So it turns out after all these years that they put the Antichrist...in a fancy mason jar. Intriguing. This movie is like the lame ex that you occasionally hook up with because you are bored. The lame ex...with a 80's blowout hairstyle, I might add. Somehow he charms you into his apartment and attacks you with a rabid mustache. You are left with many questions about the nature of good and evil, "science" vs. "god", and some bad mix tapes. This is my stupid metaphor for "Prince of Darkness", the second installment of John Carpenter's odd trilogy that begins with Kurt Russell's manly "The Thing" and ends with Sam Neill's crazy "In the Mouth of Madness" (Lovecraft rolls in his grave and Charlton Heston laughs in his).
In this film you will be riveted by the shock-gore of shooting liquids, putrid skin that looks like lasagna, and lines of poorly constructed dialog so potent you will wonder if you were caught in a speed-dating video gone awry. Parts of the story, setting, Donald Pleasence, and the fact that DJ Shadow sampled bits of this in "Stem-Long Stem - Transmission 2" from his album "Endtroducing" however, make up for some of the shoddy acting and Alice Cooper's parody of a parody of himself.
Total Score: 19
The film is both written and scored by Carpenter, which is worth knowing when you are a quarter of the way through and the intro music and credits are still rolling. I have a lot of queries and problems with this weird movie, yet it is not without its charms. There are moments that approach a total creepout amidst the dialog jargon and unbelievable costume choices (how these clothes were stylish EVEN in 1987 is so beyond me that I'm glad I was a Kindergartner in matching sparkly sweatsuits and not a care in the world at the time for how I looked). At the same time, because this movie is trying so hard to be seriously frightening (with exception to Alice Cooper), some of its setbacks seem far more obvious than, for example, the romping escapade of an Italian zombie horror film riddled with a cast of overpaid ex-porn stars. From the opening credits, you can tell that you are at least intended to take this film more seriously than not.
It all begins with the death of an old priest and the passing on of a gawdy key. A team of physicists, computer geeks, and experts in ancient texts and the like is invited by Father whatnot (Loomis aka Pleasence) to a very creepy urban brick-box church in Los Angeles: because if there's any city where the Antichrist would take up residence in a swirly jar, it's LA. In the bowels of this church, a secret sect akin to the secret service in charge of containing evil has been guarding the unformed son of Satan from entering the world and unleashing his father through the mirror of a parallel universe.
But the jar leaks!
There goes your green jam AND the world as we know it...unless this team of super-acting nerds lead by the theories of Professor Howard Birack holds evil at bay. In his role as Birack, Victor Wong decides that by acting semi-senile, he can lend some credibility to his team's "theories" of tachyon-transmitted dream messages and other sub-atomic biological menaces from other dimensions. Alongside the bantering of theorists on the team is the romantic subplot between Brian Marsh and Catherine Danforth. One of my favorite forehead-slapping parts of the movie is when Marsh asks Danforth out: enter the rabid mustache of Jameson Parker. How Danforth's character manages to let this guy pick her up is probably more of a mystery to me than how the son of Satan got stuck in a jar. But then again, poor Lisa Blount (who is far from an eyesore in real life) appears to have a dead animal for a hairstyle herself, so maybe it's an acute case of lowered expectations.
As the research team investigates the entity and its accompanying weighty instruction manuals, the evil begins to possess the vagrants surrounding the church - like Alice Cooper - as well as several of the technicians within the church. The team one-by-one begins to fall prey to the malignant force, and time spirals down to the end of the world.
What's interesting about this movie is its attempt to frame religious and scientific concepts in the same desperate picture. And even though it is hollywoodized pseudoscience embedded with a couple of real particle theories, I had to wonder to myself how scientists would witness the events such as those in the old and new testaments and other religions' scriptures. In that sense, the movie is an interesting departure from the slew of movies depicting religious phenomena (exorcisms, ghosts, zombies, witches, vampires, mummies) without bothering to go beyond: "because God said so." That Carpenter tries to take that explanation even three feet forward in his 80's future-searching flick is brave. He posits to his audience the possibility that the beliefs we've traditionally held could be something entirely alien to us.
The setting of the ghetto church with its own catacombs, the possessions of certain members of the research team, the odd dream transmissions, and the entrapment of the dwindling survivors in a building infested by evil are pretty damn creepy scenes. I still cannot decide whether or not the gore is perfect for the film, or if the film could've benefited from more realistic stuff. But then again, the same question goes for the dialog, costumes (gag), and actors (how the young Asian guy manages to stereotype himself 6 times over is both a mystery of screenwriting and acting).
At one point or another, just about every novel scientific or religious idea the human race has ever come to accept has been laughed at. I suppose that this is true for some of the best horror movies too. Prince of Darkness is right in the middle of that mix of laughter and brilliance that deserves to be seen just as much as it deserves to collect dust in the rack in between occasional midnight revivals.
"This is not a dream"...