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March 18, 2014

Prince of Darkness

by Franz Patrick


Prince of Darkness (1987)
★ / ★★★★

When a priest assigned to protect an abandoned church passes away, Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is summoned to tie up the loose ends. The deceased holds a diary in his hands which includes a key that opens one of the rooms inside the church. Father Loomis investigates the secret room and stumbles upon a cylinder about six to seven feet tall which encloses a swirling, ominous bright green substance. Although he has his suspicions, in order to understand it more, the priest seeks the help of Professor Birack, a physicist who teaches at the nearby university. Soon, the church is filled with various experts, from radiologists to microbiologists, but none of them are informed about what exactly they are supposed to study.

“Prince of Darkness,” written and directed by John Carpenter, fails to capitalize on its interesting premise by eventually yielding to the formula of someone having to end up alone in a room or outside in the dark and is attacked until he or she is murdered with the possibility of later becoming possessed. There is nothing interesting about these typical kills; most of the time, they are almost laughable because there is too much of everything: blood, overacting, and a score that signals something terrible is about to happen.

For a script that acknowledges paradoxes of our very idea of reality through our experiences, there is not enough playfulness or irony when the horror is placed front and center. It creates a mood that comes across so one-note, it is almost sleep-inducing. For instance, all of the characters are left standing around and asking if anyone has seen Person A or Person B lately. Just as expected, the next scene involves a group search but it hold no tension whatsoever because we already know the fates of the missing people.

The picture is at its best when its smart characters of various expertise are given the chance to speak. I liked the early scenes involving Catherine (Lisa Blount), how she is more comfortable talking about the details of her work than in detecting Brian’s (Jameson Parker) obvious feelings for her. Also, it is appropriate that the scientists express doubt not only in terms of their assignments considering they are not fully informed but the very nature of their work when they do learn that they are potentially dealing with the evidence of the supernatural, something that the Roman Catholic church has kept from everyone for the past two thousand years. These are men and women of science so I was interested in observing the way they react when asked to take a major leap of faith.

But even the screenplay fails to take on that challenge. Just when it is about to get interesting, the most recent person to feel that the research is reaching a new level of strange, thereby threatening to walk away, is immediately killed. Not even Pleasence’s peerless talent in conveying worry with a proper mix of sweaty desperation can save the material’s lack of energy and inspiration.

“Prince of Darkness” is mildly intriguing but far from entertaining. Perhaps it could have offered a more involving experience if it had chosen either a more cerebral, more introspective path or a savage, more violent path instead of casually resting in the middle.

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