“Prince of Darkness” (1987)

During the opening minutes of the film, “Prince of Darkness,” an elderly priest dies in his sleep. He is found on his death bed holding a silver box, inside of which is a key. In addition, the priest’s private journal is discovered in the room, both items are passed along to the character of another priest, (who is never referred to by name in the film), portrayed by BAFTA winner Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape). Contained within the pages of the journal is information that the priest, who passed away, was a member of a secret order known as The Brotherhood of Sleep. There is also a warning, which states that the sleeper awakens.  

Pleasance’s character has a confounding problem to solve. He gets in touch with Professor Birack (Victor Wong). The priest would like Birack and his class of advanced, quantum physics students, from Kneale University, to attempt to identify the contents of a large, cylindrical tank, that is filled with a mysterious substance. Pleasance’s character discovered what the sleeper was, after he learned that the key opened the door to an old, abandoned church. The same church that the deceased priest resided in for decades, only leaving, as Pleasance states to Birack, once a week to get food.     

Birack’s quantum physics class consists of: Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker), Walter (Dennis Dun), Kelly (Susan Blanchard), Mullins (Dirk Blocker), and Catherine Danforth played by Oscar winner Lisa Blount (The Accountant).  Birack’s class alone, however, it is soon ascertained, will not be enough to attempt to solve the problem, as it pertains to the substance. There is an ancient text that needs to be deciphered, because it could provide information as to what the substance represents. There are other students being overseen by Dr. Paul Leahy (Peter Jason). For example, the entire focus of Lisa (Ann Yen), will be to decipher the ancient text, and translate it into English, while Etchinson (Thom Bray), monitors the canister’s energy readings, which are substantial. There are other students, who are there to work on the canister’s locking mechanism. 

The more time the students spend working, the stronger the substance appears to become. Whatever it is, its power has started to influence things both big and small, such as ants, as well as the homeless population that squats within the near vicinity of the abandoned church. The homeless, in mass, are led by a character credited as Street Schizo, played by three time Grammy nominee, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Alice Cooper (Welcome to My Nightmare).  As the answer to what the mysterious substance is becomes clearer, chaos descends inside the church, as well as outside on its grounds. Have things reached a point where it might be too late to stop what has been put in motion?

“Prince of Darkness” was written and directed by John Carpenter (Halloween). The film premiered on October 21, 1987, in Universal City, California. Like a number of his other films, Carpenter scored the music, along with Alan Howarth (They Live), which adds to the overriding sense of dread felt through most of the film. The horror movie has a runtime of 112 minutes.

Trivia buffs take note: John Carpenter wrote the parts that Pleasence, Wong, and Dun played, specifically with the actors in mind. Debra Hill, Carpenter’s long time, producing partner, gave him the idea for the film, based off of a nightmare she had. In the credits, Martin Quatermass is credited as the screenplay writer. As aforementioned, Carpenter wrote the screenplay. Carpenter took the name from Professor Bernard Quatermass, from the 1953 television series “The Quatermass Experiment.” The scenes that take place at Kneale University, were filmed at the University of Southern California, which is Carpenter’s alma mater.

“Prince of Darkness” is atmospheric, suspenseful, and in large part unsettling, but overall it is highly effective. The special effects are kept to a minimum, but when utilized are well done. The movie does get a bit gory in parts. The times that gore is used, do not circumvent the plot, but elevates the scare factor of a particular scene. The cast as a whole did a more than competent job, especially Pleasence and Blount.                

I recommend “Prince of Darkness” for fans of Carpenter who have never seen the film. In addition, I would suggest seeing it, to those of you who may not have seen Donald Pleasance in a role outside of Dr. Loomis, in the Halloween films. The elements that this particular film deals with, and the questions that it asks, are certainly not the norm for a horror movie. For a viewer seeking a horror film that is anything, but derivative, this should hold your interest, for at least a onetime viewing.



About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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6 Responses to “Prince of Darkness” (1987)

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Excellent review, Jonathan. This is a big favorite of mine and is still a very underrated John Carpenter film. Totally atmospheric, with a supreme sense of dread, and has another killer soundtrack by the director and long-time music contributor Alan Howarth.

    I’ve actually been inside two of the film’s church locations. The still active Mission San Fernando Rey and the former church that is now the David Henry Wong Theater in L.A.’s J-Town. A good friend (and if you’ve seen Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, she’s the one doing a bad busker version of the 1967 TV theme song) was performing in a stage play some years back and it was a great experience to be in there.

    If you or your readers haven’t seen it, recommend taking in the Horror’s Hallowed Grounds episode on this film. Sean Clark does this documentary series and it’s great. And for this ep, he reuses the film’s theme, and even spoofs the delayed opening credits of Prince of Darkness. It’s awesome.

    Thanks for this.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Thank you very much!

      I also consider it to be an underrated John Carpenter film. I am not sure why it hasn’t caught on over the years, like some of his other movies.

      That’s very cool that you had a chance to visit some of the locations. I’ll have to look for your friend, next time I watch Spider Man 2.

      I’ll definitely check out the episode of Horror’s Hallowed Ground, especially since you’re recommending it.

  2. filmmiasma says:

    This is actually one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. I didn’t think too many people liked it but i always have. I love the mythology around what’s in the canister. Great post!

  3. robbinsrealm says:

    Oops, I meant me too.

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