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PRINCE OF DARKNESS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper, Jameson Parker
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Shout! Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: September 24, 2013

I’ve got a message for you…and you’re not going to like it…”

Film ***1/2

As far as 80s horror is concerned, John Carpenter was the master as far as I’m concerned. And two films of his from this decade illustrate this perfectly. The first was his dynamic remake of The Thing, which I find to be his masterpiece. The second came in 1987 with Prince of Darkness, and as it turns out these two films are actually part of Carpenter’s “Apocalypse” trilogy, which concluded with In the Mouth of Madness in 1995.

It’s in Prince of Darkness where Carpenter, perhaps more so than any other film he’s made, excels in establishing a lingering and most potent sense of atmospheric doom. It’s established right at the very opening frame and barely lets up for a single second during the films 102 minute running time. It represents Carpenter at the top of his game and in complete control of his craft.

The film’s opening is a remarkable piece of work, as we get a ten minute opening credit sequence in which pivotal scenes setting up the story unfold while periodically cutting to Carpenter’s trademark white-font credits against black screen, all of which is accompanied by one of the most eerily outstanding music scores for any horror movie, composed by the director and Alan Howarth. It’s a technique that isn’t used often in films, as far as opening titles go, and it’s something that wouldn’t always work, but damn if Carpenter didn’t nail it!

During this opening segment, we learn that a Catholic priest, who oversaw a church in a rough part of downtown L.A., has mysteriously died. Following his death, an old diary and ancient key tied to directly to him fall into the hands of another priest (Donald Pleasance). The key, as it turns out, unlocks a door to the basement of the church, where upon the priest discovers a large canister containing a strange green substance.

More than a little unsettled by this discovery, the priest seeks the aid of Dr. Birack (Victor Wong), a renowned physicist and professor at USC. He agrees to the priest’s request to come to the church and study the canister, and brings along a group combined of students from his class and science associates to help in the observation. Among the students are Brian (Jameson Parker), Catherine (Lisa Blount) and Walter (Dennis Dun).

Right when the team arrives at the church, things seem a little far from normal. For starters, the science team gets an awkward stare from a group of homeless people right across the street (led by Alice Cooper, of all people). But they proceed to set up shop in the church confines, using top of the line computer technology (that is, for 1987) to monitor every maneuver of the canister.

Eventually, one of the students approaches the canister and comes into direct contact with the substance inside it. And it’s at this point where things take a turn for the horrific, as the liquid turns whoever touches it into a possessed figure. Before long, it becomes clear that this canister harbors something that could very much allow Satan himself to surface.

And again, everything unfolds under Carpenter’s one of a kind skillful filmmaking. With atmospheric cinematography (creating many memorably striking images…especially at nighttime) and that intense music score, which only gets more so as the film progresses, and some truly spine tingling moments I wouldn’t dare spoil for you, this adds up to what I think is both one of Carpenter’s finest efforts to date and one of the best horror films to ever emerge from the 80s.

Video ****

It’s really great to see John Carpenter’s finest work shine in the Blu-ray format, as was very much the case with The Thing. And having seen this film multiple times on both VHS and DVD, I can easily say that Shout! Factory has crafted a truly knockout HD presentation of an 80s horror classic. Carpenter’s films carried a distinct look and always made grand use of widescreen panoramic cinematography, which truly shines in the 1080p like never before. Colors also look tremendous (particularly the green inside the canister) and the all around picture is rich in detail. Without question, the best presentation of this movie you will ever see!

Audio ****

Having owned the DVD release, which carried only a 2.0 surround sound mix, you can imagine how fully delighted I am at the presence of a DTS HD 5.1 presentation. And boy, it doesn’t disappoint for a second. I was very eager to hear the opening music score in lossless audio, and the results brought a huge smile to my face. Dialogue delivery is as solid as can be from beginning to end, and the surround sound takes full advantage of the interiors of the church, and various creepy ambient sounds are terrifically delivered through the channels as well!

Features ***1/2

First off, I should point out that this Blu-ray release includes much more extras than indicated on the back of the package. I have to applaud Shout! Factory for what they’ve done here, especially after years of owning a DVD release that contains only a trailer. Here, we get a terrific commentary with John Carpenter and actor Peter Jason (who’s appeared in most of the director’s films), which is filled with insight and sharp humor. Also included are a number of superb featurettes, including “Sympathy For the Devil”, which is a 10 minute interview with Carpenter, as well as an interview with Alice Cooper titled “Alice at the Apocalypse”. Next up is the featurette, “The Messenger”, which includes an interview with actor and Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere, and “Hell on Earth”, which features an in-depth interview with Carpenter’s score collaborator, Alan Howarth. Rounding out the extras is a segment from the series “Horror’s Hallowed Ground”, in which host Sean Clark explores numerous set pieces used in the film, and how some of them have changed over the years, as well as a Still Gallery, a Theatrical Trailer and two Radio Spots.

Summary:

John Carpenter will forever be a treasured director in the realm of horror, and Prince of Darkness will always be one of the top films to illustrate that. The new Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory is hands down remarkable and is a must own for Carpenter fans and horror movie fans in general!

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