Although he never enjoyed much commercial success during the 80s, many of John Carpenter’s films have garnered cult status over the years.
Prince of Darkness is definitely a horror film – and Carpenter’s genre mastery is clear – but he’s also striving for something much more ambitious here. Some might argue that the budget just couldn’t match the ambition.
The most unique story element is the curious union of science and religion which comes about in order to understand and explain a mysterious liquid cylinder of ancient origin.
Donald Pleasance and Victor Wong are the highlights of the film, playing the priest and physicist, respectively. They’re at their most captivating when they have ideological debates in the midst of the creeping dread.
Most of the film is set in a Los Angeles church, giving a claustrophobic feel that adds to the tension. The slow-paced direction of the plot also gives an unease that the dread is slow yet inevitable.
Carpenter is a master of the anamorphic aspect ratio, creating interesting compositions with his cinematographer. Wide-angle shots used in the format help build the horror – For example, there is a moment where a character is approaching the cylinder. Due to the wide-angle frame, your eyes naturally scan the frame to see where the scare could come from. When the viewer thinks nothing will come . . . boom, it catches you off guard.
There are gruesome moments of body horror when a character becomes infected by the liquid, causing her to swell up and her skin to decay.
Finally, the ambiguous closing shot gives the audience something to think about.
Professor Howard Birack
Anne Marie Howard
Jessie Lawrence Ferguson
Dr Paul Leahy