riter/director John Carpenter must like Last Stand in a
Haunted House movies as much as I do, because almost every single one of the
man's movies meet the criteria for such a movie or comes awfully close. Of the
movies that most fits into the subgenre in question are Ghosts
of Mars, The Thing,
The Fog, just to name a few. And to a
certain extent, even Vampires played with the subgenre conventions. Let's
just say John Carpenter enjoys putting multiple characters into a situation
where they are surrounded and outnumbered and in desperate peril of getting
Prince of Darkness is a 1987 movie by
writer/director Carpenter. As the movie opens, a priest has just passed away,
and on his person is a key to a basement room inside a condemned church/hotel.
Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence) inherits the key and calls on an old friend,
physicist/philosopher Howard (Victor Wong), for help. After discovering a
greenish liquid being held in prison inside an ancient cylinder in the basement
of the church, Howard assembles a group of scientists and graduate students to
spend a weekend at the church to investigate the cylinder and its content.
soon as the group begin arriving at the church, a small army of homeless people
also begins showing up. Soon, the homeless army has surrounded the church and
sealed everyone inside, just as the greenish liquid inside the cylinder in the
church's basement is beginning to come "alive"...
Prince of Darkness has a very interesting premise.
The entire concept of an ancient cylinder that might possess the
"essence" of some evil entity from a parallel universe/dimension is
pretty interesting. Carpenter must have gone "Eureka!" when he thought
up this new twist to the old Good Vs. Evil/Son of Satan story. The one thing
that flattens the whole premise is Carpenter's seemingly inability to decide on
which premise he likes the most, and as a result the movie's entire foundation
becomes a jumbled mess, as we aren't clear which is the real reason for
At one point the cylinder and its contents are essences of an
alien species that came here millions of years ago; later it becomes the essence
of some satanic creature's son who is trying to retrieve his banished father
from some dimension prison. I think somewhere in the middle a character posits
that Jesus was also an alien sent to Earth to defeat the evil
creature/alien/Satan/whatever. As you can imagine, there's a lot of exposition
to be found, and the characters rattle off one explanation after another. It all
gets to be a little too much after a while, especially when the why's, who's,
when's, and how's keep changing on us.
Regardless, Prince of Darkness is a good Last Stand
in a Haunted House movie, although I though the army of homeless people, led by
rocker Alice Cooper in white makeup, was grossly underused. Their only reason to
be seems to stand in groups staring blankly at the researchers. Every now and
then one of the homeless people kills one of the researchers, but really, they
were much too underused.
The real danger comes inside the church when the fluid
starts taking over the bodies of the researchers, turning them into its own army
of killers. This new threat gives Carpenter the chance to give us scares
involving researchers searching for missing researchers, only to discover that
the missing researchers are now possessed researchers. Carpenter makes great use
of slow pans to reveal the possessed researchers, and in fact the movie has
quite a number of inspired Slow Reveal shots.
Carpenter has assembled a variety of characters to be
killed, chased, and possessed, with Dennis Dun being the best of the lot. Dun's
smart aleck Walter has all the best lines and keeps the movie light and peppy,
whereas everyone else seems to be moping or lost in thought or just walking
around aimlessly. Leads Jameson Parker (Brian) and Lisa Blount (Catherine) were
terrible bores. The two are supposed to be lovers, but they have very little
chemistry, and I get the feeling Carpenter knew all about their history but
either neglected to inform us or forgot that we can't read his mind. As a
result, the leads are boring and their love affair is uninteresting. But at
least Walter is funny.
Prince of Darkness also has other problems. For one,
the kill scenes are much too brief and uninspired, and the ending is wrapped up
too nicely. The Head Villain is defeated too easily -- absurdly easy, in fact.
And this despite the fact that the Head Villain has telekinetic powers and can
move objects with its mind. I guess they just don't make Head Villains the way
they used to.
Prince of Darkness seems to be an inspired film with
an inspiring premise, but like almost all John Carpenter films I've seen, the
execution just isn't there, and as a result the film falls short. This seems to
be the bane of Carpenter's movies -- they're always good and fun, but they never
quite have that something that makes them Great films.