“I’ve got a message for you. And you’re not going to like it.”
It’s the time of year to get scared, and few movies scare me more than John Carpenter’s 1987 apocalyptic fantasy, “Prince of Darkness.”
Mild spoilers ahead: “Darkness” is about a mysterious container that the Catholic church has been hiding for thousands of years, now kept in the basement of a Los Angeles church. Inside it might just be the devil.
A priest (Carpenter mainstay Donald Pleasance) reaches out to a college professor (Victor Wong) and his students to analyse the container and dissect its mysteries. From there, things go horrifyingly wrong.
The scariest horror movies, to me, are the ones that, HP Lovecraft-style, rip away the veil of reality as we know it to reveal unknowable things beneath. “Prince of Darkness” is not so much filled with jump scares as it is with a growing sense of unease, of the void, and the malign mysteries it may contain.
“Darkness” is talky, and while there’s definitely some gory, horrifying moments in it, it’s a more thoughtful horror movie than some, with its debates between science and religion. But in its depiction of evil as an actual tangible substance bleeding its way into the world, and the terrifying way it corrupts the hapless college students studying it, it’s gripping.
And man, while the plot has holes in it and the ‘80s fashion can be distracting (bonus points to leading man Jameson Parker’s moustache, which deserves a Best Supporting Actor honour), it’s packed with moments that haunt me every time I watch it again.
A dead man, delivering a horrifying message as his body crumbles away into the shadows. Zombie-like homeless (featuring a never-more-creepy Alice Cooper) converging upon the church menacingly. Static-filled transmissions from a bleak future beamed directly into dreams. Glimpses into a murky mirror world behind ours that culminate in one of the most disturbing images of any film.
John Carpenter is having a moment right now, thanks to the latest remake of his seminal classic “Halloween.” And that’s because in his horror classics he has a knack for landing horror scares that linger. Carpenter relies on stillness more than many frenetic horror movies do – think Michael Myers, always vacantly lurking in the backgrounds, or the eerie silences that punctuate the frenzied body-horror of “The Thing”.
This stillness, punctuated by his distinctive thrumming musical scores, animates the sheer dread of “Prince of Darkness” and makes it what might be my favourite of his movies. It doesn’t tie everything together neatly at the end, and the final 10 minutes or so are a rising crescendo of WRONGNESS, a feeling that the frames of the film themselves may fall apart into the void. In the best and worst sense, it’s haunting.
“…We’ve discovered something very surprising: while order DOES exist in the universe, it is not at all what we had in mind!”