Saturday, September 7, 2013

Blu-ray Review: PRINCE OF DARKNESS: COLLECTOR'S EDITION (1987)

PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

Label: Scream Factory / Shout! Factory
Release Date: September 24th 2013
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 102 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasance, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper, Susan Blanchard, Peter Jason 
Tagline: Before man walked the Earth... It slept for centuries. It is evil. It is real. It is awakening.

Fresh of making Big Trouble in Little China (1986) director John Carpenter was a bit put-off by the big studio system and it's constraints and set out to make a smaller independent horror film and the results were a neat little Satanic slice of cult cinema, Prince of Darkness (1987) starring Donald Pleasance (Halloween) as a troubled priest who reaches out to noted physicist Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong, Big Trouble in Little China) and his most gifted students to help unravel the mysteries of an ancient cylinder that's been kept hidden away from humanity in the basement of a decaying L.A. church where it has remained under the watchful of of a secret sect of priests, inside it is a strange, ominous green liquid that swirls around supernaturally. 


The team arrive at the church unsure of what it is exactly they are there for but they set up their equipment and set about doing what they do while their 80's technology pings away in the background as they attempt to translate an ancient book of text which talks about a fallen angel or some such thing. John Carpenter's film about ultimate evil is painted in very broad strokes with some rather laughable dialogue about how evil lives in the atoms of all things, unseen but ever present. Corny Sunday school-esque teachings but then it's spiced up with talk about Jesus's extraterrestrial origins and the anti-God and how religion is a myth perpetrated by the Church - now that's just awesome!


The film starts off with what must be one of the most extended opening credit sequence ever as we met the principal players and set-up their characters, including physicist Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker, TV's Simon and Simon) who meets the cute redheaded physicist Catherine (Lisa Blount, Needful Things) and offers her a cup of coffee, practically the next scene features the two in a state of post-coital exhaustion laying in bed, Brian finally offering her that promised cup o' coffee - does that ever really happen? 


Studying the cylinder the team discover that there's something sentient in the inside, something malevolent. Green liquid seeps from the cylinder and defying gravity pools along the ceiling of the basement crypt and one by one possess the students, it's slightly sexual as the evil liquid spews into women's mouths, at least to me but I am a confirmed pervert. Outside the church the dirty vagrants of L.A., lead by Alice Cooper, start to converge upon the unholy place like a small horde of zombies, pretty soon a small body count is underway as the possessed homeless prevent the inhabitants of the church from escaping what's festering in the basement.


The deaths are pretty decent, particularly when Alice Cooper takes out the nerdiest of the science-geeks with a jagged bike frame, spearing him through the chest as a geyser of blood erupts, apparently the gore-gag is taken right out of Alice Cooper's stage show and it's a keeper. Another notable death features an elderly homeless woman stabbing a scientist to death with pruning shears, I don't know what it is about that scene but the way the shears slice through the air has always had an effect on me, it's pretty neat. The victim is resurrected for a later scene wherein he delivers a warning to the students inside the Church before crumbling into a creepy pile of beetles, it's creepy stuff. 

A lot of strange things seem to have been spurred or effected by the entity inside the cylinder, we get strange swarming behavior not just from beetles but from earthworms and ants plus there's an odd sun and moon configuration in the sky, perhaps signaling the end for humanity, it should be noted that this is part of John Carpenter's unofficial apocalypse trilogy alongside The Thing (1982) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995), check 'em out.


John Carpenter excels here at crafting a creepy and tense environment, the church setting is effective and spooky, plus we get some great moody lighting and cinematography from Gary K. Kibbe (They Live), it's a great looking film. The effects work is pretty decent, if not on par with The Thing (1982). There are some very nicely executed in-camera and make-up effects, some of it definitely feels low-budget, a sequence involving an otherworldly portal comprised of liquid mercury is a bit schlocky, but it does the job I guess. 


Donald Pleasance plays it pretty straight here as the priest, he doesn't chew up too much scenery in a "I shot him six times!" sort of way, pretty low-key. Victor Wong is awesome as the physicist, that guy makes everything better, giving you the eye the way he does, it's just awesome. Dennis Dun from Big Trouble in Little China has a great scene trapped in a confessional, he just loses his shit screaming "I don't wanna die!" as possessed zombie try to claw their way inside, that's just good stuff. 


The film definitely has some shortcomings (no nudity), and while it has some rather intriguing ideas they're not particularly well executed, the worse offender being the quasi-science/religion based dialogue which is not among Carpenter's best work and the cast struggle to work with it but there's only so much you can do, not for lack of trying. What saves it for me is the dense atmosphere of the film, there's some wonderful kin-crawling touches peppered throughout; a crucified pigeon and the massing swarms of insects, there's an unnerving sense of dread building-up and while I don't think it delivers a satisfying end it's still a decent watch with some nice eerie moments, just grab a few brews, kick back and enjoy, don't be afraid to laugh at it every once in a while, and for goodness sake don't try to make sense of it, that's just asking for trouble, not a film to dissect, one to watch.


Blu-ray: This John Carpenter cult-classic comes to Blu-ray from Shout!Factory imprint Scream Factory with a AVC encoded 1080p transfer and it looks quite stunning, very surprised just how great this looked on Blu-ray, damn I love Scream Factory! Sourced from a near pristine print it showcases a layer of fine film grain with a surprising amount of fine detail reproduction in textures and facial details. Colors are reproduced wonderfully and the contrast is fantastic, a very strong visual presentation from Scream Factory with very nice black levels and shading, quite a significant upgrade from the 2003 Universal DVD edition. 


Audio options include both English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The 5.1 is quite strong with a nice low-end rumble, Carpenter and Howarth's awesome synth score gets most of the surround action, it makes for quite a fun experience, a very dynamic presentation.


Reversible Artwork 
Onto the special features we a very nice selection of Red Shirt produced plus the commentary from the Region 2 DVD, here in the US we have suffered with a bare-bones standard-def DVD for a decade so it's nice to get some cool bonus content and a stunning 1080p presentation. The commentary with Carpenter and actor Peter Jason who portrayed Dr. Leahy in the film is quite good, the two reminisce on the film and are quite talkative, they definitely seem to be enjoying their viewing of the film, not a particularly technical commentary but an enjoyable listen. There's over a half hour of new interviews with John Carpenter, Alice Cooper, composer Alan Howarth and actor/special visual effects supervisor Robert Grasmere, the alternate opening from the TV version, a trailer and 2 radio spots plus a very cool entry of Horror's Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark, I think this and The Fog entry of the entertaining series are two of the best they've done. There's also a very cool Easter Egg featuring John Carpenter worth searching for. 

Packaging extras include a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster and newly commissioned artwork from Justin Osborne who also did the great artwork for Scream's edition of John Carpenter's The Fog (1980), it also comes with a cool slipcover featuring the new artwork. Yet another stellar Blu-ray edition of a beloved horror classic from Scream Factory who breath new life into some dusty gems with a great audio/video presentation and some quality extras. 


Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Actor Peter Jason
- Sympathy For The Devil – An all-new Interview with Writer/Director John Carpenter (10:28)
- Alice at the Apocalypse – An all-new interview with Actor/Rock Legend Alice Cooper (9:27)
- The Messenger – All-new interview with Actor/Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere (12:41)
- Hell On Earth – A look at the film’s score with Co-Composer Alan Howarth (10:14)
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with host Sean Clark (13:44)
- Alternate Opening from TV Version (6:55)
- Original Theatrical Trailer and 2 Radio spots (2:48) 
- Easter Egg (12:10) 

Verdict: I think Prince of Darkness (1987) gets put aside as a minor Jon Carpenter entry and I actually agree, it is a lesser effort, but it's just so damn fun, the clunky joining of science and religion wrapped up in an effective cloak of unnerving creepiness, it's a Satanic-infused haunted house story that's not completely successful but it definitely gets by on pure entertainment value. An atmosphere heavy schlocky cult-classic and a very sweet Blu-ray edition from Scream Factory who continue to impress with each new release. 3 Outta 5 

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