Okay, I didn’t have time to watch and review the first two movies for this month. However, I feel this has generally been regarded as a markedly different entry to warrant being judged apart from them. It’s a zombie film meshed with a teenage love story. It’s no Shaun of the Dead, another film that I’m overdue in revisiting, but Return of the Living Dead 3 is a decent watch with one hell of a sexy horror femme fatale.
Colonel John Reynolds (Kent McCord) and his group of government scientists experiment on re-animating the dead for military use. Meanwhile, his son Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke) use the Colonel’s security pass card to sneak in and watch the proceedings, and are startled by the grisly sights they witness. Later, when father and son have a disagreement, Curt and Julie take off on a motorcycle, but a little too much frisky behavior results in an accident which kills Julie instantly. Grief-stricken, Curt takes her body to the lab and resurrects her. However, she is now changed into an undead creature who craves brains to curb her incessant hunger, and self-mutilates herself to ease the terrible pain that now consumes her. Yet, driven by his genuine love for Julie, Curt struggles to help her deal with her new existence as military agents and local gang members try to find them, who all have vile intentions.
The strong suit of Return of the Living Dead 3 is the love story between Julie and Curt. This is mainly due to the very impressive acting talents of Melinda Clarke and J. Trevor Edmond. Since the film doesn’t delve into the characters all that much, it really fell to the actors to make it click, and it does. Julie is quickly established as a bit of a wild girl who enjoys a little bit of danger and risk. She also has great sexual charisma. Curt also has a wild spirit to him, but definitely shows he loves Julie dearly. She’s really captured his passion and brings out the full life in him. There’s never a point where their love isn’t strong or convincing. When things take that undead turn, they both keep selling the emotional depth of their characters, but now, it’s a tragic pain and grief which they pull off amazingly well.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a horror comedy as it doesn’t go for parody, satire, or laughs particularly. Yet, I wouldn’t say the film takes itself too seriously. It’s really in that middle ground between true horror and gory comedy. It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly it wants itself to be taken. I think this is mainly due to a lack of a consistent visual tone. It doesn’t always look like a tense, gruesome horror film. Considering the very well executed love story concept, I think keeping it away from blatant laughter is best. Yet, it does have its darkly quirky aspects which are just a matter of taste on whether its appropriate or not. I would’ve preferred the movie go for straight horror, but the opposite fits better into this franchise. Still, it doesn’t go remotely as far out with the comedy as its predecessors.
This was a release from TriMark Pictures, who I’ve mentioned before were mainly a low budget B-movie company in the 1990s. So, a $2 million budget it was for this one, and while the production values are a little low, they are not bad. TriMark really seemed to make the most out of what they had, even if there wasn’t much to work with. The military base interiors are very nicely designed with a bunker mentality, and are brightly lit showing that the sets are fully constructed. The sewers later in the film are filled with colorful production design, and serve their purpose just fine. It’s certainly a film made within the means of the budget, but it does nicely make use of some practical locations.
All that sounds very tenuous, sort of like I’m straddling a line of light criticism. This is because the problem is not in the budget, but in how the filmmakers present a film of this budget to an audience. What I think the film really lacks is artistic and visual flare. Just because this film has a low budget doesn’t mean it has to lack cinematic quality. You’ve got lights, you’ve got a camera. You just need to know how to use them both to create something that looks strong and compelling. So, it’s a matter of talent, not budget. An innovative filmmaker will use the restraints of budget to get more creative. They can’t have the elaborate, mega-budget sets to really make the film look high grade, and so, they’ll use lighting and camera angles to create a striking visual appeal. This film can be very well shot at times, but it’s usually in the more dramatic or horrific moments. Many times, it’s just sort of point-and-shoot stuff with no sense of real danger or urgency in how it’s shot. Aside from those big dramatic moments, the filmmakers don’t take advantage of tight framing to build up tension, or utilize lighting to create any kind of atmosphere. They show the ability to create that kind of style at certain times, but the vast majority of the film just looks rather bland. If the filmmakers could’ve maintained the stronger visual style throughout, I think the overall tone would’ve benefitted from it immensely, and made this a creepier, more tense horror flick.
Now, there is certainly plenty of blood and zombie gore done with fairly good results, but it’s just unfortunate that the unrated cut has not been released on DVD. Despite the film passing through the hands of three different studios since its release, none of them decided to upgrade us from the VHS unrated release. The horror level is pretty good, but certainly very tame by even the standards of the day. Return of the Living Dead 3 is more a film focused on the tragic love story and a sense of gory fun. While we get the brain eating undead arising throughout the runtime, the full-on zombie action really doesn’t materialize until the final thirty minutes of the film. Still, it is quite good with a good helping of graphic imagery. However, I couldn’t say it would satiate a modern audiences’ desires for zombie horror carnage.
What really gets gruesome is when Julie takes her self-mutilation to its fullest extent. All manner of sharp objects are freakishly pierced through her skin, and it’s in every way terrifyingly imaginable. She herself looks like something out of Freddy Krueger’s nightmares. She’s both frightening and sensual at the same time. The sensation gives her such a powerful rush that it transforms Melinda Clarke’s performance from tragic to absolutely ferocious and ghastly. These make-up effects are immensely amazing. It’s also lovely that Melinda Clarke had no issues with repeatedly appearing nude in the film. We certainly don’t get enough sexual content in our horror films these days.
Notably, there is a supporting role of Lieutenant Colonel Sinclair portrayed by Sarah Douglas. You would best know her as Ursa from Superman: The Movie and Superman II. Her role here is nothing much to talk about, but it’s just a special casting note. The rest of the casting is generally okay. Not doing exceptionally excellent work, but not being exceptionally bad, either. Although, Basil Wallace, who plays the homeless Riverman, does not put in a good acting job. Every line is overacted. It’s clear that there’s supposed to be an honest dramatic intention with the character, but this performance is just too silly to be taken seriously.
So, is the film all that good? It’s okay. It’s nothing I’ll ever rave about, but it’s worth a watch. I definitely believe that a more dead-set tone of true horror would’ve strengthened the movie along with a darker, more atmospheric look. They should’ve just gone for broke with intense horror all the way, and shy away from the strangeness or the low budget quirkiness. There’s not much in the way of tension or suspense. I will admit that zombies have never done all that much for me. Slashers are really my favorite subgenre of horror. Although, I do think Julie, in her fully mutilated state, comes off as an iconic image that wasn’t in a film of iconic status. Her look is surely the one big impression that I’ve always been left with over the years from this movie. I really think the tragic horror love story is greatly executed with two solid young lead actors. It’s where this film shines the brightest, and with a more innovative visual style and tone, this could’ve been a really damn good flick. As it is, I would say it’s generally all right. If for nothing else, it’s worth checking out just for seeing Julie in her full horrific glory.
Now that the Tommy Jarvis storyline had concluded, it left the door wide open for anything to be attempted in Friday The 13th, Part VII. Paramount had a great decision by hiring the awesome make-up effects master John Carl Buechler to direct the film, and then, there was the debut performance of Kane Hodder as Jason. There were workable elements in this film to make it great, but whenever I watch it, I just feel this doesn’t hit the mark. I don’t even think it’s a fault of MPAA censorship on the gore, of which there was an excessive amount. It just sort of feels like a poorly executed concept with not enough talent behind the script or in front of the camera to make it what it could’ve been.
Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) has the ability of telekinesis, but this ability has haunted her for years now as it caused the death of her father on the docks of Crystal Lake when she was a little girl. As a young woman, she has returned to the lake with her caring mother Amanda (Susan Blu) and the deceitful and manipulative Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), who wants to exploit Tina’s powers for his own fame. However, the teenage residents of Crystal Lake have something more to fear than Tina’s emotionally charged powers as she accidentally frees Jason Voorhees from his watery grave. He begins yet another killing spree, but is not prepared for the challenge Tina’s powers pose for the undead killer of Camp Blood.
I believe what I don’t like about this movie is the lack of worthwhile characters and fun. There was always a sense of levity in these movies from even a few light hearted characters. People that were just fun to spend some time with before the slaughter began. The only characters in this film making any jokes are the insensitive jerks that are not worth spending time with. Our female lead of Tina is far too troubled of a character to gain any levity or much relatability from. There’s really nothing accessible about the character in how she’s presented. I really don’t think Lar Park-Lincoln was a good casting choice in this instance. She really does nothing interesting with the character, and spends most of the time with very dour or pouty expressions on her face. The film starts out when Tina’s ten years old, but her behavior never matures beyond that of a child when we flash-forward. While she is an active part of the story, it still falls back into that trap with Tommy Jarvis from A New Beginning in trying to make a hero out of a depressed, introverted character. The potential of what this character could’ve been really required an actress of more textured emotional ability. I don’t have an issue with the telekinesis idea as it’s something that really could’ve worked very well, but I don’t think it was well realized here. It feels like a concept that was nothing more than something on the page. It wasn’t developed with a sense of depth in concept or with the actress. Like so much in this film, it’s flat and hollow. The various effects are good for it, but it just needed a stronger character and performance behind it to really sell that this is someone worthy of combating the powerful undead Jason.
The rest of the cast is rather forgettable due to the uninspired writing. These characters are once again shallow stereotypes played up for one note gags or bland character conflicts. Not much effort is put into writing them. I’ll grant that they are better realized stereotypes than most, maybe due to the decent acting talents here, but that doesn’t make them good. I’ll certainly take this cast and its characters over the boring, disjointed group from Friday The 13th, Part 3, but I’d still rather spend my time with a more entertaining array of people. On a side note, it’s an interesting retroactive quirk that Terry Kiser happens to be in this movie, and does get killed since he’s partly best known for playing a corpse in the two Weekend at Bernie’s movies. Kiser is a solid actor with a fine range, but the role of Dr. Crews is such a badly written, one note, obvious bad guy that there was nothing substantive here for him to work with.
The music of the film is terribly uneven. It features Manfredini cues recorded for Jason Lives and original pieces of score from composer Fred Mollin, and they don’t mesh at all. They have very different tones and approaches. Clearly, the Jason Lives music is a little lighter and more fun than the usual Friday The 13th scores mostly utilizing horns, and Mollin’s stuff is very heavy, dark, and menacing primarily using percussion and strings. It suits the more grim, merciless, and dark edge of the film’s tone. I have no idea why this mish mash of different scores were used, let alone why they used recycled recordings from the previous film. This would be fine if they were comparable, but they clearly are not. It would’ve been better to solely use Fred Mollin’s music throughout as I love everything he did in this film and in Jason Takes Manhattan. Mollin also did some fine work as the composer on the unrelated television show Friday The 13th: The Series. I think he took this film and the next into a far more dynamic and foreboding musical realm than Manfredini ever demonstrated.
The climax of this film, how Jason is defeated, is just a horrible idea that is terribly executed. There’s just so much possibility that could have been taken advantage of with the film’s premise, but what the filmmakers do is just plainly bad. I mean, you’re telling me that no one ever fished the body of Tina’s dad out of that lake to have a proper funeral? They just left him to decay at the bottom of the lake forever, and he just happens to come back to life without a bit of decay on him? In theory, it’s a nice reversal of the dream sequence ending from the first film, but I can’t buy Jason getting taken down in this ridiculous, piss poor manner. The build up to this moment is excellent. Great action beats with high production values really ramp up the danger and menace of Jason. So much is thrown at him, and he just keeps coming back, more pissed off than before. Kane Hodder even does a full body burn in a rather long take (slow motion or no). Buechler really makes the whole third act impactful and visually impressive, but to have it end the way it does just feels like someone’s slap dash idea who got too tired to write a proper ending to the film. It’s just a bad idea, through and through, which makes me want to forget I ever saw it.
I will credit the film for having a distinctly darker tone than the rest of the series. Visually, it’s very dark and imposing. It surrounds Jason in far more presence and aura than ever before. This is also a credit to Hodder’s performance. He created a very thorough body language and mentality for Jason, and it truly penetrated through the screen. It truly made Jason frightening again, even if the film itself lacked suspense, a decent plot, or good lead acting. I get that people are supposed to scream in horror movies, but Lar Park-Lincoln seems to inappropriately scream at the top of her lungs at almost everything in the third act. It’s like she’s not there inhabiting the scene as an actor enveloping herself in the mood, but just screaming as if that’s the only reaction people are supposed to have in a horror movie. There’s just no genuine fear or intensity in her performance, despite how purely menacing Kane Hodder is as Jason. I think his debut performance was absolutely his best. It’s just unfortunate that it wasn’t in a better movie.
Hodder is greatly aided by the stunning make-up design Buechler created for Jason Voorhees. Seeing the bones stick out from underneath the decayed flesh, and making use of the partially shattered mask to show just a glimpse of Jason’s zombified face are brilliant touches. This is a masterwork of special make-up effects artistry and craftsmanship, and is something that has not even been remotely challenged anywhere else in the franchise since. What gore we do get after the MPAA’s severe slashing of this film is exceptionally good, but even still, you hardly see any of it. This really was the most heavily edited down entry in the whole series of films, and I’m sure an uncut version would be filled with hardcore gore and graphic violence. That surely feeds into the overall darker, more aggressive tone of the movie. John Carl Buechler does give us a film that is nicely and consistently paced with a lot of creative kills that have become classics. However, it all does just feel like a blunt instrument due to a lack of real suspense. Anyone can show brutality and gore splattering across the camera lens. It takes a skilled filmmaker to tightly craft suspense, and Buechler hardly makes an attempt to deliver that integral part of good horror.
It’s been said that Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema considered the crossover idea of Freddy vs. Jason at this time, but the two studios simply could not come to an agreement. Thus, what ideas Paramount had for the film were adapted for The New Blood – which is a horribly generic title for a slasher sequel. It’s hard to picture it aside from a protagonist with a supernatural ability, but I doubt they had anything more than a vague thought of a plot for a 1988 Freddy vs. Jason movie. Maybe just the thought of it got the screenwriters anxious to throw a more powerful adversary at Jason this time, and really push the supernatural angle further. Of course, I think the script could’ve used more work overall to develop its premise and characters beyond just base concepts.
The New Blood had some potential, and did deliver on inventive kills and a hard edged approach. It feels like a brutal horror movie, but without the graphic visuals to complement it, due to the MPAA required cuts. However, it really comes down to a weak script, and some uninspired casting choices that just make this an unimpressive sequel for me. This could’ve delivered it all, but ultimately, delivered very little of anything, in my view. There’s not much entertainment value that I take from this sequel as the characters are often yawn inducing with the lead of Tina Shepard being the biggest offender. Again, it is very difficult to give a damn about who lives or dies when the characters are badly written or poorly acted. I know this film has its big fans, but I just need more than edited down, suspense deprived brutality and Hodder’s great debut performance as Jason to win me over.
This has always been one of my absolute favorites of this franchise. It delivers largely on entertainment value, and a far superior script and cast than A New Beginning had to offer. This wraps up the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of films with a very satisfying climax, and there is so much that goes into making it such a great film.
Crystal Lake has been renamed to Forest Green in order to distance the town from its blood soaked past, but Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is not yet free of his past. Tommy and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo) return to the town to dig up Jason’s corpse and cremate it to eradicate the nightmare that’s plagued Tommy since childhood. However, an iron rod and a lightning strike resurrect Jason as an undead juggernaut, and he immediately resumes his killing spree. Tommy attempts to motivate the local police into action, but knowing of Tommy’s institutionalization, Sheriff Mike Garris (David Kagen) writes him off as disturbed and has him locked in a holding cell. However, the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan Garris (Jennifer Cooke), becomes intrigued and invested in Tommy while she and her friends re-open Camp Forest Green for the weekend to host a bus load of kids. As Jason closes in on the camp and builds up his body count, Megan chooses to aid Tommy in bringing an ultimate end to Jason’s reign of terror.
Slasher films of the mid-to-late 1980s were getting tamed down by the MPAA requiring a lot of gore to be cut to gain an R rating. That hurt the quality and effectiveness of so many horror movies at this time, but Jason Lives was able to offer more entertainment value beyond the gore. Writer / director Tom McLoughlin approached this film with a love for classic horror, but also, a desire to add some appropriate humor to liven up the movie. Bringing Jason back from the grave required a bit of leap for the franchise, but it was handled very smartly with the use of some classic monster movie ideas. Jason being resurrected by a lightning bolt much like Frankenstein’s Monster is a clear example of that. The atmosphere McLoughlin added stands out amongst the franchise. The whole film has this wonderful blue tone with shadow and fog which sets a great visual atmosphere that is evocative of those old noir like Universal monster movies. Unfortunately, the Deluxe Edition DVD of the film screwed up the color timing so the blue tones are now green, and if this ever gets a Blu Ray release, this is possibly the transfer they will use.
Thom Mathews is my favorite Tommy Jarvis. He’s finally a full fledged hero taking action to combat Jason directly. Mathews has plenty of diversity to easily handle the dramatic, action, and lightly humorous demands of the script. Tommy’s presented as a stronger character than before, but still with an underlying twinge of obsession. Still, he is ultimately driven to destroy Jason in order to prevent him from killing more innocent people. That is the right turnaround from the previous film where Tommy just stood around and did next to nothing. He’s still haunted, but is taking action to rid himself of this waking nightmare once and for all. Thom Mathews is a strong lead that really shines through, and sparks up a wonderful chemistry with his female lead Jennifer Cooke. She provides a very spirited and strong willed young lady that is hard to handle for her father or Tommy. Cooke has charisma, energy, and allure to spare. She carries herself very well amongst this fun and talented cast – always standing out but never eclipsing anyone. Megan Garris is a tremendous lively addition to the formula as a smart, fun, assertive, and sexy female lead.
David Kagen is very impressive as Sheriff Garris. He’s smartly written to be a well-rounded character that is never dumbed down for convenience’s sake. Kagen makes a big impression right from the start as an assertive man of authority. Yes, he’s antagonistic to Tommy Jarvis, but anyone would be hard pressed to buy his story of Jason rising from the grave. Looking at it from Garris’ perspective, he’s acting entirely properly since he doesn’t know what we know as an audience. He’s an excellent protector for the people of Forest Green and his daughter. Kagen does a great job making him both a realistic hard ass that you don’t want to mess with, and a rational and often fatherly man with a heart. It’s wonderfully diverse from McLoughlin’s writing to Kagen’s acting. Certainly by the third act, he becomes a solid heroic figure that you’re rooting for all the way.
The rest of the cast is a lot of fun. They feel very much of the 1980s with their fashions, haircuts, and just their general personalities. Each character has plenty of richness to them to feel like fully realized people, and the cast have plenty of chemistry and charisma to remain entertaining and pleasant to spend time with. This is one of the most talented casts of the whole franchise, and truly the most fun of them all.
The role of Jason Voorhees eventually fell to C.J. Graham in this film. However, there are a few scenes, most notably the paintball one, where Jason is portrayed by someone else, but he was quickly replaced with Graham. That was a very good choice because C.J. truly defined the undead Jason. He gave the slasher a more menacing body language that was just enough zombie while still being aggressive and intimidating. He’s definitely one of my favorites.
To aid Graham’s notable turn behind the hockey mask, Jason Lives offers up a slew of creative kills and substantial gore. While a good deal of graphic content still had to be cut, the horror aspects still sell very well. Hawes getting punched through the chest, and Jason ripping out his heart is very shocking early on. It’s an excellent first impression of the strength of this resurrected Jason. Tom McLoughlin definitely showed he had fun conceiving and creating this film with all the original kills, and indulging in some nice action sequences. An RV gets flipped on its side driving down the road, and there’s a nice car chase between the cops and Megan’s classic red Camaro. It’s all very exciting and new stuff injected into a franchise that needed a breath of fresh air at this point. The addition of several great Alice Cooper tracks from his Constrictor album was just brilliant. It gave the film an additional promotional boost, and for Cooper, it gained him me and many others as fans. However, the song “Hard Rock Summer” didn’t see release until the 1999 “The Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper” box set along with the Movie Mix of “He’s Back.”
I’m sure the dark humor of the film turned a number of people off in 1986. The box office takes of the films steadily declined after Part 3 until the big success of Freddy vs. Jason, and so, this was no bigger of a hit than A New Beginning. However, since its release, Jason Lives has gained a strong standing in the franchise. It’s regularly praised as one of the best, and it is easy to see why. Again, it’s very exciting and filled with a strong visual atmosphere. Of course, it’s the story and its pacing that are the strongest. The film has almost a constant urgency about it with Tommy facing the obstacles of Sheriff Garris and the police while Jason is out slaughtering people. There’s enough going on with the Tommy / police conflict to keep it exciting with him being escorted out of town, getting apprehended in the car chase, and then, having to breakout of his cell with Megan’s help. It’s a very solid build up to a especially fresh, strong, and fiery climax. Intercutting between two stories is usually the most surefire way to maintain momentum and rhythm in a film, and McLoughlin shows a great sense of both. Editor Bruce Green deserves a lot of credit for also keeping the pacing tight and sharply to the point.
Composer Harry Manfredini’s music changed distinctly with this sequel. I’m sure there are those that would have preferred him sticking with the classic sound of Friday The 13th, but I have no particular preference either way. It’s become part of the overall identity of the film which tonally sets it apart from most of the other films. While I’m sure a first time viewer might have difficulty adjusting the new sound, I still feel it’s appropriate for the film Tom McLoughlin made.
While Friday The 13th Part 2 is my favorite of the classic formula, Jason Lives really is my favorite of the undead Jason era. I believe writer / director Tom McLoughlin put together a thoroughly satisfying sequel which strongly wraps up the Tommy Jarvis storyline, and is filled with a fun 1980s style. After the creative failure of A New Beginning, he gave us a film that felt lively and entertaining with some highly memorable and enjoyable characters. The self-referential humor is nicely balanced with the horror aspects, and careful avoids falling into self-satire or parody. It remains light and realistic, never making the characters appear dumb or foolish. It is a very smartly written film that is executed with an equal level of intelligence. I give this film glowing praise all around, and I highly recommend it.
Prince of Darkness is certainly one of John Carpenter’s stranger and more underappreciated films. It’s the second installment in what Carpenter calls his “apocalypse trilogy” (which includes 1982’s The Thing and 1995’s In The Mouth of Madness). Simply put, this film is about the coming of the apocalypse, and the arrival of the Prince of Darkness – Satan himself. This is one seriously eerie and creepy film, but it has the slowest pace of any Carpenter film I have seen. I believe this film comes as an acquired taste. It can take multiple viewings to really enjoy it fully, as it did for me.
A group of scientists, students, and priests – led by Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) – have come to study a mysterious canister which has been sealed away in the basement of a Los Angeles church. The eerie green liquid inside this canister proves to be supernatural as it defies gravity, leaking upwards to the ceiling, and soon, it’s discovered that it is self-organizing as part of a living intelligence. This has made way for changes to occur in nature that herald the coming of something evil. And those who come into contact with this liquid are transformed into mindless undead slaves of Satan himself. Outside the church, the homeless and derelicts of Los Angeles become powerless against the influence of hell. The few human beings inside the church are trapped – barricading themselves inside with threats all around them. Theories are abound as to what is happening and philosophies about heaven, hell, and all of creation. But whatever forces are at work, these few people must not only survive these servants of hell, but also prevent the coming of the Prince of Darkness from the other side.
If you choose to watch this film, I suggest you get things as dark and as quite as possible, put in the DVD, get that surround sound just right, and get ready to experience one of the most haunting, frightening films ever. This is possibly the most taut and suspenseful Carpenter film of all-time. The master of terror gives us a film that nobody should easily be able to forget. The score from John Carpenter & Alan Howarth is absolutely mesmerizing and powerful. Right from the beginning, it sucks you into a creepy and absolutely ominous world, and doesn’t let go until the end credits have finished. It’s an absorbing, killer work of musicianship that compliments the film marvelously.
The effects here are great. There’s nothing here as complex as in The Thing (which Rob Bottin really delivered something groundbreaking), but there’s plenty of scary makeup work and visuals to unsettle any audience. There’s such apocalyptic biblical imagery here – including swarms of creepy crawly critters – that it will have you squirming and jumping from your seat. John Carpenter wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym “Martin Quartermass,” and man, he does just such an amazing job eliciting such haunting emotions. The film has such a suspenseful power that it could ONLY come from John Carpenter.
That pseudonym is only one of several that Carpenter has employed in his career. He uses them because he feels uncomfortable with his name plastered all over the credits as if it’s an egotistical thing to take so much credit. Me, I believe in everyone getting the credit they deserve for the hard work they do. The fact of the matter is that I know who Martin Quartermass, John T. Chance, and Frank Armitage are, and it is still John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.
The cast is full of Carpenter regulars such as Donald Pleaseance (Halloween, Escape From New York), Victor Wong & Dennis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China), and Peter Jason (They Live, In The Mouth of Madness). Also, Jameson Parker from TV’s Simon & Simon is in a lead role as well. It’s very much a Carpenter style cast in that he doesn’t cast big stars, but a lot of strong character actors that give the film a textured diversity. I really enjoy all their talents, and they all put in fantastic efforts. John Carpenter has always been great in the casting department (probably best displayed in The Thing). We even get a cameo from shock-rocker Alice Cooper, and he contributes the title song from the album of the same name. The song only appears in a small scene, and via a guy’s walkman radio. In any case, it’s always nice to see Alice appear in a horror film via an acting role or as a musician. He has no lines, but appears creepy enough as one of the derelict servants outside the church. Overall, this cast gives a lot of life and character to this slow-paced film.
In a way, this is different from most Carpenter movies, mainly in pace. He’s always made very smart pictures, and his horror has never been something you can entirely shut your brain off for. And while Prince of Darkness is full of atmosphere that drives every horror element forward, it is much more an idea and philosophy driven screenplay. There are very few action set pieces as the danger and horror are played through tense atmosphere and chilling visuals. It’s a film that crawls in under your skin slowly, and requires you to stay mentally aware of what’s happening for it to have the proper effect.
There’s a good deal of discussion in the film about philosophies regarding dreams, death, hell, religion, and so forth. This adds to the psychological aspect of the film since it revolves around such supernatural or paranormal phenomena birthed out of an ancient evil covered up by the church. With the film having such a wide ensemble cast, they have plenty of room for differing opinions and beliefs, but don’t let this make you think the film gets bogged down by it. Not at all. As they uncover more truths, it enhances the fearful and foreboding atmosphere of the film. There is a haunting evil taking form in their presence, and it is slowly consuming them either physically or psychologically.
In everyone’s dreams, they see a transmission from the future of a dark figure exiting the front of the church they are all holed up in. They get only bits and pieces, but they all share it getting a little more each time they fall asleep. It is another piece of the foreboding doom that lies ahead of them, and it is immensely effective.
Prince of Darkness definitely has similarities to an old style zombie film where a group of mismatched people have to fend for their lives against an undead army. However, Carpenter just pushes it further with so much more substance and unsettling visuals. This really is a nightmare come to life. A constant theme in Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy is some sort of force consuming humanity and deteriorating it into something entirely inhuman. In The Thing, it’s an actual alien life form that perfectly duplicates any organism it infects which could eventually wipe out the human race. With In The Mouth of Madness, reality is twisted and distorted to where people become psychotic and homicidal in the wake of ancient evil reclaiming our world. In Prince of Darkness, it’s sort of a bridge between the concepts. As an ancient evil slowly claws its way back into our world, it also consumes nature and humanity until they become entirely mindless, inhuman servants. Coming from three different screenwriters on three different films, that is an entirely fascinating conceptual arc.
This film is undoubtedly one of John Carpenter’s finest works. Some don’t take a good liking to it because of its slow, slow pace, and its focus more on suspense than physical intensity. Whatever the case, I find it to be a masterwork worthy of inclusion to anyone’s DVD collection. The cast is very good, fun at times, but solid always. The score is pure gold, a powerful accomplishment for Carpenter and Alan Howarth. As in any Carpenter film, the cinematography is stellar, and the direction is absolutely phenomenal! If you genuinely want to get creeped out to the max one dark, lonely night – this is the one film to watch! I won’t say that Prince of Darkness is a perfect film as the pace can be a detractor to its potential. Part of good tension and suspense is momentum, and it’s not entirely consistent here. However, it is a great flick, and I will give it a great 9 out of 10. If nothing else, the ending will grab you like only a John Carpenter film can!