Updated: Feb 6
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
One by one, the mentors and graduate students who were monitoring the canister of swirling green matter inside a church in downtown Los Angeles, become possessed by the evil within. "Prince of Darkness" is John Carpenter's second installment in what he calls his "Apocalypse Trilogy," that began with "The Thing" (1982) and concludes with "In the Mouth of Madness" (1944).
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“PRINCE OF DARKNESS” COLLECTOR’S EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray; 1987; R for disturbing scenes, violence and gore, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “The Messenger, All-New Interview with Actor and Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere”
LOOK OUT – John Carpenter’s Big Bad is worse than Satan himself! That’s his story and he’s stickin’ to it.
Carpenter, who wrote and directed scary flicks like “Halloween,” 1978, blends the sci-fi angle of quantum mechanics with the supernatural in a film about the arrival of the anti-Christ or something like it. Once the king of cool, low budget thrillers now found in Blumhouse Productions, Haunted Pictures, Ghost House Pictures, and Twisted Pictures, his films, including “Escape from New York,” 1981, with Kurt Russell, and “The Fog,” hold up well. Carpenter is also the director behind “The Thing,” 1982, and "Big Trouble in Little China," 1986, both also with Russell, and “Christine,” 1983. “Prince of Darkness” is one of his lesser celebrated endeavors, possibly because of its bleak ending, but has moments that make it a fan-favorite.
“Rarely does a horror film try out new ideas or new ways about saying things … Today in horror movies, a lot of derivative stuff is very popular, but boy have I seen this stuff. So I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to do a movie that caused a lot of unease and dread.” — John Carpenter, Director and Writer under the name Martin Quatermass
(1) Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence), and Quantum Mechanics Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) examine the writings surrounding the evil-looking goo. (2) Robert Grasmere, FX supervisor says, "The spinning green vat of devil liquid ... was a monster and a monster to move. It weighed probably around 1,500 pounds, and it had Plexiglas blades in it and it had to have lighting. It was such a nightmare to make that thing work.”(3) Prof. Birack recruits his grad students for a weekend retreat to monitor the mystery canister.
So Carpenter borrowed a “bit of this and that” and came up with a story about an anti-God. It begins with a priest lying on his deathbed holding a small, arcane box which we learn can only be unlocked from the inside. It jumps to a gathering of professors, grad students, and Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who with Quantum Mechanics Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong), retreat to what appears to be a deconsecrated church to investigate a strange cylinder suspended in the cellar. It’s filled with an evil-looking green liquid and is hooked up to all kinds of scientific devices. This is “A secret that can no longer be kept,” Father Loomis informs us.
Students and professors are soon divided up all over the place – a familiar trope – while the evil liquid begins creating agents. Like the zombie-like vagrants led by Alice Cooper that gather outside to surround the church. Silent and increasingly menacing, we know they’re up to no good. Sure enough, through a variety of scenes featuring explosive, frequently silly dialogue, everything gets worse and the body count begins to rise.
“Religion and faith intrigues me …When I was young I was influenced by some of the Hammer vampire movies when the way to fight Dracula was to hold up a crucifix and to dash holy water on him. But religion in general has always been fascinating.” — John Carpenter, “Sympathy for the Devil, an Interview with John Carpenter” featurette
(1&2) Prof. Birack arrives at the deconsecrated Saint Goddard's Church, where the experiments will take place. (3&4) Zombie-like vagrants led by rock star Alice Cooper gather outside, surrounding the church as they await an unusual solar event.
Shout! Factory continues its outstanding Collector’s Edition series with “Prince of Darkness.” Shot in 35mm film, the original camera negative was scanned at 4K in 16 bit (2.35:1 aspect ratio). With the addition of HDR Dolby Vision, and a nice wash of film grain, this makes an exceptional 4K HDR disc presentation that looks far better than the original theatrical debut, and all previous disc and streaming releases.
Skin tones for the variety of actors look natural and complex from handsome, bright-eyed students to threatening street people. Carpenter has always been good at creating memorable individuals among his background players and PoD is no exception. Color is true and rich, though muted for effect, with the green liquid a brilliant standout looking very stark in the darkened basement.
Black levels are rich, with the occasional pop of bright highlights. Keep in mind PoD was made before the extravagant use of CGI, so all effects and character/monster makeups are physical.
(1) Father Loomis and students Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker), Walter (Dennis Dunn) and others gather to discuss their expectations. (2) They take their first look at the suspicious vat; how did it get there, and what is it for? (3) Lisa (Ann Yen) and Calder (the late Jessie Lawrence Ferguson) compare their reactions to events.
Transformations of students played by Susan Blanchard and Robert Grasmere into vessels of evil are quite good. Killings are gruesome, usually bloodless, but startling. Shout’s new feature interview with actor and Special Visual Effects Supervisor Grasmere is loaded with information from the dynamics of making the devil-vat work to the "bug-wrangler" who herded of thousands of desert beetles for a scene, and what it feels like to be suddenly called on to become a member of the cast.
Grasmere didn’t expect to be an actor after he was hired as special visual effects supervisor. “My role in the plot was I was supposed to be the guy that didn’t believe everybody. You need that character,” he says. His converted disbeliever became the focus of one of the theatrical trailers.
Contrast is a grade less than usually seen in 4K transfers, as is shadow detail. But, again, this seems more of a deliberate choice – the best way to display those classically produced effects. The producer and director wanted things to be done simply and on camera; “Do them quickly and look great,” Grasmere explains. Lighting, or lack of it, was used to make those visuals work.
“There were scenes where someone’s chest had to rise up and we were doing rod puppetry. There was a huge list of all the little special-effects kinds of small ‘gags,’ we call ’em, that we had to get through on this movie. And they all had to be done on camera on the day.” — From “The Messenger, All-New Interview with Actor and Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere”
1) Lisa and Susan Cobot (Anne Marie Howard) were the first to become possessed. (2) Kelly (Susan Blanchard) is engulfed by the liquid, transforming into a gruesomely disfigured creature of evil. (3&4) Father Loomis tries to stop Kelly, as she tries to summon the Anti-God through a dimensional portal.
Sound arrives through a choice of the eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack and the mono 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks on the 4K UHD disc, and the 1080p disc. Dialogue is clear and clean in both options. The blend of dialogue, effects and score is perfect; no remote required. Surround delivery is good and the Atmos track drives effect to the ceiling as expected.
Carpenter and Alan Howarth, who also composed scores for “Escape from New York,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” and “They Live,” 1988, deliver tension-filled bass lines and melody.
Thankfully, Shout! carried over the best bonus features from earlier presentations: the “Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter”; “Sympathy for the Devil, an Interview with John Carpenter”; “Alice at the Apocalypse, an Interview with Alice Cooper”; “Hell on Earth: A Look at the Film’s Score with Co-Composer Alan Howarth”; “Alternate Opening from TV Version,” a still gallery, and trailer and radio spots.
The new Robert Grasmere interview is fun and filled with data.
“‘Prince of Darkness’ came about because of a confluence of elements. One was I had been making beer-budget studio films and had gotten tired in the process … And I longed to make a low-budget movie where I would have complete control over it – the story, the flow of the characters, the thematic materials.” — John Carpenter
Nothing comes near the thrill of a John Carpenter original. Most set the bar for others to succeed – or copy. There have been many disappointing remakes and sequels. Accept no imitation! Check out “Prince of Darkness” for yourself!
— Kay Reynolds
(1&2) Father Loomis survives, but Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker) continues to have a recurring dream.