Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factorized: PRINCE OF DARKNESS on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Scream Factorized: PRINCE OF DARKNESS on Blu-ray

Right up front let me say that BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is one of my all-time favorite films. I saw it at a small shopping center theater in Brookfield Wisconsin in the summer of 1986. It truly blew my 12 year old mind at the time. I loved it so much I went back the next day and saw it a second time. I truly adore the movie, foibles and all. I only preface with this because PRINCE OF DARKNESS was of course John Carpenter's very next film after BIG TROUBLE. It was released in October of 1987. I didn't see it then. It would be some time before I would finally get to see it on VHS. You see, I didn't know who John Carpenter was in the summer of '86. He would become one of my favorite directors, but I lost track if him after BIG TROUBLE for a little while. When I finally got around to PRINCE OF DARKNESS, I don't think I liked it. I'm not sure why, but I've really come around to it over the years. I know that part of the reason is obviously Carpenter and his amazing auteurial filmmaking powers. His shot selection(use of Panavision too),his music, his penchant for fantastic and horror stories and his love for Howard Hawks are are part of the alchemy. The other factor for me is PRINCE's cast. Donald Pleasance and Carpenter together are a wonderful duo. Beyond that though, PRINCE shares a few cast members with BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA: Victor Wong and Dennis Dun. I love both of these actors and I associate them almost exclusively with BTiLC because that was the film that I first saw them in and where they imprinted on me. Dennis Dun is one if those actors that I would love to cast in a narrative feature if I ever made one. I'm always kind of hoping Tarantino will throw him a bone and cast him in something. I know QT is a BTiLC fan so it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility. Beyond Wong and Dun the cast also contains other nostalgic faces. Fans of 80s TV like me will recognize both Jameson Parker from SIMON & SIMON and Thom Bray from RIPTIDE. There's even a dude(Dirk Blocker) who played one of the jocks in MIDNIGHT MADNESS. And then of course there's Alice Cooper, who didn't do enough movies as far as I'm concerned. He doesn't have too much to do in this movie, but it is nonetheless nice to see him. After the cast there's the music that is also quite similar to BTiLC's. From the opening strains of it under the Universal logo, that ominous 80s Carpenter electro-synth often makes me think for a second that the next shot will be of Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express.I really can't say enough about how much I love the music in Carpenter's films. Talk about an element that helps immerse you in the world he's created. It's just damned cool stuff.
This movie is kind of like Carpenter's GHOSTBUSTERS. Okay not really, but it reminds me of the middle to end of GHOSTBUSTERS as filtered through the mind of Carpenter. The evil that is awakening all around the characters here is much darker, and more satanic than anything the classic 80s comedy ever touches on. In a nutshell, PRINCE OF DARKNESS reminds me of the scene in GHOSTBUSTERS where Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson are in the Ecto-1 and talking about "what If this is the end of the world". The majority of the movie is like that scene in that there's a lot of folks talking about the evil as it creeps up on them. It's definitely one of the most 'slow burn' kinda movies that Carpenter ever made. I guess I can see how those that prefer their Carpenter with a little more cut-to-the-chase thrills or action might be disappointed this film. He is definitely trying to work through some scientific, philosophical and religious ideas here and that is engaging enough for me. Some of the science is pretty silly, but it never takes me out. Throw in the fact that he's incorporated gore and a possession/mind takeover plot into the mix as well and I'm good to go. Additionally, since the film takes place almost entirely inside a church, there is a nice sense of claustrophobic tension that is ever so slightly reminiscent of THE THING. The movie is so talky though it almost feels like Carpenter's take on art-house horror. His own satanic, multi-character version of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE meets BODY SNATCHERS and THE EXORCIST. Feels a tiny bit like a Carpenter stage play. Carpenter was working with a much smaller budget here(about $3 million) versus with BTiLC($20 million) and you can feel it in the film's single central location at the church and the emphasis on dialogue. You do get a sense though that Carpenter is trying some stuff out here and attempting to do something a little different than before which I respect. Also, it's interesting to note that(at least according to the internet) PRINCE OF DARKNESS out-performed BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA at the box office by about $3 million(it made about $14 million while BTiLC only pulled in about 11). Those numbers may be domestic only, but I hadn't realized that until now. PRINCE OF DARKNESS is definitely one of Carpenter's most disturbing films. Even in rewatching the movie again via this disc I found myself having moments of unease(and one solid jolt) which doesn't happen much these days. Many other Carpenter films have a certain sense of fun about them underneath the scares. Not so much with this one. It is filled with dread and powerful unsettling imagery and that might be what helps make it memorable. One more thing I can say for it is that it passed my "put the movie on too late at night but still stayed up to finish it" test and that should count for something.
Scream Factory's transfer for this new Blu-ray looks quite good. It's much brighter and more detailed than I am used to. On top of the film looking better than it ever has, Scream has also included a commentary from Carpenter himself(which I believe may have been ported over from a UK DVD of the film). Also included are new interviews with Carpenter, Alice Cooper, Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere, and Co-Composer Alan Howarth. Plus!
-Alternate Opening from the TV Version of the film.
-'Horror's Hallowed Ground' a short featurette dealing with the church where PRINCE OF DARKNESS was filmed.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS is available via online retailers and through Shout! Factory: 
(it streets on 9/24)


dfordoom said...

Prince of Darkness is one of Carpenter's most underrated movies. It's clever and original and it has some real chills.

Tylerandjack said...

I definitely agree with the love for this one. It's uneven, and the main premise is a bit ridiculous (that big tube of turning, churning slime) but as the atmosphere thickens and things get more intense . . . . . . . . it becomes more and more brilliant.