31 Days of Halloween — Day 26: Prince of Darkness (1987) — by Dr. Shock

hmp-princeofdarknessEditor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.


John Carpenter is no stranger to horror aficionados, and some of his films (specifically Halloween and The Thing) continue to appear on many fans’ Top-10 lists (mine included). Released in 1987, Prince of Darkness sees Carpenter operating on an entirely different level, combining religion and science to relate an ominous tale of the apocalypse and, in so doing, creating a motion picture as thought-provoking as it is frightening.
A dark secret is being stored in the basement of Saint Goddard’s church in downtown Los Angeles. A Catholic priest (Donald Pleasance), who only just found it himself, learns that, for centuries, an organization known as The Brotherhood of Sleep has been guarding a large cylinder that houses pure evil (in liquid form). In an effort to prove to the world this evil is a very real danger, the priest contacts Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong), who teaches a course on subatomic particles, and asks him to conduct a series of experiments on the cylinder. Realizing the importance of this find, Birack and several of his students, including Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker), Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), and Walter (Dennis Dun), agree to spend the weekend in the abandoned church, studying this strange phenomenon. They are joined by about a half-dozen others, including micro-biologist Dr. Paul Leahy (Peter Jason); and Lisa (Ann yen), a Theology student specializing in archaic languages, who is brought in to interpret an ancient book recently discovered on the site.

And what this book contains is quite extraordinary. The force encased inside the cylinder is, in fact, a sentient being, the so-called son of an “Anti-God” that exists in a universe mirroring our own (according to this book, Jesus was, in reality, an extraterrestrial sent to earth to warn us of the danger). It’s foretold that the Son will clear the way for the father’s arrival on earth, and to everyone’s dismay, the time for the son’s manifestation is upon them; the liquid inside the cylinder has been surprisingly active (spewing out mathematical formulas so complex that Catherine can’t identify them), and a large collection of homeless people (clearly under the control of an otherworldly force) have massed outside the church, where, led by a particularly psychotic vagrant (rocker Alice Cooper), they attack anyone who tries to leave. To add to the mystery of it all is a “dream” that everyone who falls asleep inside the church experiences, a warning of sorts that may have been sent from the future, asking those who receive it to do whatever is necessary to prevent the end of days. All this is enough to put the researchers on edge, but is nothing compared to what happens when the liquid starts to escape from the cylinder…

In typical John Carpenter fashion, Prince of Darkness features a number of eerie scenes, from the slightly disturbing (the recurring dream sequence appears to be a grainy video taken outside the church, revealing a cloaked figure lurking in the shadows) to the straight-up terrifying (the most intense moment in the entire film sees one character trapped in a closet, with several of his colleagues, all of whom have been possessed by the evil, lurking just outside). Yet what makes it so damn effective is the sense of dread that permeates throughout, that feeling of impending doom that neither the characters nor the audience can shake. The musical score, composed by Carpenter himself (with an assist from Alan Howarth), enhances the movie’s inherent creepiness, and this dark, gloomy story only gets darker and gloomier as it progresses.

I had seen Prince of Darkness several times before, yet for some reason this latest viewing really struck a nerve with me, revealing the film’s many qualities and drawing me deeper into its tragic story than it ever has before. I’ve been turning it over and over in my head for hours now, and the more I think about it, the more I realize just how impressive a motion picture it is. In fact, it’s so good that it has me re-thinking my posted list of top 10 horror films.

Prince of Darkness is a horror masterpiece, and with all due respect to Halloween and The Thing, it might just be John Carpenter’s masterpiece as well.

— Dr. Shock


Links for Dr. Shock:
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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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6 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 26: Prince of Darkness (1987) — by Dr. Shock

  1. Can I just say it’s a bit spooky when I’m listening to HMP #10 and hearing about Dr. Shock mention that Prince of Darkness was dropped to his #4 spot for Carpenter films just as I check my e-mail to see a notification that Dr. Shock has now reviewed Prince of Darkness?

  2. —SPOILERS BELOW—

    Day 26 – Fritt vilt (2006)

    Also known as Cold Prey, Fritt vilt is a movie I know of solely because of Horror Movie Podcast’s coverage of the film early on in it’s existence and even then, it only stood out because it was a review promised at the end of several episodes before it finally got covered. Prior to watching Dead Sno in 2010, I had never even heard of any Norwegian horror movies. However, now with Dead Sno 2, Rare Exports, and Trollhunter, it’s becoming a country that may not be releasing many horror movies, but when they do, they deliver. I can now safely add Cold Prey to that list to the point where I’m not interested in adding Cold Prey 2 and 3 to my “To watch” list.

    Part of the appeal of Fritt vilt is that it doesn’t attempt to have a very complicated plot. It’s very reminiscent of the 80’s slashers boom where you throw a group of friends into a location and some unknown masked killer knocks them off one by one. With slashers being pushed to the side thanks to the popular fads of Asian ghost remakes, torture porn, found footage, and supernatural, the slasher sub-genre hasn’t played a huge role in horror since Scream brought popularity back to horror in 1996. Despite being a simple story, Fritt vilt managed to do something that even many of the slashers of the 80’s failed to do – create likable characters that you cared about. Even the seemingly one dimensional jerk of the group, Mikal, has moments where he seems like he could be a decent person when he realizes that maybe he was too hard on his girlfriend after learning that she was still a virgin when she denied him sex earlier. Sure, by the end you’re going to dislike Mikal more than you like him, but there’s a certain realness to his character. The saddest moment of the entire film for me was when the killer was dumping the dead bodies into the crevice of the snow and ice covered mountains. There was just something heartbreaking about seeing these characters you liked being so casually discarded, knowing that there’s a chance their bodies would never be found. It seems unfair for this to happen to characters who mostly seem like pretty decent people.

    The big surprise of who the killer is should be one of the more predictable reveals in horror. Once a little bit of the backstory was revealed, it meant either the killer was going to be some random person that had absolutely nothing to do with the story (Fat chance) or it would be revealed to be the young boy with the birthmark covering his eye that was seemingly killed at the start of the movie. What other reason could the filmmakers possibly have to give the kid such an identifiable mark? At the same time, I don’t mind this fact at all. At no time did the story ever make a sub plot involving the mystery of the killer’s identity. Red herrings were never introduced nor did the group of friends ever question each other. It reminds me of 2003’s High Tension and how a big part of why I was enjoying it was because it was seemingly a very straight forward story that wasn’t bothering with any plot twists or unnecessary backstory on the killer. He was simply a sick man that killed people because…he was sick? When the last minute surprise plot twist took place, it disappointed me greatly. To this day, my only real issue with High Tension was the plot twist. Fritt vilt presented a simple slasher and they stuck with that idea. I can appreciate that.

    I can’t say I had many problems with the film. Any qualm I may have had was fairly minor too. I didn’t exactly care for Eirik surviving his original attack, only to then be killed shortly afterward. It felt pretty unnecessary and didn’t add to the story. Oddly, I found my interest levels starting to wane near the end, which I suppose is more of just a sign that I wanted something to happen rather than more hanging around and trying to avoid the masked killer. While I personally didn’t have a problem with this, I can see some people growing impatient at how long it takes before the kills finally come into play. This is not the type of slasher that provides a fresh kill every ten minutes.

    Overall, if you’re a fan of 80’s slashers, I’d strongly advise you to watch Cold Prey. For a movie that can go under the radar due to being a Norwegian movie, I felt it over delivered. It’s an ultra simple, yet effective slasher that gives you an idea of what slashers could be like when they’re not given unnecessary twists or unusual plot points. If you have any desire to watch Fritt vilt, watch the original Norwegian language/English subtitled version rather than the easier found English dubbed version that is offered on Amazon Video rental, Shudder subscription, ect. The dub is awful and you have better chances of enjoying this slasher if you’re not just laughing at how poor the dub comes across.

    Rating: 8/10

  3. I love Prince of Darkness. The film is really underrated but it does a great job of getting under the skin and building tension slowly. The plot gets a bad rap for having holes in it but sometimes I think the point is really what we don’t know (and can’t know) rather than on what we can know.

  4. Day 26: Re-Animator (1985)

    Rating: 9/10 (must-see!)

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – The humor is naturally occurring within the film as a result of the sheer absurdity of what’s happening rather than coming from silly jokes.
    – The gore is unabashedly over-the-top.
    – Jeffrey Combs’ performance as Herbert West is the perfect combination of committed, twisted and creepy.
    – The soundtrack really adds tension and unease despite being a Psycho rip-off.

    What I didn’t like:
    – I was a little surprised that Dr. Hill’s obsession with Megan became the focal point of the climactic scene; it didn’t disappoint me (especially because it was creepily hinted at earlier in the film), but his hunger for power and fame seemed to take a back seat when I felt that would be his primary focus.

  5. I watched this little apocalyptic for the first time this October when it popped up on my VOD. I was really surprised by how little I knew about it considering that I really enjoy John Carpenter’s films (The Thing and Halloween are in constant competition for the #1 spot in my top 10 while They Live and The Fog are always fun to watch again and again). I was also a bit surprised at how underrated it seems to be! I really enjoy the marriage of science and theology that happens in order to understand this mystical object. Donald Pleasance is fantastic as usual, but I did scoff a bit at Alice Cooper (was he just in there for potential shock value?). And of course the atmosphere that John Carpenter creates with his writing, directing, and music is exactly how I like my horror films to feel.

  6. Day 26: Fright Night Part 2 (1988)
    Rating: 6/10

    I’ve always wanted to watch this film but it’s hard to find… thank you youtube! Charlie and Peter Vincent are back fighting vampires. This is a nice little encore film to Fright Night (1985) but it doesn’t stand on it’s own.

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