PRINCE OF DARKNESS
John Carpenter is by his own confession a big fan of British writer Nigel Kneale, best known as the creator of the Quatermass tv shows and films. [See The Quatermass Xperiment/The Creeping Unknown (1955)]. Carpenter attempted to import Nigel Kneale to write his once-planned remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and employed him to write the script for the Carpenter-produced Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), which ended with unsatisfactory results on Kneales part. Prince of Darkness bears more than a few similarities to Nigel Kneales Quatermass and the Pit/Five Million Years to Earth (1967). In Quatermass and the Pit, Kneale had a construction team working on the London Underground unearthing an artefact (a rocketship) that contained alien bodies, which ended up triggering all manner of latent psychic phenomena. Kneale ingeniously used the idea to explain occult outbreaks and ghosts as buried psychic talents and the concept of The Devil as being a racial memory of horned aliens.
Prince of Darkness feels like John Carpenter has attempted to jump onto the same ingenious blend of rationalized myth and science-fictional explanations that Nigel Kneale engages in, albeit with slightly less conceptual coherence. Prince of Darkness could maybe be Quatermass and the Pit with a few dashes of Kneales tv play The Stone Tape (1972), which was about investigators probing ghostly phenomenon, thrown in. Carpenter cheerfully acknowledges his source material by taking the pseudonym Martin Quatermass on the script. (Even more amusing is the press kit bio that came out with the film for Quatermass, which calls him the brother of the famous Bernard Quatermass, founder of the British Rocketry Group).
A good many people dismiss Prince of Darkness as pretentious nonsense. It is not hard to see why anybody without a fair smattering of quantum physics is going to find it incoherent. But heck, if you do, why not be snobbish. Prince of Darkness may not make much sense but it is nice to be able to sit down and see something written by someone who speaks the same language that you do. It is an ingenious twist on classical occultism one where The Devil is an anti-universe that exists at the level of quantum uncertainty waiting to occlude this one. It is as though John Carpenter has gone through a freshman year in physics and religious studies and put his wildest imaginings on paper in a conceptually mind-boggling series of meditations on tachyon particles, anti-matter theory and Schroedingers cat existentialism.
Not to say that John Carpenter doesnt lose his hold occasionally. The conceptually mind-boggling ideas dont always easily connect with the more visceral nonsense about possessed derelicts and students running around infecting one another with mouthfuls of green liquid. (The idea that Carpenter throws up that The Devil is easily able to possess both insects and derelicts because they are lower forms of life holds some not very nice implications about the socially dispossessed). However, Carpenter is far too good a director to let the scare-show side of things down and some of the images with characters becoming possessed by streams of green piddle, crawling their way up others slumbering bodies and the climactic tension with the possessed closing in on the remaining survivors emerge as way-out. The twist ending tachyon dream is one that disturbs long after leaving the theatre even if one is not sure why. Certainly, there are also scenes that are silly one student getting dispatched by bicycle impalement (from no less than a derelict played by Alice Cooper), while some of the makeup looks cheesy.
There is another good sinister and pulsing Carpenter electronic score. If there is anything to make a case for John Carpenters downwards slide it is in that he lets a fine cast, including Carpenter regulars Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong, slide through his hands in a series of unanimously flaccid performances. Leads Jameson Parker and Lisa Langlois are blank and forgettable, and it is only Dennis Dun, a returnee from Carpenters Big Trouble in Little China (1986), whose lively, jocular character in any way comes to life.
John Carpenters other genre films are: Dark Star (1974); the urban siege film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976); Halloween (1978); the stalker psycho-thriller Someones Watching Me (tv movie, 1978); the ghost story The Fog (1980); the sf action film Escape from New York (1981); the remake of The Thing (1982); the Stephen King killer car adaptation Christine (1983); the alien visitor effort Starman (1984); the Hong Kong-styled martial arts fantasy Big Trouble in Little China (1986); the alien takeover film They Live (1988); Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992); the horror anthology Body Bags (tv movie, 1993), which Carpenter also hosted; the H.P. Lovecraft homage In the Mouth of Madness (1995); the remake of Village of the Damned (1995); Escape from L.A. (1996); the vampire hunter film Vampires (1998); the sf film Ghosts of Mars (2001); and the haunted asylum film The Ward (2010). Carpenter has also written the screenplays for the psychic thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Halloween II (1981), the hi-tech thriller Black Moon Rising (1985) and the killer snake tv movie Silent Predators (1999), as well as produced Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), the time-travel film The Philadelphia Experiment (1984), Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) and the remake of The Fog (2005).