Prince Of Darkness – John Carpenter – 1987


The church has been lying to you for all these years. The devil lives in an ancient green cylinder beneath an abandoned Las Angeles Church, and if Professor Birack, and Father Loomis don’t do anything about it, the apocalypse will be unleashed. Prince Of Darkness, the second of John Carpenter’s self-proclaimed “Apocalypse Trilogy”, is absolutely one of his most underrated and terrifying films. From it’s fearless treatment of the church to its incredibly cerebral justifications of terror using physics. Prince of Darkness is a thinking man’s horror film, and the better for it. Some might find this film deliberate or even slow-paced, but Carpenter continues to find ways to stage nightmarish sequence after sequence, keeping one enthralled.

A priest dies, bequeathing to Donald Pleasance an ancient secret. Already, you have my interest. I love the idea that the governing bodies of the world are keeping secrets from the populace, because if anyone could, it’s them. Moving on. Priest Pleasance employs a physics professor and his students to come and study an esoteric relic, one that gives of dangerous vibrations.

Through the proceedings, Carpenter gives many likeable characters, painting in broad but familiar strokes. We care for almost every man and woman in this church, and as they leave they are faced with the emotionless hordes governed by the evil objects’ sinister vibrations.

Again, mass mind control, or a single being populating many bodies is a theme from both the Thing and At The Mouth Of Madness, other films from the cycle. Even in Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween does Carpenter experiment with his greatest contribution to the horror language, The Shape. An emotionless human, under the sway of malevolent control, The Shape is arguably as iconic as Romero’s zombies, and Carpenter makes great use of it in Prince Of Darkness. As each student looks out of the church they see the mindless masses, under the control of the evil substance.

We, the audience are the students looking out at the masses. Question your history the film says. What secrets are kept from us for our own safety? In the name of our best interest?

The road to hell is paved with good intention. In a chilling scene, Donald Pleasance condemns the church for their duplicity and begs for help from science. The film paints science as savior from the lies of the church. Furthermore, as the film goes on, Christ is revealed to be an extraterrestrial (!) sent here to warn us about the green devil juice, and it’s apocalyptic urge to bring forth from a mirror universe the anti-god.

Just the scene where the scientists explain the mirror universe and the anti-god is a work of brilliance, well written, plainly spoken, Carpenter taps into a Lovecraftian fear of the unknown, explaining in wide strokes just how sophisticated our science is and how it ultimately reveals to us the vastness of our ignorance.

Much to my love, Carpenter peppers in Fulciesque gore scenes, such as a bicycle stabbing and a body turning into maggots and insects. The focus is really on a Biblical type of Revelation.

Ultimately, Catherine Danforth gives herself to the mirror and stops the anti-god from entering this world. Selflessness is a virtue loved by the pious and scientific alike. Her sacrifice mirrors Christ’s. He gave his life to save the world. The revelation that the shared dream is message from the future further echoes the Christ story, in that Catherine returns from the dead to give the word of a new and better future.

The broadcast from the future gives mustache scientist reason, (hope? faith?) to reach out and touch the mirror. Can we look into Carpenter’s well-wrought reflection of humanity and take his points to heart? Is the beast in the mirror anti-god? Or is Carpenter saying that our reflection is the anti-god, and that selflessness is the path to righteousness? This film is better every time I see it, and I hope that one day Carpenter puts his teeth back in and bites back.


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