I love John Carpenter, I really do. The guy has directed many great movies, multiple of which top my favorite movies of all time list. The Thing, Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China, In the Mouth of Madness, Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York... The list just goes on and on. He has had a massive influence in the realm of horror. He basically created the slasher film as we know it with Halloween. He is one of the few directors to successfully bring Lovecraftian horror to film with such classics as The Thing and the very underrated In the Mouth of Madness. Unfortunately, the man has also had more than his share of flops. While there were some bad ones early in his career (The Fog and Christine), thing got really bad for him in the 90's. Only one of the five movies (Vampires) released in that period ended up being a financial success, and every single film during that period ended being critically panned (while some, like Escape from L.A. and In the Mouth of Madness didn't deserve it). The movie I am looking at today, Prince of Darkness, was released in 1987, and was critically panned all 'round. Did it deserve the critical beating it got, like The Fog, it is it actually an underrated gem, like In the Mouth of madness? Let's dig in to find out.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Our villian. No wait, don't go! The review hasn't even started yet!
The film starts out with
Um... Lady, I think something is wrong with your face. Did you take a bath in lye or something?
From the above description, you think the film might take a more Lovecraftian approach to horror. Very subtle, with a focus more on building atmosphere and a horror of the unknown. You would be wrong, for the most part. The movie shares more in common with your common zombie flick than anything else. The green goop takes control of an army of bums, which it uses for nefarious ends. It also sprays people with itself, taking over their bodies, and can posses the bodies of those who have already died. The film actually concentrates more on the zombies and their escapades than building any horror with the green goop. Honestly, that is probably the film's biggest flaw right there. The idea itself is rather silly, but it had promise to be scary. By concentrating on the zombies the film never takes advantage of the interesting possibilities at instilling fear in the viewer afforded by it's most interesting idea (the green goop being an ancient, evil entity). Also, to compound the problems further the film just isn't all that scary. There were only one or two actually frightening scenes (those scenes being a part in the film where a dead character comes back to reveal that he is crawling with beetles, before falling apart, and when another formerly dead character stares in a mirror, giggling to himself). This isn't necessarily a bad thing for a horror film (I was never really scared by either Dawn of the Dead, Session 9, or Phantasm, and I enjoyed all of them in spite of that), but it certainly isn't something to be proud of either. Honestly if you are going to create a horror film that isn't scary, you need something to distract the user from that, whether that is an interesting and unusual message (Dawn of the Dead's anti-consumerism angle), a fascinating mystery (Session 9's killer), or just ball's out crazy weirdness (pretty much all of Phantasm). If you don't the film really suffers for it.
I wonder if he has a shotgun under that trench coat?
The acting in the film is fairly decent all round. Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong provide the best performances, but the other actor aren't that bad either. The cinematography and direction are both great, and the score is typical Carpenter (KEYBOARD ALL THE MUSIC!) which isn't a bad thing. The writing is fairly good and all the the characters pretty much act believably, which is always a plus in my book. Beyond that, their really isn't much else I can say. Everything works except for the horror aspect of the film.
"Woah, lookit down there! Alice Cooper just impaled a guy with a bicycle! Awesome!"
TL;DR: Prince of Darkness is a serviceable movie. It isn't terrible (it was certainly better than The Fog), but it isn't really that good either. It has an interesting premise, but nearly ruins it by concentrating on all the wrong things, in addition to the fact that it really just isn't all that frightening. If you are a horror fan, look to some of Carpenter's other films. This one really isn't all that good. Play me out Ozzy!