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Prince of Darkness

Theatrical poster
Directed by John Carpenter
Produced by Larry J. Franco
Written by Martin Quatermass
Starring Donald Pleasence
Jameson Parker
Victor Wong
Music by John Carpenter
Alan Howarth
Cinematography Gary B. Kibbe
Distributed by Universal (United States and Canada)
Carolco (all other territories)
Release date(s) October 23, 1987
Running time 102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,000,000 (approximate)

Prince of Darkness is a 1987 American horror film directed, written, and scored by John Carpenter. The film is the second installment in what Carpenter refers to as his "Apocalypse Trilogy", which began with The Thing and concludes with In the Mouth of Madness.

Contents

Plot

A priest (Donald Pleasence) invites Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and a group of academics and students to investigate a mysterious cylinder in the basement of an abandoned Los Angeles church. The cylinder contains a constantly swirling, green liquid. Among these people is a teacher in metaphysics, Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker).

After researching the text found next to the cylinder, it is discovered that the liquid is actually the Anti-Christ, the son of an even more powerful force of evil, an Anti-God, who is trapped in another dimension. The liquid itself appears sentient, producing increasingly complex data that is revealed by computer decoding to include differential equations.

Over the period of two days, small jets of liquid escape the cylinder and possess the group one by one, to use them against the remaining survivors. Their attempts to escape the building are prevented by a mass of possessed street people surrounding it, who kill two of the group. The survivors also find themselves sharing a recurring dream, apparently a tachyon transmission sent as a warning from the future year of 1999, showing a shaky video sequence of a shadowy figure emerging from the front of the church. The transmission and the shadowy figure shown seem to change slightly with each occurrence of the dream. The narration of the transmission each time instructs the 'dreamer' that they are witnessing an actual broadcast from the future and they must alter the course of events to prevent this occurence.

Eventually, the cylinder opens fully and the entire remaining liquid is absorbed into the body of one of the students who becomes the corporeal vessel for the Antichrist: A gruesomely disfigured being, with powers of telekinesis and regeneration, who attempts to bring the Anti-God through a dimensional portal using a mirror (initially failing because the mirror is too small). At the climax of the film, the Antichrist finds a larger wall mirror, and begins to draw the Father's hand through it as most of the group are immobilised in fights with the other possessed members.

Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), the lover of another of the academics, Marsh, is the only one free to act, and tackles the possessed student, both of them falling through the portal. The priest then shatters the mirror, trapping The Anti-Christ, the Father and Danforth in the other realm. Danforth is seen briefly on the other side of the mirror reaching out to the portal before it closes, leaving her in darkness. Immediately the possessed die, the street people wander away, and the survivors are rescued, relieved that the evil has been thwarted.

At the end of the film, Marsh has the recurring dream again, except that an apparently possessed Danforth is now the figure emerging from the building. He appears to awaken, and rolls over to find Danforth, gruesomely disfigured, lying in bed with him. He then awakens screaming, recovers, and approaches his bedroom mirror, hand outstretched. The film cuts to black just before his fingers touch the mirror.

Production

The idea for the film came about as Carpenter had been researching theoretical physics and atomic theory. He recalled, simply, that "I thought it would be interesting to create some sort of ultimate evil and combine it with the notion of matter and anti-matter".[1] This idea, which would eventually develop into the screenplay for Prince of Darkness, was to be the first of a multi-picture deal with Alive Pictures, where Carpenter was allocated $3 million per picture and complete creative control.[2]

Executive producer Shep Gordon was also manager to singer Alice Cooper and suggested Cooper record a song for the picture. Carpenter also cast Cooper in the picture as one of the homeless zombies. Cooper also allowed the use of his 'impaling device' from his stage show to be used in the film in a scene where Cooper's character kills Etchinson.[3] The song Cooper wrote for the film, also titled "Prince of Darkness", can be heard briefly in the same scene playing through Etchinson's headphones, although the song was not released until a year later.

Carpenter brought back to the film people that he had worked with previously, including Victor Wong and Donald Pleasance. Peter Jason, soon to become a Carpenter regular, was also in the film.

The film was shot through a slightly anamorphic lens, giving a subtle distortion to every scene.

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). Carpenter returned to the idea of clerical secrecy in Vampires.

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.[4]

Reception

Prince of Darkness was poorly received critically upon release. Over the years, the film's critical reputation has improved considerably and it has obtained a cult following.

In his review for the Washington Post, Richard Harrington wrote, “At one point Pleasence vows that 'it's a secret that can no longer be kept.' Here's another: "The Prince of Darkness stinks." It too deserves to be shut up in a canister for 7 million years".[5] Liam Lacey, in his review for the Globe and Mail, wrote, “There is no character really worth caring about, no sympathy to any of these characters. The principal romantic couple, Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount, are unpleasant enough to create an unfortunate ambivalence about their eternal destinies”.[6] In his review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby called the film a "surprisingly cheesy horror film to come from Mr. Carpenter, a director whose work is usually far more efficient and inventive."[7]

References

  1. ^ Gilles Boulenger, John Carpenter Prince of Darkness, (Los Angeles, Silman-James Press, 2003), pp.201, ISBN 1-879505-67-3
  2. ^ Boulenger, pp. 201
  3. ^ Boulenger, pp. 204
  4. ^ Murray, Andy (2006) (paperback). Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale. London: Headpress. pp. 158. ISBN 1-900486-50-4. 
  5. ^ Harrington, Richard (October 28, 1987). "Darkness: Let Satan Sleep". Washington Post: pp. D15. 
  6. ^ Lacey, Liam (October 26, 1987). "After Starman, Prince is painful". Globe and Mail. 
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 23, 1987). "Prince of Darkness". New York Times: pp. 26. 

External links

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