Prince of Darkness
Reviewed by Russell Tharp
Rating: 7.5 Beans
hat do you get when you combine pseudoscientific "Trek-speak," bogus religious references, time travelling demons, zombies who kill by spitting on you, a cast of expendable young actors, and Donald Pleasence? I don't know, and neither apparently does John Carpenter, because he combined all of this--and more--and ended up with the astoundingly unfocused and ill-conceived "Prince of Darkness."
Here, in the briefest possible nutshell, is a plot summary. Donald Pleasence is a priest who arrives at a rectory following the death of an another priest and reads his diary. Pleasence immediately contacts quantuum mechanics expert Professor Birack (Victor Wong, "Big Trouble in Little China"), who then arranges for his best and brightest students to spend the weekend in an abandoned church doing a research project. The students discover that the Bible is a work of fiction conceived by the early Church, and that Christ was a time traveling alien who came to earth to save us from Satan and from Satan's son, who currently resides as a green goo in a giant Mason jar in the abandoned church's basement. Satan's son escapes the jar, controls the minds of various bugs and homeless people (including Alice Cooper, looking very much like...well, Alice Cooper) and begins possessing the students by making them walk around after they're dead and spit on one another. The surviving students realize that they're all having the same dream whenever they doze off, and that the dream is in reality a message beamed into their subconscience from the future, warning them about the re-emergence of Satan from the mirror-world to which he had previously been banished. Donald Pleasence mutters and whines, Satan's son takes full possession of one of the female students, and everything leads to an ambiguous climax which is meant to leave you wondering whether or not it's really over.
For myself, I started wondering if it would ever be really over about 30 minutes after it started. This film moves like a line at the DMV. Much of the early part of the movie is devoted to the agonizingly stupid romance building between two of the students, played by Lisa Blount and "Simon and Simon's" Jameson Parker, who are forced to utter dialogue so phony it sounds as though it was actually written by time travelling aliens from a mirror universe. Once everyone finally arrives at the conveniently abandoned church, they sit in front of computers yelling gibberish at one another until it's time for them to wander off alone and be spit on by zombies. The plot revelations dealing with time travelling saviors and devils in big pickle jars are handled in a manner so tedious you can actually hear them thud as they fall. The movie talks of a secret order of priests called The Brotherhood of Sleep. This I could understand. By the end of the first hour, I found I was dozing off myself--but unless I'm fated to do the horizontal mambo with Cindy Crawford some day, I doubt that my dreams were beamed in from the future.
There is a sudden mad burst of activity in the film's final 20 minutes or so, but it's too little too late; by that time I was much too lethargic to be moved by either a beheading where the beheadee picks her head off the floor and puts it back on, or the thought of Satan entering our world through a full-length mirror. All I could do was wonder groggily why a bunch of priests would need a full-length mirror; isn't vanity a sin?
John Carpenter wrote and directed this clunker, but the writing credit goes to Martin Quatermass in what was apparently meant to be a tribute to the far superior "The Quatermass Experiment." If you can find it, rent that movie instead. Because in this movie, Carpenter apparently has confused the Prince of Darkness with the Sandman, and he's happy to put you to sleep to prove it.
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