(This is the first entry in the series of Greg’s reviews that I can say for certain I’ve seen! -Ed.)
“You will not be saved by the holy ghost. You will not be saved by the god Plutonium. In fact, YOU WILL NOT BE SAVED!”
John Carpenter was in a tough spot. He hadn’t had much of a hit since Escape From New York with the exception of Starman, which was a big departure for him. Though they’re rightfully celebrated now, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China (and to a slightly lesser extent Christine, which rules) had been brushed off by critics and ignored by audiences. The studio had botched the promotion of Big Trouble in Little China completely, and it was a victim of the building hype for Aliens (remember that one?). In 1987, he made the return to horror with the grim and ominous Prince of Darkness. I wish I could say this is the project that got him back on track.
Maybe that last sentence seems like I’m implying this movie is bad. It is not. It is pretty heavy and dark, however. The plot revolves around a mysterious cylinder hidden in the basement of a church used by the Brotherhood of Sleep, an ancient group that would communicate through dreams. The cylinder is filled with a green liquid that is explained to be either Satan or an Anti-God, and it is emitting complex equations. Eventually, the cylinder leaks and everyone exposed to the liquid becomes violent and possessed. A small group of scientists led by the priest who discovered it (Donald Pleasence) are stuck trying to stop it, while all having a shared tachyon dream taking place in the year “one-nine-nine-nine” involving an ominous shadowy figure, implied to be the Anti-God. The movie is a bit of a slow burn (the opening titles take nine minutes to unfold) and it’s totally worth it for the creepy and beautifully shot denouement.
The cast is all solid. There are a handful of John Carpenter regulars, including Donald Pleasence (Halloween, my all time favorite movie), Dennis Dun and Victor Wong (both from Big Trouble in Little China, and Peter Jason (his first with Carpenter, but he’d later appear in They Live and several others). You also get Jameson Parker from Simon and Simon, Dirk Blocker from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and even Alice Cooper as a street dweller who gets possessed and murders a nerd with half of a bike! According to the commentary, his manager produced the movie and got him on board, and I think it’s awesome.
This is one of Carpenter’s creepier and gorier movies, and though they’re brief, the tachyon dream sequences are genuinely unsettling. There is an uncharacteristic use of shaky cam in effect and what sounds like garbled military transmission. It almost feels as if the movie has been hijacked by a horrific news broadcast from the year “one-nine-nine-nine,” which is how they keep saying it. (Side note: I am a fan of 80s movies that use 1997 or 1999 as an example of the distant future 100% of the time). It feels as if it’s really happening, and once the vague shadowy figure is revealed in context with the ending, it’s chilling. There are also a truly alarming amount of roaches, and scenes in which a character vomits directly into another character’s mouth, a la Drag Me To Hell, though not as funny.
Should I Show This To My Five Year Old?
As per usual, it depends on the child. If your child is interested in theology and also quantum physics, absolutely. There’s a lot to mull over here, and I bet your kid would love to ponder the concept of shared dreams. This is also a great opportunity to teach your child about Alice Cooper, something a child is never too young for. There is a fair amount of stabbing and impalement, so I would advise you to sit down with them and let them know that neither stabbing nor impaling is acceptable behavior when dealing with the non-possessed. It might be fun to watch this movie and then read the book of Revelations from the Bible with your child, and then talk about what each of your own personal ideas about Hell and the Afterlife are.
While this is not my favorite John Carpenter movie, it is still very much a part of what I consider his hot streak, lasting from 1976 to 1988. It’s eerie and the climax is beautifully shot. I feel this movie is unjustly ignored and I do think that if you are a fan of his other movies, you’ll probably like this one too. The Anti-God thing is interesting and it’s nice to see that sort of thing treated with some level of seriousness in the middle ground between The Exorcist and those godawful Christian movies that appear every few months with Kirk Cameron and Kevin Sorbo or whoever.
John Carpenter also scored this movie with Alan Howarth, and the score is pretty great.
He also wrote this movie under the pseudonym Martin Quatermass, a reference to a British writer who often wrote about the supernatural, messages from the future, etc.
This is the third in his loose Apocalypse Trilogy, bookended by The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness.
Greg Orme is a comedian/writer based out of Salt Lake City, where he lives with his five plants. You should follow him on Twitter if you aren’t already.