Prince of Darkness conjures surreal dread to create Apocalyptic doom.
Prince of Darkness is an occult supernatural body horror film and the second installment of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. The Thing (1982) being the first and In the Mouth of Madness (1994) the last. Each film has a different cause that could destroy the world, an alien, cosmic monsters from another dimension and in Prince of Darkness it is the Antichrist himself.
With a combination of gory body horror, science vs religion, occult surreal events, cosmic horror and creepy dreams this film has a fresh take on the apocalypse genre. A claustrophobic and foreboding atmosphere that leads to doom that stirs up a rather rational group of people is what makes this an a-typical eighties horror film. Not the most well-known film of John Carpenter, but one not to be missed.
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In an old abandoned church a priest finds an old relic, a key, an old book and a mysterious vat of green liquid. He calls in the help of professor Birack who is specialized in the occult and paranormal. Together with a group of scientists they set up their lab in the old church to examine the liquid and the book. Meanwhile a group of vagrants is gathering outside the church, while inside strange things are starting to happen. They all start to have foreboding dreams, and when the green liquid attacks one of the scientists, they realize they might be dealing with anti-matter or an anti-god.
Why you should watch it
Prince of Darkness is a wonderful mix of genres. It mixes the supernatural and the occult with cosmic horror and philosophy with science and religion, and body horror with surreal events and dreams. This results in a unique story that is scary, smart and highly entertaining.
The overall theme on which the story is based is the science vs religion question. But instead of answering it, it mixes them both so that either one, whether it is anti-matter or an anti-god or even the Antichrist himself, it all comes down to one problem: the annihilation of mankind. It’s very smartly done but also very entertaining. The particles inside the green liquid are alive like they have a sentient consciousness. This relates to the concept of cosmic horror. Although the idea of a vat with green liquid might sound silly, it’s anything but. The atmosphere is greatly turned into something very foreboding and it soon spirals out of control, taking the scientists one after another, just like in The Thing.
The way the film is shot, changes when the plot thickens. It starts out rather rational and straightforward, with a lot of characters who are busy creating a fun bunch, but turns slowly into a more surreal way of filming and mixed with gross body horror, while the tone gets more claustrophobic and creepy. The shots of the vagrants standing outside doing nothing is eerie and the wide shots increase that sense of doom. As water drops upwards it gets more freaky. And when the real body horror kicks in, it feels like a familiar eighties gory horror.
The horror is also a mix of different atmospheres and tones that work really well together to create something very different. The atmosphere is key and the body horror is just to stress the physical danger, while the dreams serve as a warning for their existence. With a strong sense of doom, of the inevitable, neither science nor religion is up to what they are examining. Best shown in the scene where the priest is praying while shivering in fear. It’s the embodiment of helplessness and dread.
The dream sequence is very surreal, foreboding yet maybe hopeful. Transmitted by The Brotherhood of Sleep from the future, it also serves as a self fulfilling prophecy that even more stresses out the doom.
Prince of Darkness is very much the in-between film. It connects The Thing with the claustrophobic feel and the probably bad ending for humanity, an entity that is invisible but attacks from the inside out to change and corrupt people, mind and body. And it connects with In the Mouth of Madness with the surreal tone and the cosmic horror vibe, that opens up a hell dimension. This way it’s a great trilogy that is best watched all three in a row.
My favorite part
When the green liquid is effecting the scientists and the body horror is mixed with the surreal cosmic atmosphere and all hell breaks loose, than it is eighties chaos at its best. Although much less real chaos than you might expect. It’s although surreal and weird, very clear what is happening and therefore all the more frightening. The doom-like fate that is very tangible throughout the whole film makes this film a wonderful horror watch.
Gore factor: ★★★★☆
Scare factor: ★★★★☆
Gruesome factor: ★★★★☆
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Read more about The Apocalypse Trilogy:
Cast and crew
Prince of Darkness is directed and written by John Carpenter (Martin Quartermass). It stars Donald Pleasence (priest), James Parker (Brian Marsh), Victor Wong (Dr Howard Birack), Lisa Blount (Catherine Danforth), Dennis Dun (Walter), Susan Blanchard (Kelly), Anne Marie Howard (Susan Cabot), Ann Yen (Lisa), Ken Wright (Lomax), Dirk Blocker (Mullins), Jessie Lawrence Ferguson (Calder), Peter Jason (Dr. Paul Leahy), Robert Grasmere (Frank Wyndham) Thom Bray (Etchinson) and Alice Cooper (Street Schizo).
Duration: 101 minutes. Music: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth. Cinematography: Gary B. Kibbe. Edited by: Steve Mirkovich. Produced by: Larry J. Franco. Production company: Alive Films, Carcolco Pictures, Larry Franco Productions. Distributed by: Universal Pictures.