of the film. So many terrifying moments, but "We are transmitting ..." was just (shudder).
posted by DrAstroZoom at 11:23 AM on April 29, 2019

posted by phearlez at 12:17 PM on April 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of this film for how completely different it is from any other horror film. The way it's almost science fiction but still avoids explanation is great. And yes, “You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year One-Nine Nine-Nine” is terrifying, even when watching it twenty years after the year One-Nine Nine-Nine. That last image of the female lead sinking into the mirror world, the student collapsing into chunks after delivering the message you're not going to like, the zombies spewing filth at other characters—all these things supercede the weak points (like the endless opening credits sequence). I watched this movie a few years ago for a Halloween marathon and it brought the horror in ways that most monster movies or serial killer stories cannot. The Thing is basically my favorite movie of all time, but this is its underrated sibling.
posted by ejs at 9:30 PM on May 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m going to have to up my efforts to get a copy and rewatch this. It’s been on my list for a long time but for whatever reason I have neglected it. My recall of it is that it’s got a nihilistic hopelessness that was ahead of its time. Not uniquely so, and a lot of our horror of the time had the end stinger with it turning out the baddie has survived and it now stabbing the hero in the neck in freeze-frame. But PoD seemed to wallow in it much of the movie and the stakes are for the universe not our group of horny teens. That seems way more in line with a lot of current era horror than 80s but perhaps my decrepitude is showing.
posted by phearlez at 6:12 AM on May 3, 2019

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