My reviews often contain spoilers. So consider yourself warned.
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Prince of Darkness (1987)
A full moon. A dying priest clutching a silver box. A synth happy soundtrack. A male lead that looks like Tom Atkins. Donald Pleasence and Alice Cooper. Yes, it is a John Carpenter film!
When the silver box cluthin’ priest dies, said object falls into the hands of Donald Pleasence, who plays another priest. (I’m not being lazy here! He is credited as “priest.”) Inside the box he finds a key, which leads him to an old church. There the key fits into a door which leads into a basement santuary. Where there is a cylinder… of churning green ooze.
Donald sends a nun to talk to Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) who teaches metaphysics at the university. Donald wants his help and takes him to the church and shows him the cylinder. The opening credits end. Ten minutes after they began.
It seems the priest who died had lived in the church for thirty years. The church was built in the 1500s in arrangment with the Spanish government. The church had a secret sect known as The Brotherhood of Sleep. Before the priest died he was supposed to pass the secret and the key onto another. A month ago changes in the earth and sky started, heralding the awakening of “the sleeper.” Basically everything in nature is now going askew and it is probably because the cylinder has been left unprotected.
The professor recruits his best students to set up camp with him at the church – but they are not alone – the city’s street people are being drawn there as well.
A volume is found in an ancient language in the basement of the church and as it is translated, it reveals that God was an extraterestial, and as all matter has anti-matter, there is an Anti-God. What is in the cylinder, who “the sleeper” is, is Satan… I think. This was kept a secret until we would be able to understand it and accept it by proving it using science… I think. The script holds its cards close to its chest and doesn’t give them up easily.
Everyone in the group begins to have the same dream – but it isn’t a dream, it is a transmission from the future, a warning.
As the church is surrounded by the street people, no one is able to leave and those who do try soon wish they hadn’t. Inside things aren’t much better with uncertanties running high, and the green slime spreading infection among the flock.
The film is effectively bleak and doom-laced from the very opening shots. The music pulls and tugs at us like a tide under the influence of a moon gone mad. This is a highly metaphorical and philosophical film. I am kind of surprised that this was released by a major studio. I wonder if today anything this speculative about God and religion would ever get a greenlight. Most likely all the meditative elements would be extracted and the possessed zombies spewing green slime would be amped up. But don’t fear, there are plenty of scares to be had here and the doctrinal elements of the film are not in your face or offputting.
Carpenter uses the widescreen format to great effect. The way he presents the “dream” the characters all share is one of the highlights of the film, and is most mermorable. Of course the film has flaws, for what doesn’t? But this is a case where the rough edges add to the appeal. A squirmy, beguiling little hybrid. B-