Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by John Carpenter
1987, Region A, 102 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 24th, 2013
Donald Pleasance as Priest
Jameson Parker as Brian Marsh
Lisa Blount as Catherine Danforth
Victor Wong as Prof. Birack
Dennis Dun as Walter
Susan Blanchard as Kelly
Anne Howard as Susan Cabot
Ann Yen as Lisa
Peter Jason as Dr. Leahy
Alice Cooper as Creepy Homeless
A Catholic priest enlists the help of a physics professor when one of the world's darkest secrets threatens to bring the apocalypse. Professor Birack assembles a team of physicists, linguists, mathematicians and assorted scientists to solve a puzzle buried in the pages of a mysterious book located in the basement of an abandoned church in downtown Los Angeles. A giant glass canister filled with swirling green goo may contain enough pure evil to destroy the world and it has recently started showing signs of activity for the first time in thousands of years. Whatever is inside the goo is growing stronger and affecting the surrounding community as throngs of homeless people encircle the church preventing anyone from exiting.
While the scientists continue their tests on the material, the goo begins to leak from the canister and possess those that come in direct contact. The evil quickly spreads and the team members are rapidly becoming either minions or corpses, and the powers of darkness are growing because of it. Once this chain of events is in motion, it is only a matter of time before the canister will open and release the evil into the world. The countdown to the end of days is rapidly accelerating and the battle between science and the supernatural is about to begin. Can a priest and a bunch of grad students prevent the Devil from walking the Earth?
Prince of Darkness introduces a lot of interesting possibilities with its central concept of a scientific analysis of a religious prophecy, but fails to follow through on any of them. Despite facing imminent global destruction, the scientists are not immediately told what they are looking for and are unable to connect the dots of their research in a timely manner. The tension builds over the first two thirds of the picture as the dark powers grow and begin working their way into members of the research team, but the evil quickly loses its effectiveness once the movie becomes a bunch of confused minions shuffling the hallways waiting for Satan to do something.
Sadly, the script (penned by director John Carpenter under a clever pseudonym) paints the plot into a corner that the budget denies proper exit. There is no epic finale between good and evil and, despite the title, no Devil. Everything builds to an interesting conclusion, but this is nowhere near what the priest threatened at the beginning. Carpenter (The Fog) does a fine job creating a high-concept picture filled with dread, but fails to maintain the energy before slipping into the third-act trappings of more conventional horror films. There are some nice sequences that build suspense throughout but it somehow never comes together in the end. It is truly surprising how enjoyable this movie is despite its shortcomings and I wonder how much it would have benefitted from one more rewrite.
Donald Pleasance (Halloween II) appears the most comfortable with the material as a fretful priest. His haunting delivery provides the film with a much-needed gravitas that is missing from most of the supporting cast. Jameson Parker (White Dog) doesn't really stand out as the leading man since there isn't a lot for him to do, but he rocks a steady moustache that woos the ladies. Lisa Blount (Cut and Run) is also stuck spinning her wheels until the finale, but she delivers when she needs to. Victor Wong (Tremors), Dennis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China) and Peter Jason (They Live) have all appeared in more than one Carpenter film over the years and are welcome additions here, but only Wong sticks out as marginally awesome.
John Carpenter delivered a solid decade of quality entertainment from 1978 (Halloween) to 1988 (They Live), and while not all were homeruns, the man's creative streak was unsurpassed. He frequently created thrillers that were either siege pictures or featured an unknown terror, and this film pulls from both columns. Prince of Darkness is neither his best movie nor his worst, but it is easily recommended as an example of big ideas given a quality presentation and soaked in atmosphere. This is a pretty entertaining movie filled with possibilities that simply stumbles at the finish line. The ending is satisfying, but also somehow cheap.
Video and Audio:
Prince of Darkness is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks pretty fantastic overall. Colors are strong and flesh tones are natural while black levels are quite solid. There are occasional moments of softness, but they appear to be intentional for the story content.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track serves this disc well with a surprisingly robust low-end. Carpenter's score is relentless and quite powerful throughout the third act. Dialogue and directional sound effects remain clear and free from distortion. The original mono mix is presented here in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is equally impressive, but not as immersive. English subtitles are provided.
Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures continue to impress with their wealth of supplements included on this title.
First up, John Carpenter is joined by actor Peter Jason for an audio commentary that first appeared on the import DVD release a few years back. The discussion is informative and entertaining as Jason continually prompts Carpenter for details. There are a few odd revelations as the director admits to not having a full grasp on the themes of the film. He also blasts other composers for overdoing it, though his score moves front and center for the final act.
In Sympathy for the Devil (10 minutes) John Carpenter discusses his fascination with quantum mechanics and how he was inspired to make an apocalyptic story mixing science and religion. He touches on various aspects of production, including the visual effects and the filming locations and he also shares some thoughts on the state of contemporary cinema.
Alice at the Apocalypse (9 minutes) is a nice visit with rock legend Alice Cooper (Monster Dog), who reflects on his love of horror films as a child, his role in the film and how he met John Carpenter.
The Messenger (13 minutes) features actor and effects supervisor Robert Grasmere discussing his work in the film on both sides of the camera.
Hell on Earth (10 minutes) offers insight on the music of the film with co-composer Alan Howarth, who shares how the dynamic works when scoring a film with John Carpenter.
Horror's Hallowed Grounds (14 minutes) presents an all new look at the original shooting locations for the film, hosted by Sean Clark. This episode runs into a few instances of active construction sites or restricted areas, but Clark makes the whole thing work and the sites of interest are intercut with film clips showing how they looked 26-years ago.
Alternate Opening from TV Version (7 minutes) is self-explanatory but worth checking out, as the broadcast version has been re-cut to suggest the events of the film may only be a dream.
Also included is an entertaining but (slightly) hidden bonus featurette (12 minutes) that Carpenter fans will want to access.
Wrapping things up are a few marketing items that include the original theatrical trailer and teaser campaign and a gallery of production stills.