John Carpenter does zombies: Prince of Darkness

Posted by Cory Casciato On April - 16 - 2009

princeofdarknessJohn Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is another one of those movies with lots of zombies that isn’t exactly a zombie movie. I’m not sure what it is exactly; the whole thing is a little confusing. It does have a lot of Carpenter’s signature “people under siege” action and apocalyptic themes — both zombie movie staples — and but there’s too much other weirdness going on to call it a zombie movie.

The muddled, dense plot involves an ancient order of priests called the Brotherhood of Sleep who watch over a cylinder containing a green fluid that is somehow Satan. Supposedly, these priests have held the true, secret meaning of Christ’s message until the world had the technology to defeat Satan, but the last brother of the order dies, kicking off a series of events that sees a non-initiated priest (Donald Pleasance!) take up the mantle. He brings in a crack team of wacky quantum physicists, biochemists, a linguist and other grad student-y types to figure out a way to stop the Dark Lord, who seems to be hatching out of his container. As they look at lots of columns of numbers on ’80s-era computers and listen to fancy machines go “ping,” old Scratch starts stirring things up. His shenanigans include raising the dead as murderous zombies (yay!), compelling schizo homeless folks to act murderous and zombielike (yay!), a little telekinesis, a spot of possession … you know, the usual. These lead up to a climactic confrontation that involves a lesion-covered possessed woman reaching into mirrors to pull out the Prince of Darkness. I think. There are lots of other sweet occurrences such as a videotape-recorded, backwards-traveling message from the future, Alice Cooper, angry insects, lots of green fluid that gets spewed around, a guy that melts into beetles, impalements, a sweet pornstache and several fantastic mullets … you know, the usual.

So much about this movie, from the haircuts to the actors utilized, screams ’80s that it can be a little distracting. Or vastly amusing, depending on your outlook on the ’80s (I lived through them already, so don’t find them that funny). It stars Jameson Parker (he’s the one with the sweet pornstache) fresh from ’80s TV sensation Simon & Simon and the female lead has a toned-down version of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust mullet, which was an inexplicably popular woman’s haircut at the time. There’s so much going on with the story that none of it makes a whole lot of sense and none of it is explained. The zombies are pretty low key (they just get a shitty skin tone and staring eyes) and the gore is fairly light, but there are some nice kills and a few jump scares. You can throw in some really clunky acting and the fact that this is one of Carpenter’s less polished directorial efforts and what you end up with is something of a mess – an entertaining mess, but a mess nonetheless. Still, while it isn’t the classic some partisans might claim it to be, it also isn’t the unwatchable train wreck others have labeled it. Don’t expect too much of it and there’s some fun to be had here.

3 Responses to “John Carpenter does zombies: Prince of Darkness

  1. Jay Clarke says:

    Well, I’m definitely one of the ‘partisans’ that call classic on this one. Two words – Liquid Satan. And where else are you going to see someone impaled by a bicycle frame?

  2. Cory Casciato says:

    The bicycle-frame impalement was indisputably special.

  3. Michael says:

    A sure fire classic, like every other Carpenter film…

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