Prince of Darkness: Carpenter’s Worst?

This image is scarier than anything in the movie

This image is scarier than anything in the movie

Among my most beloved movies of all time is The Thing. I watch it yearly. At least. I love it to its lonely, snowy death. Escape From New York and They Live aren’t quite up to the same level, but I don’t care. They’re awesome and I love them too. So it’s sad to realize that John Carpenter’s oeuvre is rife with terrible, terrible movies, movies so terrible that to pick one as the worst will inevitably invite argument.

I wanted to watch something horrific on halloween and Prince of Darkness (’87) popped up among options and I thought, hey, I haven’t watched this one since it came out, I wonder if it’s better than my teenage self remembers it?

Turns out my teenage self was a pretty decent judge of films. Is Prince of Darkness worse than Ghosts of Mars? Worse than Vampires? Worse than In The Mouth of Madness? Worse than, god forbid, Escape From L.A.? I don’t know. I only saw those once each too. Maybe they’re so bad they’re good? Maybe they’re fun? Escape From L.A. must be a little fun. Right?

Prince of Darkness is exactly as fun as whatever the opposite of fun is.

The whole gang, minus Scooby

The whole gang, minus Scooby

I liked the view inside the spooky mirror, with wiggling fingers and grasping hands, and the final shot of what’s-her-face drifting away, lost forever. All of which amounts to about five total seconds of screen time. And which of course was about a million times more effective in Cocteau‘s 1950 Orphée.

The rest of the movie is one long, slow build to absofuckinglutely nothing at all. I can’t believe Carpenter wrote this thing himself (under a pseudonym). He fills the dialogue with a bunch of quantum physics notions which, to his credit, aren’t scientifically illiterate, but his attempt to link quantum theory to Satan is, well, I don’t know even know. It’s absent, is what it is. There’s physics talk, and there’s some swirly green goo turning people into zombies, and then at the end Satan’s mighty claw is briefly glimpsed coming out of the mirror and then, THANK YOU JESUS, the movie’s over.

Pleasance & Wong, my new hit cop series

Pleasance & Wong, my new hit cop series

It’s nice to see Victor Wong getting some work, and Dennis Dun, also from Big Trouble In Little China, shows up, and isn’t bad, but my god, where did Carpenter dig up his other actors? And I mean that literally. Which cemetery? These people are corpses. I’ve seen two-by-fours give less wooden performances.

The opening sequence sets the tone, which let’s call suicidal. Intercut with credits we watch various characters wandering about doing nothing of any interest whatsoever while Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s music drones beneath them, for what must be ten minutes. It feels like forever. Anything but more shots of that guy’s fucking mustache!

My god this movie is boring. There’s nothing else to say about its story because there is no story. It’s just alleged science students acting like morons for two hours, until finally most of them are dead and they break a mirror. The end.

Ahhh! RUN! It's green! And SWIRLY!

Ahhh! RUN! It’s GREEN! And swirly!

This is the worst kind of terrible movie. There’s not even any fun gore to be amused by. There’s just nothing. No characters, no drama, no story, no blood and guts, no scares, no big finish. I can’t believe I picked this over From Beyond, which I know is a good time. I dared to dream, and I lost.

If you need a movie not to watch next halloween, I can’t recommend Prince of Darkness highly enough. I could easily not watch this movie every day for the rest of my life. You are advised to do the same.

7 responses on “Prince of Darkness: Carpenter’s Worst?

  1. So the thing about horror is that it’s the most subjective of all types of fiction. You can look at craftsmanship objectively to some extent, but at the end of the day, the biggest question is: Did it scare you? And the answer is completely dependent on the individual, your psychology, the things creeping beneath the surface of your consciousness that you can’t even describe.

    There is a very thin line that separates something from creeping you the fuck out versus making you laugh at its ridiculousness (or just get bored). The line demarcates the limit of the viewer’s willingness to buy in and suspend disbelief. It’s totally different for everyone. Good writing, acting, directing, editing can help suck you in. But it doesn’t necessarily translate to actual fear. Alternatively, a sequence, or even just an image, can wriggle its way into your subconscious in an otherwise comical or just flat movie. (Dario Argento seems to be the king of this.)

    I say all this as prelude to noting that when I saw Prince of Darkness when it came out, it scared the shit out of me. Like, I saw it at a crappy theatre in the middle of the day and walked home in broad daylight, and kept having to turn around to make sure nothing was behind me. Why exactly? I couldn’t say. The creepy church? The bugs? Alice Cooper with scissors? The scratchy footage broadcasting from the year one nine nine nine? I dunno, but it totally messed me up. And for me, the mood of the thing, the slow build, the leads that were almost blank slates, added up to a really, really scary movie.

    I watched it again in college and it didn’t affect me the same way, though I still enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll check it out again and see what my adult brain thinks.

    • My friend, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you hold on dearly to your childhood memory of this movie, and otherwise leave it the fuck alone. Horror is indeed subjective. But seriously. This movie is a piece of shit. It is awful. Just awful. And I will further note that in the past couple months I rewatched They Live, and found it even better than I remembered, and Big Trouble In Little China, which remains delightfully goofy. So I’m on no anti-Carpenter kick here. I hoped I’d find something to love in here. But no such luck.

  2. I watched this one once. Once. And even Joe Piscipo himself couldn’t convince me to give it another shot. I think Ghosts of Mars is worse, though.

    My Halloween screening was The Descent. And man; that’s some scary shit. Although, granted, the first half, pre-monster fight, is scarier. Some really nice cinematography for a horror film and some compelling imagery, too.

    • I remember The Descent. Sort of. Kind of like what you said, that it was much scarier in the first half, then kind of collapsed by the end. But yeah. Goof stuff in there.

  3. I’m willing to come to the defence of Vampires as at least being not terrible. It’s pretty faithful to the pulp novel it was based on (although John Steakley apparently disagrees). The head vampire has great fun chewing the scenery (he’s apparently a writer on Grimm now, thanks Wikipedia).

    • I only saw it when it opened, can’t say I remember much at all. Given enough whiskey one night in the future, perhaps I’ll give it another shot.

  4. Im watching prince right now holy shit is it lame the first 20 minutes are wasted on quantum phisics the next 20 are wasted on bad imagery and lame religious horse crap a girl stands in a hall a guy sees her then he goes into another room gets asked where the girl is then acts surprised she still isn’t standing there did i mention he,s a scientist? A guy actually says this is caca and boy is it, pleasance asks how many of you have fallen asleep tonight is he talking to the audience? Instead of demons and hellish imagery you get bums ants beetles worms a bad linda blare looking girl possession a guy singing amazing grace before killing himself alice cooper stabing a guy with a bicycle and green water dripping upside-down? The worst thing is this pos came out at the same time as the wes craven masterpiece serpent and the rainbow luckily as a kid i chose to see serpent instead of this bs. I question if carpenter really even directed this or if he just over saw it and they put his name on it to sell it? This is the worst film about people being taken over by possession i have ever seen even worse than terror toons from fred olan ray. Its now 1.15 minutes in and a deformed pregnancy is the only thing of interest so far as special effects go luckily i got this in a boxset with the thing they live and village of the damned jesus christ though it just shows all carpenter has ever done is try and do different remakes of the thing from outterspace i mean are all his films about alien possessions? I still love Halloween they live escape from la big trouble and in the mouth of madness but darkness should be an alan smithee classic left rotting on vhs and never should have reached bluray release unless it was for Elvira to do riff tracks over the entire viewing of this borring trash that runs 1.40 minutes long 1, 40mins too long. If you really must watch a religious horror film id say watch the unholy at least that movie makes some creative and interesting points and has some scares or mark of the devil. Along with prince of heartless I also think the exorcist sucks i guess you have to be Christian to buy into these kind of movies?

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.