9/10
For those who appreciate the creepiness of the art house feel horror movies of the 1980s
1 May 2020
Prior to the onset of CGI in the 1990s, horror movies of the late 70s through the 80s pushed the boundaries of good taste using latex and glue, and enjoyed over a decade of grotesque special fx makeup and masterful puppetry to bring their gore and monsters to life on the screen. Probably because I was alive to the times I became both enthralled and aghast at the cinematic innovation of the era. Who could forget the body reconstituting from a few drops of blood in "Hellraiser" (1979), or the scuttling little spider alien face-hugger that became the jaw-dropping Giger monster in "Alien" (1979). Films such as "The Brood" (1979), "The Thing" remake (1982), " The Blob" remake (1988), and, of course, "The Fly" remake (1986), took full advantage of these gruesome new leading-edge techniques. In particular, Cronenberg and Carpenter embraced this sub-genre. So it is with "John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness". Be prepared for grisly, body-horror effects, and a disgustingly unique method of transmission of an organism from person to person. The story begins with something ancient and evil growing in the hidden depths of an old church. Society's outcasts surround the building with gleeful fervour, insects fester in the grounds, while a professor, a priest and a group of students must first decipher exactly what it is, in order to prevent its manifestation. British actor Donald Pleasance is perfectly cast as the anguished priest despairing that the unthinkable is unfolding under the very institution designed to prevent its release. He enlists the aid of an incredulous professor of physics, Dr Birack (Victor Wong), and a hand-picked group of clueless students to thwart the evil before it can take purchase. The group hunkers down to do their investigations, using computers to track the entity's gestation,when things take a srrange twist. As each fall asleep they share an identical dream with the priest, his a recurring, yet shifting nightmare that he describes as "Having previous knowledge of a future event": i.e., a premonition of the end of the world. Brian (Jameson Parker), trying to make sense of it from a scientific point of view, describes a tachyon, a hypothetical that travels faster than the speed of light. He postulates that the dreams are vehicles of a doomsday oracle meant for those living in the present, emanating in the past, to foresee the inescapable future. As the priest prays, the team struggles to find out if it possible to avert the inevitable. Time is running out,the church has become unstable and although escape has become impossible due to the ferocious occupation by the outcasts and insects, one by one, the trapped students begin to disappear. With increasing desperation humanity and technology take up the battle against oblivion, pitted against a barrage of nefarious obstacles. John Carpenter is a master of slow building tension, allowing terror to simmer to the rhythm of a his familiar pulsating soundtrack. This film is unsettling, quietly terrifying in the fashion of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers "(1986 version), another film that created stomach-churning state-of-the-art special fx using hands-on art departments. Ultimately, the explosion of CGI in subsequent years has been both a boon and a bust in a similar way other technologies have enhanced or disrupted life. Its overuse has become repetitive and the diaphanous sheen has faded. At the same time, non-digital, tactile fx remain an exciting and enduring motif of wondrous imagination, as is evident here. "John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness" is maybe a little too slow for modern audiences, however, the pace pays off as the longer you watch the more chilling it becomes, the music reverberating with the sounds of a distant, deadly heartbeat. It is a treat for those who appreciate the creepiness of the art-house feel horror movies of the 1980s.
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