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Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard
Length: 101 min
Label: Shout! Factory
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 & 2.0
The canon of John Carpenter is always worthy of a debate between genre fans, as every horror hound has different choices for his best and worst films. While fans may argue over the merits of Halloween against the merits of The Thing, or the genre qualifications of Carpenter’s action work against his more mainline horror projects, there’s always a sense of imagination throughout his work that appeals to different individuals. His penchant for groundbreaking practical visual effects and his cheeky synth scores are incredibly important to his artistic voice and his storytelling aesthetic, and there are few filmmakers that can be identified as quickly (or iconically) through their work as John Carpenter.
Amongst the oeuvre of Carpenter, there are few films as divisive and worthy of examination as Prince of Darkness, Carpenter’s second installment in his “Apocalypse” trilogy. The film is often considered one of the first of “late phase” John Carpenter as his disillusionment from the critical and financial disappointment that followed him throughout the ‘80s infiltrated his work. The film itself is incredibly interesting as Carpenter tackles metaphysics and religion with a body count and gross-out special effects, and includes some of the more intriguing mythological and philosophical aspects of any Carpenter film to date, although some say the exposition and impenetrable dialogue is a dealbreaker comparative to Carpenter’s free-wheeling and tension-laden exchanges in the past.
In the most basic terms possible, Prince of Darkness follows a Church that learns of Satan’s containment in a mysterious liquid in their basement, and upon sending for scientific research, finds itself bombarded by nightmarish visions, murderous psychopaths and demonic possession. It’s easily Carpenter’s most complicated film to follow, considering how much understanding is needed by the audience to also contend with the genre-friendly action on screen. Those who accept the facts at face value are much more likely to love the film, as the practical effects are gold-standard and the tension of the film is borderline unbearable at times. Carpenter’s scares tie into the religious mythology of the piece, and when indulged, can become heavy-handed, but overall, Carpenter delivers another great genre effort with Prince of Darkness.Carpenter, a director known for wearing multiple hats on his productions, does so on Prince of Darkness as well. Most of the frights and action are legible and well-staged, and his talent for casting works great for one of his most densely-casted films. Gary B. Kibbe’s cinematography is incredibly structured and suited to Carpenter’s aesthetics and the atmosphere of the story. The score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth is also incredibly definitive of the master, pulsating with deep bass reverberations throughout.
As mentioned previously, Carpenter’s casting of this film is impeccable, bringing aboard previous collaborators such as Dennis Dun, Victor Wong and Donald Pleasence as well as some relative unknowns or dependable genre actors to fill out the cast. Everyone shares the weight of the dialogue, and some really shine throughout the film, including the charming Lisa Blount and the great Peter Jason. The film is also known for the minor supporting performance from Alice Cooper as one of the Devil’s more prominent servants and he surely makes the most of a silent, imposing performance.
SHOUT! does a flat-out amazing job with the transfer for Prince of Darkness, as the image quality on this particular Carpenter release provides radiant colors, super-sharp images and an endearing quantity of fine grain. The lack of DNR makes the practical effects look amazing and the overall cinematography benefits from the lack of digital manipulation.
The audio transfer is simply great, as per usual with SHOUT! Dialogue is crystal clear and the score has never sounded better, while the surround sound option makes the most out of the film’s more claustrophobic and disgusting moments. There’s no hiss and the mix is balanced incredibly well, and there is likely not much that can be done to improve the film’s audio transfer beyond what was provided here.
SHOUT! does an admirable job here, accruing the Trailer and Radio Commercials and Still Gallery as per usual but peppering around it some worthwhile pieces. Probably the best of these is either the informative Audio Commentary with John Carpenter, which is also revelatory as to Carpenter’s filmography, or Alice at the Apocalypse, where Alice Cooper talks about his small role in the film and remembers it all affectionately. Unfortunately, the Interview with Robert Grasmere and the Interview with Alan Howarth are fairly uneven, although informative for those interested in their particular field of expertise. The set also includes Horror Hallowed Ground, which explores the locations of the film, and the Alternate Opening for the TV version of the film, as well as a hidden Easter egg of the Prince of Darkness 25th Anniversary Screening Q&A.
If you’re a Carpenter fan, Prince of Darkness is probably already in your possession, considering how well SHOUT! has done in the past with his releases. The incredible practical effects, immersive mythology and mostly fine acting does wonders to balance out the weaker dialogue and the confusing scientific facts. Nevertheless, the film is utterly and undoubtedly a very fascinating, engrossing effort and it deserves to be watched in its best format possible, which would indeed be this current SHOUT! release.