Quantum theory, sentient liquid, 80’s synth scores and Alice Cooper. Today I discuss Prince of Darkness which is quite possibly John Carpenter’s strangest film, and that’s saying a lot. By the way, some minor spoilers ahead.
When an old priest belonging to a secret sect tasked with protecting the world from an ancient evil dies, another priest (Donald Pleasence) has to unravel the mystery of what he had been guarding humanity from. He enlists the help of Quantum Physics professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and his group of PhD students to try and discover the true nature of the swirling green liquid that the old priest had been guarding before it destroys the world.
Now, the script that Martin Quatermass (aka John Carpenter) created is certainly unique, especially where the antagonist is concerned. The evil, self-aware liquid (that’s right, you heard me) soon forces itself from it’s container and into the mouth of one of the students where it is then transmitted via direct mouth-to-mouth-vomit (!) into the bodies of other students, possessing each of them along the way.
So, credit where credit is due, that is certainly an interesting concept and the film does do a good job in the first act of creating a sense of dread and the feeling of a powerful, otherworldly menace threatening our very existence. In addition to this there were some discussions about quantum theory and the nature of reality itself that I found really interesting. However, that sense of dread and intrigue dissipated as I began to have far too many questions that should have been addressed.
For instance “why doesn’t anyone call the cops when people are blatantly murdered outside in the open or turn into giant piles of living bugs?” I mean, other than the groups of possessed hobos wandering around with Alice Cooper, the “evil” doesn’t appear to affect anyone else outside the abandoned church where the students are conducting the research. Also “why would a group of scientists be so quick to wholeheartedly believe in a bat-shit crazy story about the liquid in the basement being a manifestation of pure evil and Jesus being an alien based on the translated text from one source?” Now, to be fair one of the students does remain highly skeptical but that’s not nearly enough to counter-balance the ridiculous behavior of the others.
I feel like Quatermass (as he sometimes like to be called) is operating under a very vague understanding of how scientific research works. That’s why the so-called scientists of this film can declare an object that could only have been made by modern era humans is seven million years old without having to clarify it with a statement like “but of course that’s impossible!” Or extrapolate a profoundly crazy theory that the liquid is conscious and able to move objects psychically based on nothing more than a fucking seismograph reading!
The situation is not helped by the mediocre performances from the cast complete with some terrible attempts at comic relief that only succeed in exacerbating the inherent lack of realism. I will say that Donald Pleasence certainly does the best job in portraying a convincing character but others (I’m looking at you Dennis Dun) are distractingly bad.
All in all, an interesting and original idea that was poorly executed and not really worth tracking down to watch. A few scenes offer some interesting scares (the man into bugs one was actually incredibly creepy) but there just isn’t enough here to make up for the frustration of the shoddy plot. Maybe that’s why John Carpenter chose to hide behind a pseudonym with an esoteric sci-fi reference in it rather than use his own, highly recognizable, name.