Sunday, October 9, 2011

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Every scene, every moment of John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness is a classic, a sequence which always ends in being a Russian doll - there's a secret, a revelation within each sequence and it never ends. This movie triggers the imagination in so many ways and even after seen it time after time it always feels like a very rewarding story. Just like The Fog and The Thing. I've always been trying to figure out what makes many of Carpenter's movies so extremely interesting to watch over and over again, and I still don't know. A theory is that he weaves very interesting characters with small details, stories within stories that never stop the flow of the HORROR movie. Yes, Carpenter makes horror and he's admitted himself that he loves doing horror. There is never a boring day during the shooting of a horror movie.

I think makes movies like Halloween 3 and Prince of Darkness is the mix between fringe science and something that could be mistaken for supernatural events. The bases of Halloween 3 was constructed by Nigel Kneale, a genius of course - but slightly humourless and he loathed what became of that movie. He never really appreciated the little tributes in Prince of Darkness, for example that Carpenter uses "Martin Quatermass" as a screenwriting alias and one of the characters mentions he went to Kneale University. I think Kneale should have been proud of being in the hands of such a master - but maybe they where to alike to be buddies?

As a convinced atheist I tend to hold Prince of Darkness in even higher regard than usual. It gives a "natural" solution to the Christian myth (much like Knowing, the Nic Cage movie, did many years later) focused on an unknown being, probably from outer space or probably more correct: from another dimension. My favorite parts of the movie is when Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence) looses his faith later finds it again, even if we see how his friend Prof. Howard Birack (Victor Wong) pities him from being so naive. The first scene is when Calder (the excellent Jessie Lawrence Ferguson) cuts his throat with a piece of wood and Father Loomis is giving him his last rites - and Loomis stops, because during the chanting of latin words he realizes how pointless it is. It does not mean anything for the dying man, or for himself. This is a powerful scene, even if it seem insignificant at that moment.

It's also interesting how Pleasence acts in this movie. I love the man, one of my favorite actors ever, but he's always been fond of "giving it all" as an actor, including something that not so sensitive critics could call over-acting. I think most of them it's the opposite, because Donald probably studied how we humans react in real life and we're all over-actors in a way, it's just more visible on the big screen. But in POD Pleasence works very slowly, hardly moving (he was famous for always making movements, doing something, so it would be harder to cut him out from a scene) and even the talk and facial movements are almost like slow-motion. It's like his character is so controlled by the mighty church, maybe had problems with his faith before, that he has not energy to react. He just accept the situation and maybe even his death - which never happens, because he's (a genius stroke by Carpenter) hides most of the time during the last half hour, a very natural thing to do. He's a coward of God, so messed up in his head that fooling himself that he stopped Satan in the end gives him his faith back.

Prince of Darkness is a brave movie, one of Carpenters finest masterpieces.


Rich Flannagan said...

Good job, Fred. This is, along with the Thing, my favourite Carpenter film. The hand-held shot of the creature in the church doorway is a real classic. The scene with the two hands reaching towards each other is effective too, a kind of anti-Michelangelo moment.

Ninja Dixon said...

Yes! How could I not notice the anti-Michelangelo moment! Another fantastic detail.

I also many thought the casting of Cooper as the homeless man was some kinda stunt-casting, but he's great in the part and makes those scenes even stronger.

Hedulven said...

Fantastic review! You made me watch this piece again. I liked it immediately back in the eighties, but people around me complained a lot. With this review in mind I could appreciate the film even more. It's not my Carpenter favourite, but really good!