I never even knew this movie existed until I started this project. The Count, for once, held his tongue, so I knew absolutely nothing going in. Climbing out of the Starman depression, I could only hope Prince of Darkness was at least marginally better than the film that preceded it.
And it was. It was.
The secretive fraternity The Brotherhood of the Sleeper exists for a single purpose: to guard an old relic that's been hidden beneath an LA church. When the last guardian dies, Donald Pleasence finds his diary reads about "the sleeper." He enlists the help of renowened physisit Howard Birak to help him crack the mystery of the relic and to figure out what the sleeper really is. Birak brings a team of students to the church but that same night the sleeper awakens and not only their lives, but the fate of the world is at stake.
Prince of Darkness, as the title would suggest is about Satan, or some kind of Satan-like entity, that's been hidden on earth and out of sight of the Vatican. What makes this particular end-of-days movie interesting is that it blends religious and scientific philosophy and neither takes precedence. Furthermore, it spins a new origin for the anti-Christ that is so brilliant, I'm surprised no one else has picked up on it and ran with it.
As horror movies go, this one is far from being the bloodiest or violentest, but it's got its creepy moments. Similar to Assault on Precinct 13, the students are holed up inside the church, surrouned by a strange an silent mob. In this case the mob is homeless people, led by Alice Cooper, but their silence and behaviour, as if they are waiting for something, are countepoint to the frenetic activity going on inside the church. Carpenter is in no rush to get to the point, so the quiet, murderous mob patiently contend with the curiosity and skepticism of the scientists.
The most unsettling part of all, though, is the dream. Eventually everyone who falls asleep has the same dream. They dream they are watching a video taken in front of the church as a man is exiting the building. When I came to this point in the film, something about it rang familiar. I'd heard that audio track before. At the very end of DJ Shadow's Stem/Long Stem that same audio plays and it's totally weird.
This film was made in 1987, so the effects, by today's standards, might seem a bit weak. Within the context of the film, however, they do their job and are so strange they further alienate the audience from fully understanding the sleeper. Which is really the whole point--what with all our technology, there are some things we don't completely understand. Also, there are still some things we have to take on faith. Science and religion walk a fine line in this movie, and though the audience is meant to side with science, it's belief in the supernatural necessarily permit the possibility of something else. In anthropological terms, the Other.
Mention of the Other brings me to The Thing, and my final comparison of Carpenter with Carpenter. I just mentioned themes of isolation and alienation in Prince of Darkness. The Thing was all about isolation, alienation, and paranoia. The paranoia in this film is practically non-existent because once people realize some of their colleagues have been possessed, it's too late to do anything about it. However, the audience knows, so the dramatic irony ups the tension a bit.
When Carpenter is on top of his game, he ends well. This movie's got a good ending. I say this because recently I've been dissapointed with movie endings. I suppose it's possible to read the end as an opening for a sequel, but I prefer to read it as one last kick in the pants--the characters in the film simply do not understand what they're dealing with, neither science nor religion has provided them with the knowledge they need to defeat the evil that's plauged them. The very last shot in the film is the most disturbing of all; the buildup of tension and the unfinished action leaves us worked up and on edge. There is no happy ending.
craze-o-meter: 3.5, crazy like Jesus
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