The Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It #4 -Prince of Darkness (1987)
When an old priest dies mysteriously in the middle of the night, he is found clutching a box containing a key to a derelict church. Given the task of investigating, an unnamed priest (Donald Pleasence) discovers a cylinder containing a living force in the church, and he believes it may contain the trapped Antichrist. Enlisting the help of graduate school professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and his finest group of students, the Priest tasks them with uncovering the cylinder's purpose. As the students begin collecting more information of the cylinder, feeding computers with translation of ancient texts and complex mathematics, everything surrounding the investigation becomes more sinister. The church is nearly barricaded by the homeless, staring slack-jawed at the church (and lead by a pasty looking Alice Cooper). Bits of liquid begins to escape the container, causing the students to become possessed and attack each other. Soon the scientific students learn that the entity in the container is the Devil, and it seeks to usher the Anti-God into this world. Their only hope to save the future of the world is a message from a future they didn't save.
The Thing (#1 on The Halloween Top 13: The Remake) and ending with In the Mouth of Madness. Admittedly, I haven't seen Mouth of Madness recently enough to contemplate it, but the notion of the titular "Thing" taking over the world is quite chilling, arctic pun intended. However, while I feel that Prince of Darkness is a lesser film than The Thing, it certainly addresses the end of the world in a very front and center manner. The theological implications that Carpenter's film deals in, that "The Devil" as real physical (though gooey) presence guided by an even more evil daddy figure, are the kind of thing that would send Richard Dawkins into a nervous breakdown. This was the first film where Carpenter overtly used religion in the plot-line, a theme he would go back to in 1998's Vampires. With Prince of Darkness, Carpenter covers several different themes including systemic repression of knowledge, logic versus faith, and man's inherent nature of evil. When you look at his career of films as a whole, these are themes that reoccur time and again, but setting them against a background of Catholicism and Christianity certainly raises new questions in each of the areas.
Dead & Buried, Cut and Run), Susan Blanchard (They Live), Dennis Dun (Big Trouble In Little China), and Dirk Blocker (Poltergeist, Starman) round out the students, but none of them distingush themselves beyond their demise. Blocker in particular gets it twice, and the second time around is enough to make my skin crawl. Also, look out for rocker Alice Cooper as the most murderous of the gathering homeless. He even gets to off a hipster with a fixie. That must have felt good. Cooper also penned a song for the movie, and it can be heard in the background of his murderous scene, but the song "Prince of Darkness" was not released until a year after the film.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch for Carpenter's production company.
Of all the titles that I've chosen for this list, Prince of Darkness is perhaps the most frightening version of The Devil for me, even though he looks like nothing more than a time capsule full of lime Jell-O. Despite Satan's appearance, and the over the top gore, Prince of Darkness seems firmly rooted in reality. Perhaps it is because the scientifically trained protagonists believe that this skeptical viewer can accept the theological ground on which the movie treads. It also has to do with the skill of John Carpenter as a film maker. While his work in recent years has not met expectations, it is impossible to deny the scope and depth of his career. Carpenter was (and I believe still is) a visionary film maker unafraid to delve into different genres, tackle big issues, and have some fun along the way. For all these reasons and more, Prince of Darkness firmly deserves it's spot at #4 on The Halloween Top 13: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Join me back here again tomorrow for #3, and scroll down below the trailer to check out today's reader picks. This time from my good pal (and 4 time Halloween Top 13 participant) Ryan Harvey of The Realm of Ryan.
When I think back over the four years of The Halloween Top 13 and of the LBL in general, the thing that stands out most are the friends that I've made. I'm very proud to call Ryan Harvey one of those friends. Not only does he write about all kind of great things from all stripes of geekdom on The Realm of Ryan and Black Gate, he's also a L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future short story winner. If anyone knows about the devil, it must be this guy 'cause he's been making a deal with someone. Without further ado, here's Mr. Harvey's list.
1. The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976) When I think of “devil movies,” this is the one that immediately pops to mind, even though no devil makes a physical appearance. His son does, however. I think it’s composer Jerry Goldsmith who really plays Old Scratch here, with perhaps the scariest film score ever. A stylish and smart thriller that still packs a wallop all these years later. Ave Satani!
2. Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) Also known as Curse of the Demon for its shortened U.S. release, this is one of the founding movies of both the Anglo Horror cycle and the turn toward contemporary-set horror movies. The demon itself, designed by future James Bond and Stanley Kubrick visual master Ken Adam, is one of the greatest looking monsters in history—the quintessential “demon.”
3. The Devil Rides Out (Terence Fisher, 1968) One of the finest Hammer Horror films, this one makes Christopher Lee into the hero (bold move) pitted against a Satanic coven in the quiet English countryside. A fiercely directed movie, even if it has a quaint feel to its setting, and the assault of horrors against the heroes inside a magical circle is still shiveringly brilliant.
5. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) If I list The Ninth Gate, I have to include Rosemary’s Baby. Building from Night of the Demon eleven years before, this is another quintessential contemporary-set fright flick, with the nightmare of a Satanic-impregnation dropped into a Manhattan apartment complex with really really annoying neighbors! Showing that humor and horror were co-habiting quite well before An American Werewolf in London.
6. The Ninth Gate (Roman Polanski, 2001) Sometimes I think I am the only fan of this movie, which uses book hunters as its backdrop and mixes in Satan and detective work. My own obsession with old books must have something to do with it. All around fantastic characters, with a scene-stealing Frank Langella as the Satanic power-obsessed tycoon who has had it with the stupid hood-wearing coven silliness. “Boo!”
7. Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987) Although this film always makes me wonder, “What is so damn valuable about this guy’s soul?”, it’s still great mash-up of noirand horror, with a wonderfully creepy view of NOLA, plus Bob DeNiro as Lucifer. Love that endless elevator descent to the bottom floor!
10. Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987) This is the poorest of Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (the others are The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, the latter one of Carpenter’s most underappreciated film) but it’s damn fun and packed with some whacked pseudo-science explanations for Satan, the Anti-Christ, and the Catholic Church.
11. Fallen (Gregory Hoblit, 1998) A mostly forgotten film for which I have a strange affection. Basically a body-hopping possession story with a demon (a fallen angel), it features a terrific, bleak twist ending. And John Goodman.