Monday, July 06, 2009

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness (1987)

More than the work of any major director since Howard Hawks, John Carpenter’s films have undergone a unique "second life" -- a period of intense re-evaluation…and new found appreciation.

Even the classic Halloween (1978) originally drew bad reviews and nearly faded into obscurity until a laudatory Village Voice review by Tom Allen, and a well-timed holiday release rescued the film's reputation. Today, Halloween is a fixed star in the horror firmament; even a companion piece for Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

Likewise, Carpenter’s The Thing (1981) was ignored by audiences and vilified by critics in the summer of E.T. (1982). Carpenter was even termed a “pornographer of violence” by some short-sighted critics because of the film’s intensity and pioneering (though admittedly gruesome...) special effects.

Yet by the 1990s, The Thing was exerting enormous influence on the genre in Hollywood productions almost too numerous to list. From The X-Files (“Ice”) and the main adversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- the shape-shifting “Dominion” (detectable only by blood test…) -- to the T-1000 in Terminator 2 (1991), Thing imitations were practically ubiquitous.

In recent years, critical estimations of In the Mouth of Madness (1994), They Live (1988), The Fog (1980), Vampires (1998) and Ghosts of Mars (2001) have also trended positive. But it is the director’s 1987 Nigel Kneale homage, Prince of Darkness that has witnessed the most meteoric rise in appreciation. Once derided as "second rate" and "klutzy," the film is now beloved for its brawny narrative twists, not to mention Carpenter's crisp direction.

The second movement of Carpenter’s so-called “Apocalypse Trilogy” (a cycle including The Thing and In The Mouth of Madness…), Prince of Darkness is elegantly lensed, suffused with a gloomy, unsettling vibe of cerebral terror (the more you understand, the more afraid you feel…) and punctuated with periodic jolts or "stingers" of extreme intensity. It is, as L.A. Times critic Michael Wilmington opined, a film "filled with graceful, gliding tracking shots, and icily precise Hitchcockian setups of the bleak decor and scary effects." (October 23, 1987).

Prince of Darkness
also features one of Carpenter’s most memorable, arresting and pulse-pounding soundtracks. The score’s “ominous intonations…grab you and take command of your heartbeat.” (Allen Malmquist, Cinefantastique Volume 13, # 2, March 1988, page 117).

In all, this Carpenter film fires on all cylinders, and holds up exceedingly well on repeated viewing. At the film's heart is a discussion of science as the new "faith;" and an examination of a population -- another alienated population -- searching for spiritual and emotional meaning in a world apparently devoid of it.

He Lives in the Smallest Part of It

Prince of Darkness features a number of John Carpenter touchstones, both visual and thematic. First and foremost, this is a siege picture (like Assault on Precinct 13 or Ghosts of Mars), meaning that the action focuses on a small group of protagonists inside fighting off superior forces outside.

The abandoned police precinct of Assault has become the abandoned Church -- Saint Godard's -- of Prince of Darkness. In both scenarios, the location of the battle is important. The buildings are relics; ones without contemporary meaning or importance. Society has passed them by in both cases; they are symbols, essentially, of impotent infrastructure or bureaucracy.

Writing for Monthly Film Bulletin in May of 1985, Philip Strick compared the two Carpenter films in a way that is illuminating for our discussion: "With Prince of Darkness, the siege of Assault on Precinct 13 is vividly reconstructed: the derelict fortress, the comfortless corridors, the silent army in the night outside, the collapse of logic and security."

You may recall that the oft-repeated "siege" element in Carpenter's films is an homage to the cinema of Howard Hawks, notably Rio Bravo (1959). But Prince of Darkness is also an homage to one of Carpenter's favorite writers : Nigel Kneale. Kneale was the prime talent behind the British Quatermass films of the 1950s and 1960s (The Creeping Unknown, Enemy from Space and Five Million Years to Earth). His films (as well as TV serials) popularized the notion that threats mistaken as being of supernatural origin are actually...extra-terrestrial. In Five Million Years to Earth (1968) it was a Martian psychic force, not the Devil, sweeping through London, and so on. Carpenter resurrected this concept for Ghosts of Mars in 2001, but first he employed it in Prince of Darkness.

In Prince of Darkness, Jesus is an ancient astronaut, and Satan and his Father (the Anti-God) are also extra-terrestrials. In a tip of his hat to Howard Hawks, Carpenter edited the film Rio Bravo under the name "John T. Chance," the name of John Wayne's character in that movie. Likewise, Carpenter penned Prince of Darkness under the name "Martin Quatermass." Quatermass, of course, is the protagonist of Kneale's most famous works.

Prince of Darkness also evidences Carpenter's distinctive anti-authoritarian voice. Here, the Catholic Church has hidden the truth about the nature of Evil for 2000 years. "We were salesmen," says Pleasence's priest with disgust. "We were selling our product." In various films -- as we've seen -- Carpenter also went after movie critics (They Live), religious fundamentalists (Escape from L.A.), and even used the Catholic Church as a target again in Vampires. There, another Catholic sect was hiding a different Devilish secret: a black crucifix that created the world's first vampires.

Where Prince of Darkness pinpoints so much new energy, however, is not in these commonly-found Carpenter homages or themes, but rather in the endless possibilities of Quantum Physics. It's a whole new playground for the director, and he makes the most of the territory. The film discusses every important concept from Schrodinger's Cat to "causality violation" (time travel), and it does so with a sort of breathless, fast-paced intelligence that challenges the audience to keep up.

Let’s Talk About Our Beliefs, and What We Can Learn From Them…

Prince of Darkness begins with the discovery of an ancient and secret Catholic sect known as "The Brotherhood of Sleep." The guardian priest of this mysterious sect dies while clutching a miniature box containing a key; a key to the basement of a rundown Church in poverty-stricken L.A. called Saint Godard's.

There, upon an altar in the a seven million year old canister of volatile, swirling fluid. The liquid is, in fact, Pure Evil: Satan himself.

In hopes of comprehending and defeating this unusual threat, a Catholic priest (Donald Pleasence) teams up with Professor Birack (Victor Wong), a teacher of quantum physics at the Doppler Institute of Physics. Along with a group of dedicated graduate students -- including lonely Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount) and Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker) -- the man of science and the man of faith spend the weekend at the old church and undertake a study of the canister and the liquid, as well as the corrupted Latin palimpsest that details its history and secrets.

Over a long, horrifying night, as revelation follows revelation, the forces of darkness invade the Church. As the devilish, pre-biotic liquid "self-organizes," it assumes psychokinetic control over small organisms (such as insects) first, then L.A.'s wrteched homeless, and finally it makes zombie minions of many of the graduate students themselves. The evil liquid also selects a human host, Kelly (Susan Blanchard), and plots to bring its demonic father -- the Anti-God -- into our dimension. At the same time, all the graduate students experience a recurring nightmare: a tachyon S.O.S. warning from the year 1999...

Very much like 1982's The Thing, John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness concerns flawed, lonely, awkward human beings living in a world in which there is no real faith or human inter-connection. In fact, Prince of Darkness repeats verbatim a line uttered by R.J. McReady (Kurt Russell) in The Thing: "Faith is a hard thing to come by these days." As in that earlier film the line is spoken by Carpenter's unconventional protagonist and voice for the audience, here a graduate student in quantum physics named Brian Marsh.

The problem is that in a world of advancing science and human knowledge, the old platitudes of religious faith and belief seem antiquated and stale. At least until dressed up with such scientific candy-coating as "differential equations," "tachyons," "indeterminancy," and the like. Yet importantly, those "new" scientific concepts don't tell us who we are (or who we should be...) in the same authoritative sense that old-fashioned belief systems did.

Thus...a void.

Carpenter -- ever the visual artist -- finds an imaginative way of expressing this crisis in spirituality. As Pleasence's priest views St. Godard for the first time, the camera presents an establishing view of the church from behind an old iron gate, and a holy cross -- a Catholic Crucifix -- can be seen jutting heavenward from the church's roof. Yet above the church is another gate slat, this one horizontal in direction. In other words, the cross (representing religion or faith) is boxed in on all sides, from above and from left and right. Visually, it is trapped, confined and caged by its inability to answer the questions that so many people seek in today's world.

Professor Birack -- a wise elder and interpreter of the quantum runes -- seems aware of these problems in human connection, and he seeks amongst his studentsw -- again according to the dialogue, -- "philosophers" rather than "scientists." Philosophers, he understands, will understand how to place scientific knowledge within the context of man's spiritual or emotional world; whereas scientists, by implication, may not.

In Birack's students, we see disciples in waiting: lost souls who, for the most part, have forgotten the art of being human. Instead, they have come as boxed-in as the crucifix over the church. They have labeled themselves using the prevailing and simple lingo of their culture. "I'm a confirmed sexist," Brian tells Catherine proudly while trying to court her, unaware of how silly and bigoted he sounds. Later, Walter (Dennis Dun) tells a racist Jewish Mother joke ("I said rich doctor, not witch doctor!"), and also comments, condescendingly that Lisa, the team translater, could "pass for Asian."

This is a world in which it doesn't matter so much that a woman like Susan (the radiologist) is married, but rather the degree of her marriage ("how married?" a potential suitor asks). Thus communication between people, especially between people of opposite sexes is dominated in Prince of Darkness by what Catherine terms "miscues." These are wrong, defensive interpretations based on pre-conceived notions of others and even a pervasive non-understanding of self. In his essay, "John Carpenter: Cinema of Isolation" scholar John Thonen saw these graduate students as "selfish," and "lifeless" (Cinefantastique, Volume 30, Number 7/8, October 1998, page 71).

What these lost souls seem to lack is the very thing religion once provided for many: a sense of belonging, a sense of man's innate goodness. These young scientists, as the film notes, get romantic when discussing The New Faith (Quantum Physics) but "clam-up" when it comes to talking about emotions, feelings and humanity. Perhaps that's because science provides no guide-lines, no rules, no equations in such matters.

Catherine and Brian are seekers of truth and more than that, they are seekers of love...which is something more meaningful than just good sex (which ironically, is their first connection). Catherine desires to know "what the numbers mean," a search beyond scientific jargon, and Brian's obsession with card tricks represents a need for an understanding of life beyond mere probability tests; in something like...luck.

Each character has an idea of what specific path will lead them to personal enlightenment, but what they wish to make room for is the person -- the other -- who may bring them, by philosophies unknown and unexpected, to the missing piece of life's puzzle. To love. To real intimacy.

The tragic love story in Prince of Darkness plays out, interestingly enough, as a modern Christ analogy. Because of her burgeoning relationship with Brian, Catherine is finally open to love, to giving. Ultimately, she sacrifices herself to save mankind. She vanquishes the evil, but at the cost of her own life and future. "She died for us," Birack states succinctly, putting Catherine's sacrifice in decidely religious, Christian terms. Catherine knew what was at stake and made a conscious decision to consider others above her own well-being and survival. She saved, literally, a wicked world (one controlled by the Anti-God). She thus changed everything, preserving our future. Her Gospel, perhaps, is the mesage heretofore incomplete, the one beamed back through time (a causality violation) as an unconscious message. Will that message be different after her choice to save our world, or will it simply cease to exist all together?

No Prison Will Hold Him Now

Prince of Darkness debuted in the Age of AIDS, in 1987. This was the very year, in fact, that President Reagan made his first public statement on the epidemic. It was also the year that the formerly promiscuous James Bond 007 (Timothy Dalton) became a one-woman kind of guy in The Living Daylights.

The AIDS epidemic (as it was understood at the time) serves as an important backdrop to Carpenter’s film, since the “Evil” force depicted here is a fluid passed from person-to-person (usually mouth-to-mouth). Susan infects Calder by kissing him and forcing the evil fluid down his throat. Likewise, she contaminates Lisa in a sexually-charged sequence. As Lisa reclines on her bed, supine, Susan mounts her -- ascending into a dominant position -- straddling her. She then ejaculates the fluid into Lisa's protesting, open mouth. In the case of both AIDS and the Devil Liquid, transmission occurs through what appears to be sexual behavior; and the danger is carried in the equivalent of bodily fluids.

AIDS was largely seen originally (in the 1980s) as a "gay" disease, because it decimated that population first. If you look at the pattern of transmission in Prince of Darkness, you may note that same-sex transmission is highlighted. Susan infects Lisa. Susan and Lisa infect Kelly (all women). Professor Leahy (Peter Jason) and Calder (both men...) go after Brian. The one instance in which a woman does infect a man (Susan to Calder) could be read as representing another sexual taboo: interracial coupling. And come to think of it, Susan -- the first to be infected and spread the disease -- is married; thus acting out, essentially, an infidelity. What we're talking about here isn't just sexual behavior then but perhaps sexual misbehavior. Remember, The Thing too featured a single sex population in peril and posited Evil as an easily-transmitted disease; one "hidden" in the blood. In that film as well as in Prince of Darkness, Carpenter reflects American society's rampant fear of and paranoia about AIDs, about disease transmitted from person-to-person during promiscuous, impulsive acts.

Another important context underlining Prince of Darkness involves the 1980s epidemic of homelessness. By 1983, there were 35 million Americans living in poverty, some five million more than when Reagan had been inaugurated in January 1981. Reagan's economic policies involved what The Christian Science Monitor termed "deep budget cuts in the social service area" in order to lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans. The result was that more and more people lost their homes. Reagan once even audaciously stated that many of these unfortunates were “homeless by choice.”

In Prince of Darkness, it is the homeless who first become human minions to the army of streetwalkers and hobos who -- ostensibly aimless -- have found malevolent purpose. Idle hands and all. Carpenter returned to the the theme of poverty and the homeless in his next film, They Live (1988), setting much of the action in a Shantytown called "Justiceville."

Say Goodbye to Classical Reality

Carpenter's Prince of Darkness screenplay asserts a "universal mind" or God if you will. However, because this is a Kneale-ean homage anchored in science, it also asserts the Laws of Physics. In particular, the film reminds us that every particle has an opposite or anti-particle. Therefore, if there is a universal mind or God, by inference there is also an anti-God.

In the film, a shorthand for this duality is quickly established via mirrors, via reflections. Accordingly, much of Prince of Darkness visually and contextually deals with doubling, opposites and mirror images. The mirror becomes the portal to the other world; where our "opposites" exist.

Birack and Pleasence's Priest are mirror images of sorts, possessing contrasting world views (science vs. religion) and Carpenter even uses mirror image compositions and mise-en-scene throughout the film, most notably during Brian's "test" leap into the alley beyond the church, and the subsequent attack of the homeless "antibodies." The film cuts to opposing reverse angles moving in on Brian from both sides. It's a visual mirror, with Brian as our point of reference in both shots, from both angles. Brian's prominent placement in the frame even presages Prince of Darkness's electric, portentous climax: a further "test" by Brian...this one staged as he reaches out for his own, possibly malicious anti-self in a mirror.

These final images resonate. They get under the skin. They promise so much yet explain so little. As Brian reaches for the mirror, gazing into his own reflection, the film's many themes converge. He is not only wondering if Catherine is watching him from the other side -- from the anti-verse -- but he is looking into his own face -- sweaty and pale -- and seeking answers. Brian is wondering, perhaps, if, the evil, the contamination could pass to him next. Only a moment earlier, he imagined himself in bed beside a rotting corpse...(the ultimate fear of the AIDS era...) and the uncertainty, the fear of infection, is palpable. It is this moment that Carpenter leaves us to ponder as the film concludes: a close shot of a groping hand reaching for (but not actually touching...) a mirror; the portal to darkness.

Prince of Darkness remains one of John Carpenter's most frightening films, not merely because of the superb soundtrack, the AIDS-subtext, or the clever use of Quantum Physics, but because the screenplay spotlights how much we take for granted in our daily lives. In Prince of Darkness we witness a world where logic is of no use (it collapses on the subatomic level...) and in which Evil is Real. There is indeed an order to the universe, John Carpenter reminds us...but it's not at all what we had in mind...


  1. Great analysis of an underrated film. It's interesting (and perhaps diplomatic) that you describe Reagan's actions as "audacious" where I might use "callous" or (in keeping with the theme)"sinful"; a case could be made that the homeless in POD are usable by evil forces because they are creations of Man's "evil", or at least willful neglect(in direct contradiction to Christ's dictates to care for the poor). I've always seen POD and "They Live" as the most important movies about Reaganism from the actual Reagan era.

    I can't say for sure, but I'm fairly confident that many of the ideas in POD were inspired by a Scientific American article from the early 80's (I think 1983, but I've lost my copy over the years) that discussed the idea that reality only exists because of a flaw in what the physicist authors called the "cosmic mirror". It was mind-blowing stuff and the mirror analogy was pervasive in their scientific model. I highlighted the crap out of my copy, and I'm betting JC had an issue and did the same.

  2. DLR:

    You know, it's funny -- I originally used the word "callous" in regards to Reagan, and then I soft-pedaled the description to "audacious" out of reasons of diplomacy.

    I did so, I suppose, because of a recent review of my book Horror Films of the 1980s on, which said the book was great...except my unfair comments about Ronald Reagan.

    Good lesson: I should stick with my first instinct. It SHOULD read callous, because that's what it was...


  3. Great analysis of this very underrated film. I can remember when I first saw this film not being too crazy about it because it lacked a strong protagonist like MacReady or Snake Plissken but over the years I've watched it again and again and now it is one of my favorite Carpenter films.

    I love how Carpenter eases us into the horror with unsettling images like an anthill covered with swarming insects or a bag lady with bugs covering her. There are also several establishing shots of creepy, zombie-like homeless people just standing outside the church. The first 30 minutes is a slow burn as Carpenter gradually builds the dread which is so effective and really sets up what happens later on.

    Ah, I could talk about Carpenter's films all day.

  4. You've finally gotten around to my all-time favorite Carpenter film (and, quite possibly, my favorite horror film period).

    POD was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in the theater by myself (thanks Mom!). Nostalgia alone would be enough to keep it fresh for me, but I also consider this film personally important for another reason: Though I can't be
    absolutely positive about this, I have always thought of POD as the beginning of my move toward conscious atheism.

    In 1987 I was just starting high school and -- coming from a happy and religiously laissez faire family -- never had much reason to ponder such matters as faith or "god" in any depth. But Carpenter really put the hooks in me with this one. It's one of the few horror films I've ever seen that really got me not just scared but intellectually excited. My cinematic diet up to this time had been a steady stream of xerox slasher pics and gut-munch zombie pictures. Suddenly I was confronted with a horror film of ideas, one that (for once) didn't take the existence of a deux ex machina Christian diety as a given. Not only that, it flat-out states that Christian theology is a tissue of lies! That was damned ballsy in the near dead-center of the Reagan Decade and heady stuff for a 15-year old nerd
    whose deepest concern previously was how Jason was going to resurrect for his next killing spree.

    Afterward I really started to let loose with the questions. My parents will probably tell you that I turned into a really tiresome debater around this time, too. Everything was suddenly up for grabs as far as I was concerned. Like Fox Mulder, I wanted to know The Truth.

    No doubt there's more than a pinch of overstatement here. I've caused more than my share of raised eyebrows with the declaration that a "mere" horror movie was responsible for my intellectual awakening. POD was just the right movie at the right time for me personally. But, like all first loves, it maintains a (arguably) outsized place in my memories.

    And I have to say, even today, I'm still amazed at what Carpenter got away with under the noses of Don't Worry Be Happy Conservative American society in the mid-80s. I suppose it just goes to show how ghettoized the horror film was (and still is) that so few took notice of this little movie's heretical message. I can't imagine Carpenter ever being able to sell something like POD nowadays, in a world where the Catholic Church goes into paroxysms of outrage over forgettable tripe like THE DIVINCI CODE.

  5. Great comments!

    Prince of Darkness and They Live are indeed powerful indictments of the Conservative/Reagan Eighties. Craven's People Under The Stairs (1991) followed along the same lines a few years later (while Bush Sr.) was president.

    But I agree with you J.D. that the "slow build" to horror (almost a glacial, icy build...) is the perfect set-up for the last act; and I agree with you Count Zero that this is a film of cerebral terror and more than that...of deep ideas. I really enjoyed reading your memories of the film, and the place that POD holds in your "awakening" to use a term from the film.

    Every time I watch POD, I see something new. This review only scratches the surface. But since I plan to be blogging for a long time, I'm not ruling out returning to it (and reviewing it again).


  6. Another thing I love about this one is the opening 5-10 minutes. It's a wonderful bit of almost purely visual storytelling. With little or no dialogue or wasted effort he very elegantly sets up the premise and characters during what has to be one of the longest sustained credit sequences ever. The combination of music and image is mesmerizing. In my opinion, any horror fan who isn't totally hooked by the time the credits end is unhookable.

  7. Seldin6:39 PM

    As interesting as the analysis was regarding AIDS and same sex, interracial, and other such sexual actions I must present...

    Susan had not done anything to violate any sense of morale when she was initially infected by the fluid.

    There were two instances of women infecting men. Susan and Calder, and Lisa and Leahy, AND both Susan and Lisa attempted to infect Walter. Perhaps this is reflecting polygamy or orgies...

    Though Lisa wasn't white and it could be argued that it is technically another instance of interracial actions, I rarely see a complaint against the interactions of Whites with Asians, Hispanics, or other races with more white characteristics. But Black on White on white seems to be a taboo. Strange. (I'm White BTW) if we were not meant to interbreed our genes would not be compatible.

    There is technically another instance of a woman infecting a man. The elderly street lady killed Frank in the parking lot who was later found as a beetle infested zombie. (though there was no fluid transmission, perhaps there is something to be said with doing it with one's grandmother) You could also examine this beetle thing to be bestiality.

    In regards to the concept of Susan ejaculating the vile substance into Lisa's mouth, although this would be an interesting idea... it is probably more appropriate to say vomiting. In order for ejaculating to be accurate, Susan would have needed to be exposed and squirting the fluid from her vagina. (Again, entertaining but it didn't happen... perhaps in the remake ;)

    It is a shame that Carpenter never wrote a book relating to the film. There were many loose ends that could use some tying up.

  8. Another wonderful and insightful review/analysis of one of my all-time favorite John Carpenter films. I'm so glad it's getting a re-appraisal by many. Recently, I picked up the Dutch DVD of PoD. I did this because it contained a commentary track with JC and long-time friend/collaborator actor Peter Jason (one of the reasons for owning a Region-free player). It may not be to the high-level of the JC/Kurt Russell commentaries, but it's well worth it.

    Plus, this film makes use of JC's old USC campus and nearby locations for this shoot. This Angeleno recognizes many of them. Doesn't hurt that I'm married to an SC alumna ;-). Also, your points of the Reagan-era and AIDS within your analysis is spot-on. Carpenter definitely deserves more credit for his use of story to highlight what was going on during that time (and in an atmosphere that didn't lend itself to criticism). Thank you for this. Always good to find and add to my blog list.

  9. Le0pard13:

    I need to listen to that commentary -- sounds fascinating! Thank you for following the blog too; glad to have you aboard!

    John Kenneth Muir

  10. Shishir3:25 PM

    Thank you for the insightful POD review.Even though I am a Reaganite and disagree with your (and Carpenter's) impressions of that era, I do absolutely love Carpenter.I find the AIDS subtext especially interesting.An interesting side note, I saw a documentary on the History Channel about Bram Stokers Dracula.One author posited the theory that Dracula was more of an allegory of syphillis which was prevalent during the late Victorian era when the story was set.The prudish and somewhat hypocritical society was always on the lookout for lesions and marks of syphillis, the same way the characters in the book look for any bite marks which indicate that the victim was "infected" by the creature.Also the fact that the Dracula as dark,romantic figure from the East(Dracula's tribe Szekely having Asiatic origins like the Hungarians) who posed a sexual threat to the pale and proper English roses.At the time syphillis was considered an Asian export.But I digress.

    Interestingly the title Prince of Darkness has been applied to Dracula as well.I wonder that in JC's movie , the term Prince of Darkness is supposed to make us wonder.."Hmmm...if Satan is the Prince of Darkness,then who is the King?"...Birack has the answer for us!

    I always wondered how come Calder was the only one who resisted the posession(climbing up the stairs and singing Amazing Grace before slitting his own throat was one of the eeriest scenes in film history).I dont know if any one else noticed that when Lisa was reading from her translation of the book,Calder who was standing behind her makes the sign of the cross when she says "they think Christ is crazy".In some ways Carpenter while taking Catholicism to task in much of the film recognizing some merit in it when it comes to believing in something greather than oneself.Hence Calder's courageous,but ultimately fruitless, attempt at battling Satan.

    On youtube, I came across this very interesting comment......

    Damn straight. That just might be one of the most frightening and tragic scenes ever filmed. Gives me chills watching the light flicker and go out as she's reaching for the shattered portal.
    and both the contents and composition of the shot are like the fresco in the sistine chapel where adam and god reach towards one another... but horribly reversed

  11. Shishir,

    Thank you for your excellent comment on Prince of Darkness.

    That's a very interesting insight about the final shot and the Sistine Chapel, and the syphilis angle (related to Dracula) is an interesting corollary that I hadn't considered.



  12. I've actually been conducting my own John Carpenter retrospective. It's been very thrilling watching Carpenter's films back to back like this. I've finally reached Prince of Darkness last night, and I was reminded of a thought I'd had several times in the past. In Gilles Boulenger's wonderful book John Carpenter:Prince of Darkness, Carpenter is asked if the final shot of Prince of Darkness was inspired by Jean Cocteau's Orpheus. Carpenter said yes. So, in that regard, and it perturbs me Boulenger never asked the question, since the church is called Saint Godard's... could not possibly be a coincidence.

  13. Shishir7:16 AM

    Thanks Michael, I was always curious as to the significance of name St. Godards.An internet search led me know.Guess I have to check up on Jean Cocteau.
    Thanks again!

  14. I've always considered Prince of Darkness to be rather Fulci-esque, especially after seeing City of the Living Dead, with Fulci's use of maggots and worms. Fulci's no different. There's a scene in The Beyond that always reminds me of the attack on Jamie Lee Curtis in the hospital exam room in The Fog. It's no surprise Carpenter is a fan of Italian horror. You can see his interest in Dario Argento in Halloween and Halloween II. It's never been printed anywhere, to my knowledge, but the placement of the pumpkin in the main titles of those films always reminded me of the placement of the beating heart to left of frame as cutaways during the main titles of Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet. There's also the sauna death in the Therapy Room in Halloween II -- an homage to a murder in Argento's Deep Red, which Debra Hill namedrops in an interview for Halloween. I was watching John Carpenter's Vampires yesterday... this is the first time I ever noticed this, and I flipped the hell out because I thought it was cool. The part of Carpenter's theme playing in the beginning of the film, while the Largo Entertainment logo rises into the frame, sounds like a motif from Goblin's score for Dario Argento's Suspiria, complete with slight whispering over the soundtrack and a stinger reminiscent of that previous score. And it's tough to watch Ghosts of Mars without thinking of Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires... it just adds to the film of watching Ghosts of Mars.

  15. I'd thought that St. Godard was a reference to Jean-Luc Godard, considering the reference to Cocteau. Apparently Godard was a real saint.

  16. Anonymous5:28 AM

    Just finished watching this with my fiancee on Halloween night. Really interesting movie, I've long been a big Carpenter fan. Your read on the film was pretty great, the AIDS angle especially (I'm a big Bond fan, as well, and I appreciated the Living Daylights reference).

    One thing I didn't see that I hoped you would address was the changed vision of the future Brian has before he wakes up next to the corpsified Catherine- where Catherine is emerging from the church with the key light blasting behind her. Is she a savior, or conqueror? Has she been possessed? What do you think are the subtextual implications of that vision?

    We really loved your analysis, thanks for the great post!

  17. John, I've ordered the Region 2 discs of couple of Carpenter's films (VAMPIRES and THEY LIVE). Our R1 DVDs for these are pretty bare bones, but the R2's have some extras. Both come with commentaries by JC, and on the THEY LIVE disc he's joined by Roddy Piper on that track. If you ever get a region free player, let me know and I'll loan them to you (remember I have the PRINCE OF DARKNESS R2, as well). Thanks.

  18. Le0pard13:

    Thank you so much for that generous offer. I need to get a region free player!!! In the meantime, do let me know what you think of the commentaries...I'm curious.

    Thank you so much,

  19. Just watched this last night and it's power to keep me on the edge of my seat and totally engrossed in it hasn't diminished. I'm really amazed by the harshness from the critics on this one, especially Leonard Maltin who rates the film a BOMB out of four stars. But that's critics for ya I guess. Anyway, watching this movie got me a little sentimental too, thinking about how long it's been since Carpenter has made a film this great. Let's hope The Ward is a strong comeback after Ghosts of Mars.

  20. Anonymous3:36 PM

    He's not reaching for his other self at the end of the film -- he's hoping to reach Catherine.

  21. Just watched this one for the first time a month ago. I gotta say it was a little too cold for me. I was never completely pulled in by the characters. I loved all the ideas bouncing around in the script, and you pointed out some great angles I didn't even consider. I also thought there was quite a bit of a Lovecraftian influence in the film. Lovecraft has plenty of god like beings struggling to come into our world from outer dimensions. And in that way, this ties closer to "In the Mouth of Madness" for that reason.

    I'm going to give the movie some time and then revisit it. I think I was expecting something quite a bit different when I viewed it, and a second viewing with altered expectations will help me grasp what Carpenter was going for. Once again, thanks for the great review!

  22. Prince of Darkness debuted in the Age of AIDS, in 1987. This was the very year, in fact, that President Reagan made his first public statement on the epidemic. It was also the year that the formerly promiscuous James Bond 007 (Timothy Dalton) became a one-woman kind of guy in The Living Daylights.

    I lived and worked in Washington, D.C., from summer 1985 - summer 1986 for the Dept. HHS. One day we were privileged to hear Reagan speak at the Humphrey Building; it might have been in conjunction with his appointment of Otis Bowen as Secretary of HHS (who championed getting more funding for AIDS research). I heard him mention AIDS, and I thought: "I think this is the first time Reagan has publicly mentioned 'AIDS'." Yet this was not reported in the news as far as I know.