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Prince of Darkness(1987)
A research team finds a mysterious cylinder in a deserted church. If opened, it could mean the end of the world.
For more about Prince of Darkness and the Prince of Darkness Blu-ray release, see Prince of Darkness Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 3, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Jameson Parker, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper
Director: John Carpenter
» See full cast & crew
Prince of Darkness Blu-ray Review
The Devil's in the details.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 3, 2013
Like a lot of Humanities students, I was entranced by the poetic approach toward science in such iconic books as The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. Those tomes even inspired me to take an actual Theoretical Physics class in college, something that was probably (well, actually) way over my head from a math perspective but which intrigued me with its wonderfully Zen like paradoxes and brave new worlds that seem to confound what most people would insist were common sense things like the reality of the physical world which surrounds us. Some scientists probably feel exactly the way I felt back in the day when they are confronted by religious matters, with spiritual memes taking the place of the high-falutin' math that confounded me. As much as those two aforementioned books sought to show correspondences between modern physics and ancient religious thought, there's probably no denying the fact that there has always been a rather profound disconnect between those who live their lives by faith and those who live their lives by science (which is not to say these two approaches are absolutes and totally separate, as a Venn Diagram showing these two camps would no doubt have some who consider themselves members in good standing of both). Prince of Darkness is what might be termed a minor John Carpenter entry, one that met with considerable critical resistance during its original release and which never really took off at the box office, and which in some ways is one of Carpenter's clunkier efforts, for a variety of reasons. It's nonetheless one of the most interesting films in Carpenter's oeuvre, if for no other reason than it seeks to find a middle ground between science and religion. It admittedly has none of the poetry of books like The Tao of Physics, and indeed looks for that middle ground within the confines of a pretty rote supernatural thriller, but buried within the sometimes laughable dialogue and silly quasi-religious (and quasi-scientific) ramblings, there's a rather compelling idea underpinning a lot of the action. Chances are even Carpenter wasn't really trying to overtly join these two idioms, since they so often mix like oil and water, and Carpenter himself mentions in the commentary included on this Blu-ray that he isn't even sure what some plot points mean in the film, but for those who don't mind storylines that posit Jesus as an extraterrestrial and Satan as a swirling green liquid being held in a giant metallic canister, Prince of Darkness offers its own silly but enjoyable pleasures.
Part of what ails Prince of Darkness is that neither the representative of the faith end of the spectrum, a Priest (Donald Pleasance), nor the chief scientist, a physics professor named Birack (Victor Wong), seem to be the brightest bulbs in their respective packs. The Priest reaches out to Birack to help deal with the giant glowing cylinder which has been kept secret in the cavernous bowels of crumbling urban church. But Carpenter (who wrote the film under the pseudonym of Martin Quatermass) cheats the audience by both not providing enough information (including using a lot of ridiculous stalling tactics) in the early going, and then rather ironically providing way too much information as Birack enlists a coterie of students (most of whom look considerably long of tooth to still be going to school) to help get scientific data on what exactly is going on in the church, drowning the viewer in a morass of ancient texts, quasi-scientific blather and even "broadcasts" from another dimension. This whole approach is kind of silly, since the Priest already knows what's going on and is really simply trying to prevent it from happening. Why not just hire a nuclear physicist to bomb the cylinder into Kingdom Come?
In fact for all of its supposed scientific hoo-hah (that's a technical term, thank you very much), Prince of Darkness is actually nothing more than one of those haunted house B-movies where a bunch of teenagers decide to spend the night and get picked off one by one (or two by two, as the case may be). The giant glowing cylinder spews some of its liquid into one poor girl who is of course stupid enough to wander down into the basement by herself, and then she goes on to spew in another hapless female's mouth, and on and on until there's a virtual army of zombie like possessed souls roaming the labyrinthine halls of the church. Meanwhile a bunch of equally zombiefied homeless people (including Alice Cooper, believe it or not) wander around outside the church, making sure none of these goofballs can actually escape.
Carpenter may have frankly been off his game in terms of writing, for the film features some impossibly stupid sounding dialogue, something that seems to stymie some of the actors (only Donald Pleasance seems to be able to maintain a shred of believability). But directorially, this is really one of Carpenter's most assured efforts, as Carpenter himself mentions in the included commentary. The set pieces are extremely well staged, and while there may be a surfeit of actual scares in the film, there's a good, spooky mood that's maintained—at least when no one is talking. The special effects and make-up effects are also well handled and lend this film some of the allure that has made it a cult item over the past couple of decades.
Prince of Darkness Blu-ray, Video Quality
Prince of Darkness is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory's imprint Scream Factory, with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Perhaps ironically, for being a frankly lesser entry in the John Carpenter canon, this is one of the more impressive looking Blu-ray releases we've seen from Shout!'s recent foray through Carpenter's films. Fine grain, while very fine, is evident throughout the presentation, but the most commanding thing about this transfer is its sharpness and luminously saturated color. The film still has some of the issues it had in its theatrical exhibition in terms of being a tad too dark at times (one important scene involving fingers penetrating a mirror is still a bit hard to make out), but generally speaking, the image here is clear, precise and artifact free. Some of the practical effects show their age, but the make-up effects look especially good in this new high definition presentation.
Prince of Darkness Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Prince of Darkness was another Carpenter feature initially released in Ultra Stereo, and its original mix is presented here both in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The 5.1 mix is notable for a much improved low end, something that helps the thumping synth driven score by Carpenter and Alan Howarth really pulse with energy. Surround activity tends to be limited mostly to the score and occasional sound effects, though there are some nicely immersive moments, including a late in the film scramble to get out of a confessional where the chopping actions on one side and encroaching possessed demons on the other create a nice whirlwind of sonic activity. Dialogue is cleanly presented, which actually may not be a good thing, considering the dialogue. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is very wide.
Prince of Darkness Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Prince of Darkness Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Prince of Darkness will provoke laughter in more cynical types, and it probably can't be effectively argued that this is one of Carpenter's better efforts, but I still found myself enjoying it after not having seen it for many, many years. When the filmmaker himself states that he's not quite sure what some elements in the film mean, it's probably best not to try to peer too deeply beneath the covers and instead just enjoy the film for the silly fun it provides. Donald Pleasance is quite enjoyable (I love his "I could, I could" stuttering as he contemplates picking up a fire axe to dispatch a demon), but some of the rest of the cast seems to be struggling to spit out the risible dialogue that Carpenter has provided. The film still has a creepy enough ambience to make it appropriate Halloween viewing, and there's the definite bonus of this Blu- ray's great video and audio and supplementary features. Recommended.
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Prince of Darkness Blu-ray, News and Updates
• John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness Detailed - July 24, 2013
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has revealed the final list of supplemental features that will be included on its upcoming Collector's Edition Blu-ray release of director John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. ...
• John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness Heading to Blu-ray - May 17, 2013
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has revealed that it is planning to bring to Blu-ray director John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness (1987), starring Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, and Victor Wong. The ...
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