R, 102 min.
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter (as Martin Quartermass)
Starring: Jameson Parker, Donald Pleasance, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Anne Howard, Ann Yen, Ken Wright, Dirk Blocker, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Peter Jason, Robert Grasmere, Thom Bray, Joanna Merlin, Alice Cooper
Horrorfest 2013 kicks off with one of my favorite horror flicks out there. It isn’t one of the best, but there’s something about John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness” that just gets me going into the horror mood. Perhaps it’s Carpenter’s signature minimalist electronic score. Perhaps it’s the nearly whispered impression of his delivery. Perhaps it’s just Carpenter’s stripped down style, giving the audience nothing but the essentials they need to understand the story without any extraneous photography or set up. He just gives us the horror of it all and nothing else.
“Prince of Darkness” doesn’t explain itself much. We’re given a cast of characters during the opening credits and a church that holds some sort of secret. The characters are mostly scientists—save for Donald Pleasance’s priest—who know no more why they’ve gathered at the church than the audience does. The horrific events begin well before either the characters or audience are fully enlightened as to what is transpiring in the church. By the time they and we finally know, it is too late to stop what has begun.
I think what I like the most about this picture is its pacing. It’s a very quiet horror movie at first, but it moves at an incredibly quick roll. We’re sitting there trying to figure out what is going on in the basement of the church while characters are quickly falling all around almost completely unnoticed to the other characters. It may take a few viewings to even fully understand what exactly is going on. The big purpose of the events is made clear as its plot so quickly unfolds in front of you, but there are some pretty interesting details that enrich the story that could easily be missed upon the initial viewing. I like how Carpenter places more than one genre of horror into these details.
This isn’t simply a story about Satan attempting to enter our mortal realm. The truth behind the dream sequences that everyone shares is quite fascinating. It tells us that little about the religious side of this story is anything like what we’ve come to expect. It reminds me a great deal of some of H.P. Lovecraft’s ideas about horror and the greater forces that work upon us. “Prince of Darkness” is really one of Carpenter’s overlooked gems. I don’t know why I don’t just include this movie in every Horrorfest.