Horror cinema, over the last handful of years, has seen a new crop of A-list talent take the lead role in what will hopefully be a resurgence of truly great horror pictures. Names like Ben Wheatley have proven that, while it’s a tried and true genre, it’s one that can still be mined for superb pieces of motion picture art.
And yet, companies like Scream Factory have become hell bent on giving us new home video releases of underrated gems from the old guard of horror cinema, breathing new life into unsung classics from those names that helped usher in this new modern generation of fright auteurs.
One of these directors just so happens to be John Carpenter. Already a firm member of Scream Factory’s lineup with films like They Live and the pending Assault On Precinct 13, Carpenter is one of the most iconic names in all of horror cinema, and yet, much of his more recent work has received mixed reaction, and that’s in many cases putting it very light. His last film, The Ward, is a dreadfully dull motion picture, and really, since They Live, his work has been mediocre at the very best.
However, the subject of a new Blu-ray release from the company, the film Carpenter released just prior to that cult classic proves that while he may have lost a step recently, he is still very much one of the more interesting horror film makers of his generation.
Entitled Prince Of Darkness, the film comes directly from the mind of Carpenter (who also penned the film’s rather great screenplay), and follows the story of a research team who come across a cylinder that may or may not mean the end of the world as we all know it. Bookended by the other two films in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (The Thing and The Mouth Of Madness), this film introduces us to a priest (Donald Pleasence) who teams with a professor and a select group of students who head into the basement of an LA church, only to discover a cylinder of green goo, that may very well be the manifestation of the Anti-Christ.
And what follows is as enthralling a look at religious fervor as one will find from this era, and is also a thrilling horror film that shows a director really trying his damndest to flex his aesthetic muscle.
Arguably Carpenters last great film, Prince Of Darkness is easily one of his most aesthetically exciting. Featuring some solid photography from cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe and some really startling effects work, Carpenter’s camera is never interested in simply being your standard eye into a world of terror. Be it the occasional over-head shot (there’s a shot framed directly above a man being attacked that will stun) or the beautifully choreographed “jump scares,” the film really comes to life thanks to Carpenter’s ability to set tone and atmosphere, of which there is a lot here. However, nothing compares to the handheld sequences that play, ostensibly, as dream sequences here, and are this film’s scariest aspect. Grainy, kinetic and lyrically shot, these sequences feel like a predecessor to a film like Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, a seemingly found piece of footage that is absolutely terrifying. Frighteningly off kilter from the rest of the film, this, and especially the opening credits, set a tone for the film that is as brooding as some of the jokes within the script are dryly funny. With a final act that really amps up the action to a nearly laughable extent, this is a frightening motion picture that firmly makes use of Carpenter’s talent at both creating an interesting world but also making that world carry with it a great, palpable, sense of atmosphere.
It also helps that the cast here is superb. Led by the aforementioned Pleasence, the film truly stars the likes of Susan Blanchard and Jameson Parker, all of whom make this ensemble cast really great. Pleasence steals the show as the film’s central priest, while Victor Wong is opposite him as the equally interesting professor Howard Birack. It is in their relationship that much of the thematic intrigue comes from, as the idea of that fight between science and faith is felt throughout this picture. While the film is indeed a horror film, many of the film’s strongest sequences are simply the central group interacting with one another, as each performance (including those from the likes of Lisa Blount) really adds a great deal of depth and emotional connectivity to a film that otherwise plays like an otherwise standard campy genre picture.
Clocking in at just shy of two full hours, the film does feel quite long, but thankfully the pace switches near the end of the film, concluding with a final act that feels like a bullet fresh out of a chamber. With Carpenter’s fingerprint all over this picture, from the camera work to the musical compositions (he did assist on the score, after all), this is a truly superb horror film that genre nuts will love to see for the first, or 100th, time.
Oh, and the new Blu-ray is gorgeous. Carpenter’s score is in full force here, and the new restoration is as glossy and crisp as you’re bound to see for a horror picture from this time period. Carpenter hops on a commentary that is absolutely entertaining as well as insightful, and is joined by Alice Cooper (who has a minor role here) in a new collection of interviews, shot just for this release. A really well put together release of a shockingly underrated horror gem, Scream Factory once again proves that they are doing the work a genre nut only could dream of seeing a studio get behind.