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Blu-ray Review


DVD cover

The Prince of Darkness (1987)
(2018 4K Restoration)

 

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Dirk Blocker and Jameson Parker
Distributor: StudioCanal
RRP: £TBC
OPTBD4219
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 26 November 2018


When the last guardian of the forgotten sect, The Brotherhood of Sleep (a religious organisation kept secret even from the Vatican), dies he leaves a key to a Catholic priest. The key opens a door into the basement of an abandoned church. Inside is a large canister which appears to contain a green sludge. The priest asks a college professor of theoretic physics to investigate, and he agrees, taking along a handful of his students. They discover, via an old manuscript, that the canister is seven million years old and can only be opened from the inside. The substance it holds is the essence of pure evil - Satan itself, if you like. As the students attempt to study it, the sky begins to change, and hordes of mysteriously psychotic homeless people surround the building, making it a prison. The green substance begins to spread its contagion by spraying in the face of its victims - while the survivors try to barricade themselves in a room - preparatory to bringing through Satan's father, the Anti-God...

Having paid tribute to Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock in previous movies, John Carpenter wanted to do the same with Nigel Kneale, who had always impressed the young director with his solid and believable combinations of science fact and fiction, physics, horror and the supernatural. Consequentially, Carpenter wrote the script for Prince of Darkness under the honorary pseudonym of Martin Quatermass.

The part of the priest was offered to Donald Pleasence, who was glad to accept, having openly told the press in recent years that Carpenter was his favourite director. The professor was played by Jason Wong who had enjoyed a prominent part in Big Trouble in Little China. The leader of the homeless people was acted by none other than horror rock singer Alice Cooper. The film can be enjoyed on two levels, but is essentially an intellectual exploration of the spatial universe. What actually is 'evil' and does it have a purpose? The spreading of the evil through bodily fluids is an obvious allegory to AIDS.

Although the eighties was awash with horror films (most of them franchises or inferior copies), thereby losing this one somewhere in the middle, Prince of Darkness was well-received by the public and most Carpenter fans. A small contingent saw this moment as the beginning of a slide in talent by the director, but I think those people simply saw this as students versus demon, missing the intelligently written script which explores anti-particles, tachyon transmissions, and differential equations - along with questions such as what is Man's place in the universe, and where does he fit in with science?

The important thing here is that Carpenter was making a film that he wanted to see - which is all any writer, director or artist of any kind can do. It is proof of his conviction in this regard to know that he turned down big-money directing jobs on Top Gun and Fatal Attraction.

Unlike the recently reviewed They Live, and The Fog – although some of the promotion will have you believe otherwise – this is not a 4-disc set, and so does not include a 4K version of the film. This is a 2-disc Blu-ray release. But what a release it is. For the aforementioned two films I was sent only DVD versions for review. The newly-upgraded picture for those is crisp and clean, so it’s nice to have the proper Blu-rays for this release of Prince of Darkness (1987). The picture is so alive that I suspect I may have been watching previous versions through muddied spectacles. It’s such a treat to have these films from my favourite director of all time seen as they should be. Perhaps this will offer them more widespread mainstream appeal – although I’m selfishly guilty of wishing they remain our little secret.

There is newly-commissioned artwork by Matt Ferguson, along with moving menus fashioned in the same style. If you’re a keen John Carpenter enthusiast like me you’ll want to know what extras there are.

Disc 1, which has the film itself, also contains a commentary by the man himself, John Carpenter – always an entertaining, light-hearted and informative listen. The second disc incorporates the following old and new features: An Intro by John Carpenter (from an interview in 2003 for a French DVD release); a Scene Analysis by John Carpenter (again, from the 2003 interview); Sympathy For the Devil (a 2013 interview with John Carpenter); Horror’s Halloween Hallowed Grounds With Sean Clark (a tour of the film’s locations); a Photo Gallery (from both in front of and behind the camera); and the brand new retrospective documentary (the highlight of this disc), featuring interviews with Cinematographer Gary Kibbe, actor Peter Jason, Alice Cooper, Alan Howarth (Mr ‘in association with’ music man), Script Supervisor Sandy King, Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere, Stunt Coordinator Jeff Imada, Carpenter biographer John Muir, Film Historian C. Courtney Joyner, Music Historian Daniel Schweiger and Producer Larry Carpenters (there can be only one!).

Perhaps not as many extras as in the last release of The Thing, and I’m pretty certain this doesn’t warrant two discs (you can fit a lot onto a Blu-ray disc). However, personally, I love this release, and you get a lot for your money. May many more follow. All hail the great man.

9

Ty Power

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