Prince of Darkness (1987) is the second film in what John Carpenter terms his Apocalypse Trilogy. The first of these films is The Thing (1982) while the third is In the Mouth of Madness (1995). This one is by far the most underrated.
It’s a Universal Picture! An MCA company, that is. And the film starts off with a priest from the “universal” church of Catholicism dying with a box in his grasp… What is contained within?
Enter priest Donald Pleasance (1919-1995 following heart surgery) who reads the dead priest’s diary… “the sleeper awakes”… Victor Wong (1927-2001 heart attack) is a college professor and there are shots of the moon in daylight and ants swarming… There is a key in the old priest’s box…
“We believe matter has substance and time a direction,” says Wong to his class about our beliefs. “We’re born, we age, we die… the reverse never happens… none of this is true… say goodbye to classic reality because our logic collapses on the subatomic level into ghosts and shadows”.
I’m not scientist, but Wong is talking about particles smaller or contained within an atom itself…
“While order does exist in the universe, it is not at all what we had in mind…”
Smaller than an atom… Did God create the atom? Or is God contained within it?
Is it a case of matter and antimatter as well with God and the Prince of Darkness aka the Devil on a subatomic level?
You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to see that John Carpenter, using the pseudonym Martin Quatermass after the famous British screenwriter Nigel Kneale’s (1922-2006) creation the scientific hero Professor Bernard Quatermass, is having fun with the possibilities.
On teevee, student Parker Jameson (1947-) watches the discovery of a supernova explosion which happened oh so long ago but we are just seeing now on the news… Pleasance and Wong meet at an old church where the key opens the door to a room full of candles and a container containing what looks like a living green goo or slime…
“A change in the Earth and the sky,” started a month ago, according to Pleasance. This church and the goo container was a secret even to the Vatican…
There are discussions about life and death between the students such as if there is a dead cat in a box – it is not actually there and dead because you have never seen it – it is not part of your universe dead or alive – it doesn’t exist. And for all the logic and learning and all the theories surrounding subatomic particles… one female student played by Lisa Blount (1957-2010 idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpure) says: “Just when I think I’ve got it, visualised it… it just all goes away, I start seeing old fashioned classical reality again.”
The Big Picture seems to fall apart if you look too closely at something so infinitely small… and what does it matter in everyday life, in terms of eating drinking and going to the toilet and relationships with others… is it worth looking into creation and the creator so closely, or should we just carry on and be “good” pieces of matter?
“The outside world doesn’t want to hear this kind of bullshit,” says Wong to Pleasance about the book the Brotherhood of Sleep which Pleasance wants explained scientifically to the outside world. That and the goo!
Parker and Blount start a sexual relationship as Wong takes a number of students to the church to study the book and the phenomena contained within the glass container. It swirls and swirls around as if alive!
Meanwhile mentally ill homeless people led by rocker Alice Cooper (1948-) gather silently around the church, some with ants on their faces, as if influenced by the moon – maybe even the supernova – and the church and what is contained within.
The church was apparently a family gathering point until it closed mysteriously in the 1950s.
In the church, transcription of the book begins by a student whose work with “analysis in ancient scriptures” should make it easy.
The homeless or “street schizos” to use a politically incorrect term are scary as one comes up to Pleasance, thanking him for opening up the church while holding a cupful of excrement and maggots!
“It’s gaining strength,” says Pleasance about the goo as worms gather on a church window.
“I hate to tell you guys but this is real bullshit,” says one student in the church as if he is Carpenter himself having a walk-on role. Bullshit it may be but it is fascinating, especially if you are dumb and stoned like I was when I first saw it on videocassette as a teenager.
The two thousand year old document apparently shows differential equations, something which didn’t exist at the time, which you probably know… Student Dennis Dun (1952-) watches a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Jerry goes to hell… while another tries to go home at night after the leaving the church, only to get impaled by Alice Cooper.
“A life-form is growing at a prebiotic fluid, it’s not winding down into disorder, it’s self-organising – it’s becoming something. What? An animal? A disease? What?,” Parker asks Wong.
Is there an answer? If there is it would probably sound like bull to me… But fascinating as Wong’s only answer is that there was something in the book about a star falling from the sky as one cast out from… you know where.
“This is crazy,” says Jameson. Totally.
Prince of Darkness poses that the devil had a father who buried his son in the container and that Christ was really a humanoid extra-terrestrial who came to Earth… it’s kind of where scripture, legend and the realms of possible reality merge… throw in the fact that the Roman Catholic church covered up the fact that Christ was crazy… and its all left in the Brotherhood of Sleep’s crazy book. Not the bible by the way, no matter what you may think of it.
“We sold our product to those who didn’t have it – a new life. Reward ourselves and punish our enemies,” says Pleasance about the Catholic church.
Meanwhile some goo escapes the container, squirting itself into the mouth of a student and infecting her…
Much of the film takes place in the church and the script is already totally off the rails by this point as it turns into the rather mild horror movie we are promised… to a degree… as once all the physics and religious mumbo jumbo begins to turn into a semblance of tension. Carpenter’s music helps.
Someone gets their neck snapped, Wong discusses with Pleasance about a universal mind controlling everything on a sub-particle level – yet maybe there is another evil universe which exists in antimatter… on the other side so to speak.
“This is caca,” says our student, who is our Carpenter substitute, to the other students. But it’s his last appearance, well almost, as he gets murdered with a blade as he stands amid a mass of swarming beetles.
Meanwhile students are disappearing one by one as Dun has a dream while asleep which says: “This is not a dream…” while the point of view is obscured of a doorway and a figure. “…we are unable to transmit… you are receiving this broadcast as a dream… we are transmitting through…” He awakes with a start as the vision of what is perhaps a demon is about to be revealed.
This I find the most fascinating part of the film. That of the Brotherhood of Sleep! Of individuals in close proximity having the same dream or sharing dreams. That these dreams may be influenced by others, perhaps even by extra-terrestrials! Perhaps “they” use 5G!! Who is transmitting this dream?
“…Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness…” continues the dream in Wong’s mind as he awakes suddenly without seeing the face of the demon or God.
“Anyone in close proximity has the same dream,” says Pleasance to Wong about the brotherhood. Are the dreams a premonition? Is the devil about to arrive on Earth? Perhaps even Christ? This is Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. So it doesn’t bode well!
Certainly the presence of the goo is influencing the behaviour of the mentally ill… Perhaps it is crème de menthe?! But now, the remaining students are being possessed by what is in the fluid and one of them has a hook and cross symbol developing on her bruised arm. The symbol in Greek mythology is that of Kronos – father of Zeus!
Is it the symbol of the father of the devil who encased the goo? So many questions are posed… It is also an alchemists symbol for lead, the heaviest of metals and adopted by a heavy metal band… and the presence of Alice Cooper… Kronos Greek God of time… could this have something to do with the premonitions, time travelling dreams. It is said that in secret laboratories around the world that time travel is already possible…
“I live. I live. I live. I live…” one of the possessed students types endlessly on a computer screen.
Is the prophecy of the future sent within the “dreams” about to come true? I’m sure by now you probably don’t care. The critics certainly didn’t and called the film a “snooze”.
“I’ve got a message for you and you’re not going to like it,” says the corpse of our Carpenter student in one final appearance. “Pray for death,” he says before his figure collapses into a mass of beetles. Meanwhile another student singing Amazing Grace slashes his throat… and there is no escape from the church, as the doors get blocked with piles of rubbish left there by the homeless.
Defying the laws of gravity, the goo escapes the body of another student and forms a pool on the ceiling, infecting a few more, as zombies of the dead students walk the church in the hope of killing the few who remain… leading to a siege.
Some critics complimented Carpenter’s “stylish direction” but the film was criticised for being a supernatural re-tread of the director’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). It’s a better movie than its reputation would have it, even though it seems to have painted itself into a corner by the end.
“You guys seen any movies you like?,” says Dennis Dun to the zombies in an attempt to defuse the situation. Of course it doesn’t work.
And they sleep again with the dream of the figure about to emerge…
Newly-formed couple Jameson and Blount are among the trapped survivors… certainly science means nothing within the horrors that have occurred and only “love” between these two survivors matters now. All questions they had about science is totally thrown askew by what they have witnessed… or even dreamt.
Ants gather on the church windowsill… worker ants working for a higher purpose and yet unaware they are doing so – an idea of possible demonic possession from a higher source, perhaps from the other side of antimatter. Or is it a good higher purpose built into and influencing the sub-atomic particles?
Working together, the ants reach “critical mass” and form a civilisation of sorts as part of some venture to create. The homeless also reach some organised state of critical mass in the movie. Also critical mass refers to the minimum amount of plutonium or whatever to maintain a nuclear chain reaction… and we’re back on the subatomic level again….
The film is full of ideas for what in the end is a bit of a zombie fest. The possessed or dead student with the symbol on her arm puts her fingers through the mirror on a make-up compact, as if reaching between the world of matter and antimatter, whilst calling out: “Father.” Is pure anti-matter pure evil? All we know is there is matter and thus antimatter. There’s good and evil…
Yes, it all sounds like caca again as arms and heads are lopped off…
“Father, come to freedom,” says the girl now reaching through a body-length mirror for an arm which by the looks of it could be the very devil himself… But Blount in a moment of pure courage leaps at the girl and they both fly through the mercury-like fluid, disappearing… Pleasance then smashes the mirror and the spell is broken, the zombies fall dead and the homeless disperse.
What is on the other side? We still do not know… nor will we ever… until the time comes.
“She died for us,” says Wong to Jameson of Blount. She is the world’s new saviour albeit a female one. I don’t know how that will go down with the Catholic Church – but then again they weren’t to know!
And then there is that extra-terrestrial message again… with the message about “you are receiving this broadcast as a dream” but this time we see who the figure is coming through the doorway, perhaps even of the church itself… is it Blount emerging from the darkness arms outstretched… “this is not a dream”… Jameson awakes with a jump scare of a mutilated corpse beside him on the bed which a moment later is not there. He is drawn slowly towards the mirror, reaching out to touch it… Cut to black.
The message or dream at the end of Prince of Darkness may be the same, or maybe it has changed… What was apparently the emergence of an evil creature from darkness is now that of a woman who is a martyr. Was it always her figure that was obscured? Perhaps Christ will appear in the future as a woman… extra-terrestrial or otherwise? But this is a possible Apocalypse movie. And just like The Thing we are left on tenterhooks. Has the Earth been saved at the last minute? Or will Jameson pull out another devil in the hope it is Blount?
Stoned all those years ago, I found this movie profound and the ending still has the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end… has the future already happened? And if it has, is it still possible to change it for our planet?
I think its always comforting to know that the Apocalypse is just around the corner, since we all die, as it’s probably got something to do with Fear of Missing Out! There’s no doubt – nothing is impossible.