Prince of Darkness

 

Prince of Darkness is an exceedingly strange film. It is John Carpenter’s strangest film (aside from possibly Ghosts of Mars, but we will give that movie a pass for various reasons best not gotten into here).  It’s the middle section of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, bookended by The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness. It’s the weakest of the three entries, but not without considerable charms. 

 


 


 

The plot of the movie is pretty damned crazy. A priest played by the amazing Donald Pleasance invites a Physicist named Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and a bunch of students and academics to the basement of an old monastery belonging to “The Brotherhood of Sleep”, an ancient order of monks who communicate via dreams. He needs help with a big cylinder of swirling green liquid which is actually Satan somehow.  The liquid Satan broadcasts streams of data that includes differential equations.  Over the course of two days bits of the liquid escape and infect people. The infected attack other people in order to spread the (I don’t know what to call it – contagion maybe?). The monastery is surrounded by possessed homeless people including a confused looking Alice Cooper. The Brotherhood is, I guess, a sort of cult which allows this film to be included here (I know it’s  stretch. Don’t @ me. Or do. Whatever).

 

The physicist and the priest create a theory: The Devin (or Prince of Darkness) is the son of the Anti-God, an incredibly powerful being who comes from, or is part of, or controls anti-matter or something. It’s a bit daffy, to be sure, but just wait. There’s more! The survivors start experiencing a shared dream of a shadowy person coming out of the church.  This “dream”, it turns out, is a message being sent back in time via tachyons (hypothetical time particles, don’t ya know) from the far-flung future year of 1999 (when we will all party, one assumes).

 


 

 

The dream transmission is warning them that they must prevent the future that they are being shown. It’s unclear how they are meant to do that, though.

 

Kelley (Susan Blanchard) become possessed by the jar of liquid satan and attempts to open a portal via a mirror to summon the anti-god, but the mirror she chose is too small and the attempt fails. It seems like an all-powerful anti-matter being from the future could maybe compress or something to get through the mirror, but I guess not. She finds a bigger mirror, starts to summon anti-god. But hen gets tackled, falls through and vanishes. Then the mirror is smashed, and the world is saved.  Or is it?

 

It is, though. It really is.

 

It has always bothered me that this film, and not the far superior They Live is considered the middle part of the trilogy (as far as the term can even be used given that none of the listed films have any real connection to each other).  The Thing, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness sounds like a better thematic progression.  This film is just goofy as hell. It doesn’t feel like a Carpenter movie. I mean, sure, it has some of Carpenter’s favorite actors. The music sounds right. The fluid camera work, the efficient action, the set design, these all look like a Carpenter film. But it doesn’t feel like one. There’s never really any tension. The premise is just too dumb, and keeps escalating to higher planes of dumb.  The characters are mostly boring, flat, and unlikable.  It’s hard to care what happens to them. Since we never really get a sense of the larger world the film exists in, we don’t really care that the Anti-God is going to do whatever it is we are meant to think that he is going to do to it.

 

So, what's to like about it? I already mentioned the music, which is great. Then there's the acting. I may not care for the characters, but I love the way they are created. Pleasance is a joy. He commits to the dumbest things like his life depended on it. Victor Wong is always wonderful. Jameson Parker here takes a break from playing Simon (not that one, the other Simon) to be joyless about joylessness and I am here for every second of it.

 

Mostly though, this movie is funny. It's just funny as hell on every possible level.  

 

 

 

 

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