Prince of Darkness (1987)

I had my own brush with Satanic Panic when I was a small child. It was Halloween and even then it was my all-time favorite holiday. I always enjoyed writing and creating stories and I could not help getting into the spirit of the holiday, apparently in a very method way. At one point, my brothers and neighbor took off running down the sidewalk and I wanted them to wait for me. I decided it would be in character to call out “Stop! In the name of the Devil!” A neighbor immediately chastised me, scared that I had invoked the name of humanity’s nemesis. That event and the rhetoric in church made me fear Satan a lot during childhood. For example, I never put my hands under my pillow while sleeping because I was afraid that Satan would drag me to Hell. I have told the story before but when I was a preteen, I was sleeping over at my best friend’s house when his mother called up. She said, “Hey guys, look outside it’s snowing!” I started to move toward the window but my friend said “Don’t. She could be the Devil. If we look, she’s got us.” Thoughts like this chilled me to bone. Now, like the Church of Satan says, I know that “Satan is a fictional character“. Still, it’s still fun to pretend.

I have often stated that losing oneself is probably one of my biggest fears. This includes changes made to my mind or body. Body horror is obviously terrifying but I am not afraid of monsters as much as I am afraid of becoming a monster or just melting into a subhuman mess. John Carpenter is very good at poking that fear center and is famous for exploiting it. I am also afraid of having my mind co-opted by a foreign entity. While that thought has helped me be a better skeptic, it is not a wholly rational fear. Well, except that there is already at least one case of dementia in my family. Horror is full of stories of possession and the change of people into monsters both figuratively and literally. Every single one of them is scary to me. Prime examples are The Thing, The Mouth of Madness, The Shining, all of the Re-Animator movies, and The Exorcist. Of course, there are so many other examples such as the myriad Hollywood movies on possession. I like to seek out these movies because they challenge me and, although they terrify me, they also inspire me.

The first thing I noticed was how much work the movie puts into introducing all of the characters and setting up their lives. The mystery of the movie unfolds slowly at first. I really liked the probably realistic depiction of the church as a large body that keeps so many secrets that even the Pope doesn’t know some of them. I also like the marrying of religion and science which gives this horror film a unique kind of feel. Both were invented to try and explain the universe but somethings should not be explored or spoken of. Like many of John Carpenter’s movies of the day, the aesthetic is gritty 1980s city. The movie keeps the tension going with trademark electronic music written and performed by John Carpenter, one of the few directors who could do that. The music is exactly what the movie needs at every moment. The special effects are top-notch as you would expect from Carpenter. A lot of practical effects which are gross and bloody.

One of the best parts about the movie is a great cast delivering great lines about evil, science, and religion. Horror legend Donald Pleasance plays an unnamed priest who is the catalyst of the whole movie. He is the one who delivers a lot of the dark lore in long ominous speeches. Victor Wong is the lead scientist, a man who is confounded by seeing things that go against his understanding of the universe. He delivers a lot of the science of the film, through lectures and speeches. Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount play the de facto lead characters, doing a lot of the moralizing and acting as the audience viewpoint. There is also an excellent cast of character actors involved in spooky science. There is also a creepy group led by the glorious Alice Cooper. Even silent he has so much charisma and his role is definitely memorable.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It is just as wild and crazy as the other two movies in the Apocalypse trilogy (The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness). This movie felt like it had less action-adventure components than The Thing and was more old school than In the Mouth of Madness.

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