Shout! Factory // 1987 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 3rd, 2013
Before man walked the earth...It slept for centuries. It is evil. It is real. It is awakening.
"No prison can hold him now."
A frightening discovery has just been made in the basement of a Los Angeles church: a large vat of green liquid that may very well be the essence of Satan. Unfortunately, it seems that Satan may working towards a return to earth that could in turn facilitate the arrival of his father: the all-powerful Anti-God. Will the combined spiritual and scientific efforts of Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance, Halloween) and Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong, Big Trouble in Little China) be enough save humanity from the approaching darkness?
One of the most fascinating elements of Prince of Darkness is that it makes a surprisingly intelligent attempt at frightening viewers of all belief systems. For those who believe in the supernatural, it plays on one of the greatest theological nightmares of the past 2000 years. For those who dismiss such things, it also attempts to provide a convincing scientific explanation for what's happening. Anti-matter, Anti-God...whatever this thing is, it represents darkness in its purest form. The central villain in Prince of Darkness is evil itself, a terrifying and unstoppable fusion of everything you may dread. Whether it is doing so for scientific or spiritual reasons, whatever is coming will bring humanity to its knees.
Carpenter's films are often lean and focused, but Prince of Darkness is spare even by the director's own standards. Made for the relatively modest sum of three million dollars (hot on the heels of the much more expensive Big Trouble in Little China) and primarily set within the confines of the church, the film manages to seem more and more claustrophobic as it proceeds. As the outside world crumbles and as assorted team members turn into demon-possessed zombies, safe zones within the building seem increasingly difficult to come by. The brilliant score (co-written by Carpenter and Alan Howarth) is even more single-minded than most of the director's simple musical efforts, pushing memorable melodies aside in favor of dirty, insistent, relentless synthetic pulses.
Countless horror films have made an effort to capture the feeling of a nightmare on film, but Prince of Darkness comes as close as anything this side of David Lynch's freakiest work. As the film lumbers forward, it transforms from a detail-oriented story (many early scenes place a great deal of emphasis on the scientific theories being thrown around) into something simultaneously murkier and spookier. It's hard to say precisely what is happening at certain points -- the specifics of how Satan is making his return become increasingly difficult to discern, though it's clear that projectile vomit is involved -- but the imagery becomes more intense and feverish. It may sound as if I'm making apologies for the film, but the less coherent it gets, the more unnervingly effective it becomes. Everything builds to a tremendous final sequence that perfectly captures the uneasy feeling the movie provides its viewers.
Prince of Darkness (Blu-ray) has received a 1080p/2.35:1 transfer that preserves the film's built-in softness but which also really shines when it's given the opportunity to do so. The movie is generally on the softer side throughout, but there's some strong detail during some sections and depth is always impressive. The nighttime scenes benefit from deep blacks and strong shadow delineation. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is exceptional, really highlighting the aforementioned tension-filled score and capturing the sound design with clarity. Supplements are generous and engaging: a commentary with Carpenter, brand-new interviews with Carpenter, Alan Howarth, Alice Cooper (who plays a minor but memorable supporting role in the film) and VFX supervisor Robert Grasmere, an episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds spotlighting the film's locations, an alternate opening from the TV version of the film and a theatrical trailer. The folks at Shout! Factory seem to be getting better and better at delivering high-quality Blu-ray releases, and this one is no exception.
Prince of Darkness may not get mentioned very often when Carpenter's best films are discussed, but it's certainly one of his most intense and frightening efforts. The Blu-ray release is top-notch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* TV Episode