After a brief foray into sci-fi drama (the critically acclaimed Starman) and high-concept action/comedy (Big Trouble in Little China), John Carpenter returned to horror with what, at first blush, looked to be his most ambitious and terrifying genre offering yet; 1987’s Prince of Darkness. The film, however, proved a commercial (despite its meager $3 million dollar budget) and critical disappointment, with even the most ardent of Carpenter fans wondering just what it was their favorite filmmaker was trying to say! The film eventually found an audience when it hit home video, however, and, from there, the “cult” of Prince of Darkness fans became legion. For years, fans have been clamoring for a Blu-ray release of the film to no avail, but, thanks to the fine folks at Scream Factory, Carpenter’s oft-maligned and misunderstood (even by the director!) film now makes its Blu-ray debut in a deluxe collector’s edition set!
In a rundown Los Angeles neighborhood, an ancient evil awakens in the basement of an abandoned church. After the death of the priest tasked with protecting the secret of the primeval entity’s existence, the burden then falls upon another priest (Donald Pleasence), who seeks the assistance of an old friend - noted physics professor and atheist, Howard Birack (Victor Wong) - in determining just what it is they’re dealing with. The Priest brings Birack to the church’s sub-basement chamber where he is shown an iridescent green liquid encased in a glass cylinder. Overwhelmed by a sensation of doom and despair, the faithless Birack finds himself questioning his own beliefs in the presence of this evil force, and recruits a team of his best and brightest minds to help study the creature.
Birack’s team, including students, Brian (Jameson Parker), Catherine (Lisa Blount), and Walter (Dennis Dun), take up residence in the old church, and monitor the liquescent beastie, while, outside, the creature’s sphere of influence grows, forming an army out of the city’s hopeless and destitute. Soon, the researchers find themselves trapped in the church, surrounded by the evil force’s homeless minions, and, when the liquid is freed from its confines, one by one, our heroes fall under its control.
Ultimately, the creature’s true identity is revealed, as is its plan to raise Hell on Earth by ushering in the return of the Prince of Darkness himself!
I’ve long considered Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness as an unofficial chapter of Lucio Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, where “nightmare logic” and gruesome imagery take precedence over traditional plot points and cohesive narrative. As with films like City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, Carpenter’s film is all mood and shadow, with an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” approach to his interpretation of the End of Days. From zombies and demons to possessed souls collapsing into a heap of insects, none of it makes a lick of sense, but it’s scary, creepy, and cool as hell – a twisted and terrifying fever dream captured on film. Yes, the performances are mostly wooden (even Pleasence seems slightly embarrassed by the words that come out of his “Priest’s” mouth), the dialogue borders on self-parody, and the casting is questionable, at best, but Carpenter rises above it all, digging deep into his bag of tricks, here, and produces what is, at least visually, one of his most assured creations.
Scream Factory presents Prince of Darkness on Blu-ray in a drop-dead gorgeous 2.35:1 transfer that stands amongst the best of the company’s releases in terms of quality. It’s a crisp, extremely detailed, and well balanced image. Things have been cleaned up dramatically when compared to previous DVD offerings, with nary a hint of artifacting, and only a fine, cinematic grain and the embarrassing mom jeans and neon polo shirts of the period betraying the film’s true vintage.
As with the majority of Scream Factory’s releases, we’re given two audio options; a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track and a more fitting DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track. While the former offers a bit more in the bass department, it’s not a “room filler” by any means, and I found the 2.0 track’s somewhat utilitarian mix more appealing, especially in terms of clarity, where dialogue in the 5.1 mix sounded somewhat distant and muddied in comparison.
Bonus features are here in abundance, as one should expect from a Scream Factory Collector’s Edition.
We get a great new commentary track featuring Carpenter and Peter Jason in which the two dissect the film’s FX work and discuss the inspiration behind certain scenes. Carpenter is very amusing here, and one can almost see him throwing up his hands in surrender when pressed for concrete answers about some of the film’s more ambiguous bits.
Alice at the Apocalypse (HD) features a lengthy and entertaining interview with rock legend, Alice Cooper, who played the de facto leader of the possessed homeless minions, while Hell on Earth brings us frequent Carpenter collaborator, Alan Howarth, who discusses his role in creating the film’s ominous, synth-heavy soundtrack.
Actor and FX supervisor, Robert Grasmere is the subject of The Messenger (HD), with the man recalling putting double duty on the film, as well as his part in the many FX heavy sequences.
As has become something of a tradition with the Carpenter releases, we’re given another episode of Sean Clark’s very entertaining Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (HD), which, as is always the case, sees the affable host revisiting key shooting locations from the film.
Rounding out the extras are an alternate opening sequence from the televised version of the film (HD), a collection of trailers and radio spots (HD), a stills gallery (HD), and an Easter Egg that I happened on quite by accident featuring a Q&A session from the film’s 25th Anniversary screening from last year’s Screamfest.
While Prince of Darkness is still a divisive film even among Carpenter fans, those who cherish the film as much as I do will be more than pleased by Scream Factory’s excellent collector’s edition Blu-ray presentation. The film looks and sounds amazing and the collection of all-new bonus features are a real treat. Once again, Scream Factory nails it with their treatment of a fan favorite film that earns this reviewer’s highest recommendations.