Yet another one of John Carpenter’s most underappreciated films, but also one of his best experiments as I would say. Prince of Darkness, the second film in Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy, (first being The Thing and last being In the Mouth of Madness), was critically reviled upon its initial release but in more recent stature, a more positive response comes by, something which is all the more satisfying. With Prince of Darkness, John Carpenter is free to toy around with his many cinematic obsessions and he lets everything out just as he pleases. Prince of Darkness is not only a film that holds an honour for being Carpenter’s most underappreciated film in my eyes, but also one of his very best films at that.
Following up the science fiction-horror route which Carpenter had went along with through his remake of The Thing, Prince of Darkness is a work that makes its influence clear from the pseudonym which is adopted for the film, the writings of science fiction writer Nigel Kneale (the pseudonym Martin Quatermass, which is actually Carpenter himself, comes from The Quatermass and the Pit). While I’ve not read anything written by Nigel Kneale, there’s a certain amount of brilliance arising from how Carpenter brings out the most terrifying aspects of Prince of Darkness right out of science. Explanations may not make the most sense, but it’s a part of how Carpenter is capturing a lack of sanity that makes the experience all the more tense.
It’s interesting to see how Carpenter is examining the relationships between science and religion inside of a piece like Prince of Darkness, through a brilliant usage of tropes that are familiar for the slasher genre. Carpenter is a genre filmmaker, especially when it comes to how he works around with horror, but he is truly amongst the most interesting when it comes down to what more is showing from what we love when watching said films. Just as there is a lot of babbling about science, so much so for religion is also present, leaving us to ask about who is being the rational figure inside of the scenario which is presented. It first sounds from the premise, which involves Donald Pleasence as a priest sending out physicists and scientists to uncover the secrets of a mysterious cylinder, but the relationships that Carpenter explores in here make for something unforgettable. Religion versus science, who is sane and who is not, questions keep coming in.
True to the label of the Apocalypse trilogy, this is also where Carpenter is at some of his very most interesting as he is dealing with matters that could involve the end of the world, and the atmosphere which he sets up from the first frame hints already at the dread that is to be presented. Carpenter weaves the imagery so perfectly well in order to elicit fear running throughout, but as the film keeps going it only builds up more and more to a climax that defines Prince of Darkness. He never falls down to the level of jump scares, but instead what is created is something that only grows all the more chilling as the apocalyptic tone floods the film’s atmosphere, only from small hints to what will be coming next. It may be slow for some viewers, but there is still something beautiful coming out from the payoff.
As for the climactic sequence, in all the graphic nature which it is reveling in, is absolutely gorgeous. Visually, Carpenter crafts something that is all the more beautiful to look at when you come to look at the crafting within such a scene – as throughout the whole film, Carpenter has restrained jump scares but instead only hinted all throughout to something so out of the ordinary, but also the climax which Prince of Darkness deserves. It is also heavily commendable noting how Carpenter works around practical effects in a climax like this, for they also add more to the spectacle which is coming along. As Prince of Darkness kept moving, a specific feeling lingering within the head only can grow worse, all because it is setting everything up to such a sequence so brilliantly, it is absolutely wonderful.
Even now, there is still a level to which Prince of Darkness still hits me as a ridiculously underrated piece. Not only is it his most underrated film by those standards, but also it stands out in my eyes as one of John Carpenter’s very best films. Carpenter cuts back on gore, to provide something all the more unnerving but it pays off by the time everything is unleashed in the climax. This film showcases all the highlights that John Carpenter carries within his body of work, everything used in the manner that I would always have wanted from a director like he. Sure, some moments do come off as clunky but it carries a resemblance towards Carpenter’s earlier films especially during the period in which he was also busy with farces like Big Trouble in Little China or They Live.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by John Carpenter
Screenplay by John Carpenter
Produced by Larry J. Franco
Starring Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Jameson Parker, Alice Cooper
Release Year: 1987
Running Time: 101 minutes