Space is horrifying. Do you know how huge it is?
Who knows what's out there! That dread is a natural fit for horror movies. Director John Carpenter's mined it efficiently in several sci-fi/horror classics. But in 1987's Prince of Darkness, he is not quite up to the task.
For 2,000 years, a secret order of priests have held a deadly force prisoner. When that force escapes, they call in a team of physicists to help them understand it -- but before they know what they're up against, the cosmic power begins to convert them into evil demons bent on destroying the world.
Prince of Darkness is very much a John Carpenter movie. Opening with his trademark credits, score and editing, you will immediately say, "Ah, I am watching a John Carpenter joint." Unless this is your first one of his movies, in which case you picked a weird place to start. Go watch The Thing. We'll wait.
Hah, we totally won't wait. Because we've got things to discuss. Like the fact that in Prince of Darkness, Jesus was a space alien to warn us about the space-devil. Does that sound sacrilegious? Does it make it more or less sacrilegious to know there's also a space-god?
In any event, it's less about any specific theology and more about the universe being grappled over by cosmic powers beyond all understanding. Clearly Lovecraftian, it's a great concept that Carpenter plays up with a strong and steady sense of dread.
But compared to his other work, it kind of feels ... lesser. The main problem is that apart from studly, tough-talking physics professor Victor Wong, none of the characters has a whole lot of personality. Nobody could pull off Kurt Russell's hat in The Thing, that's for sure. In fact, Carpenter probably should have cast that hat instead. In more than one role, if necessary. It probably would have had a better idea about how to fight off the demons than "grab big sticks, swing them."
And that's about as far as Carpenter takes his idea. While Prince of Darkness has delightful practical effects, a strong mood and moments of humor, as a story, it falls short of Carpenter's typical excellence.
* Contact Ed Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.