Tag: donald pleasence

Prince of Darkness

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.


Halloween (1978)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”

John Carpenter’s 1978 independent “Halloween” masterpiece will forever be one of my favorite films. With such a microscale budget, Carpenter, the production team and the actors managed to accomplish so much. “Halloween” stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode who, among with her friends Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis), was stalked by a masked killer named Michael Myers (Tony Moran). Michael killed his sister when he was six years old and was sent to a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Michael’s madness became much worse over the years and he escaped the night before Halloween 1978 to return to his hometown in Haddonfield, Illinois.

This picture invented the slasher flick that plagued the 1980’s because of its craft. The first scene of this film was an absolute milestone because we saw Michael kill his sister through his eyes as he wore a clown mask. The way he grabbed the knife from the kitchen drawer, walked up the stairs, and went for the kill was terrifying because it was done by a child without any sort of reason (or emotion) behind his actions. After the murder, when his parents discovered him with the knife, it looked as if he had no idea what he had done, like he was possessed by the devil.

Fast-forward to 1978, we got to meet Laurie and two of her friends. Laurie, obviously different from the other two because she’s actually interested in books and not so much interested in boys (or maybe her shyness often got the best of her), was established as the protagonist. She cared about the children she babysat (unlike the other two) by letting them have fun on Halloween, such as carving pumpkins, making popcorn, and watching scary rated R movies on TV, as long as they remained safe and refrained from scaring each other. In broad daylight, we were able to see Michael following them around–appearing in an area one minute and disappearing the next–something that slasher movies of today rarely do. (Not all stalkers only come out at night after all.) There were also very amusing scenes between the three friends, which I thought was a good move from Carpenter because it made them very relatable. That was important because we all know that Michael would eventually go after them. Why was he obsessed with the three girls? We don’t exactly know. Maybe he saw qualities of sister in them or maybe not. To me, that’s why I thought the picture worked: it retained elements of mystery and it was up to us to draw our own conclusions.

The soundtrack was something I would never forget because it was downright creepy and it set the tone of certain scenes. A particular track was specific to an event that was about to transpire so we came to know what to expect (a stalking scene, a false alarm, or going for the kill). However, the brilliance of it was we don’t know when exactly the scare or “Boo!” moment would happen. When they finally do happen, they come with maximum effect due to excellent timing. Unlike most modern horror films, the soundtrack in this movie was used as little as possible. It also means that Carpenter knew when to use silence. Sometimes silence meant nothing but sometimes silence meant something really bad was about to happen.

My absolute favorite scene was the showdown between Laurie and Michael in the last twenty minutes. It still gives me the chills whenever I watch Laurie crossing the street to go into the house where two of her friends were murdered. Since the lights were all off yet she was getting phone calls from the house pretty much all night, at first she thought they were playing a joke on her. But when she finally reached the bedroom, she realized that none of it was a joke. While she was busy entertaining the kids across the street, Michael was busy with the body count. There was also that scene when she finally got out from the neighbor’s house (not an easy feat considering Michael blocked the exits) as she tried screaming for help but no one would open their doors to offer her refuge. She then had no choice but to go back to the house where she was babysitting… but she couldn’t find the keys in her pocket.

There’s a plethora of social commentaries that could be drawn from this film, which were immortalized as clichés in future slasher flicks like “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the like. However, I’m not going to mention them all here because I think it’s best for you to try to see them yourself. But I do want to mention how impressed I was with how the concept of the “boogeyman” evolved from a simple folklore (when the kids tried to scare each other) to a personification of evil that one cannot kill (when Laurie tried to kill Michael time and time again but he always managed to “return from the dead”). The concept of the boogeyman finally culminated in the last minute of the film when Laure conceded, “It WAS the boogeyman” and the movie showed us familiar places with Michael breathing in the background–places that have been touched by evil and would never be the same again.

For those who have seen a plethora of movies, “Halloween” is almost always on their list of being one of the best horror films ever made. It’s not difficult to understand why considering how much it impacted the collective media unconscious. I consider it one of the best movies I’ve seen, not just in the horror genre, because of how it made me feel when I first watched it. There was a certain darkness to it that shook me to the core and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. And when I see it again from time to time on television as Halloween nears, I may smile during certain scenes and not look as scared as before. But the same thoughts regarding “What if I was in her shoes?” quickly flood my mind and I can’t help but feel affected. Though it may not scare you because you’re used to seeing blood delivered in gallons in modern horror movies (personally, I think blood is just gross and not at all scary), it would most likely earn your respect for being well ahead of its time in terms of craft and context.