In my opinion Prince of Darkness is the last film John Carpenter made that I enjoyed from start to finish. His films after this one, starting with They Live are all flawed in such a significant fashion that I cannot ignore the miscues and illogic to enjoy the movie.
Prince of Darkness is a horror film that focuses on the personal level while exploring themes that are cosmic. When the last remaining Guardian Priest, a member of a Catholic sect known as the Brotherhood of Sleep, dies, it exposes a secret society within the Church and a mysterious canister that they have been guarding for two thousands years. The Priest who uncovers this, played by Donald Pleasence and never given a name, turned to a physics professor, Birack, played by Victor Wong, to prove the truth of the canister, and its terrible revelation about the nature of God. Birack recruits a number of gifted post-grad students and a few colleagues for the weekend long examination of the thee canister at its hiding place, an old church in downtown Los Angeles. Very quickly after their arrival things turn ominous, they are threatened by the homeless in the area, the canister starts showing new and unexplainable properties, and the translation of the Brotherhood’s documents illuminate a disturbing history. While the film’s ending seems to promise a happy resolution with the evil defeated and banished, the very final images suggest that at least one survivor will not be able to leave things as they are and though that meddling unleash the doom that they had fought and died to prevent.
As I have stated, I enjoy this movie. I like the cast, I like the atmosphere, I like the slow wind up to a final act that is anything but slow, and I like that even when the characters are at cross purposes they all proceed from a foundation of trying to do the right thing. That said there are issues I have with the film and the logic of the story truly does not stand up to close scrutiny. Spoilers follow as well critique so some may not want to proceed.
In my opinion, gleaned from watching the films and listening to various audio commentaries, Carpenter is more drawn to style, mood, and image than he is to consistent world-building or attentive backstory. For example it is established that the Guardian Priest lived in the church alone, he ventured out once per week for groceries and supplies while checking on the canister everyday. Judging from the sheer number of candles lit in the basement the man’s sole job was placing, lighting, and replacing candles. In the early evening we see the team eating take-out Chinese food and pizza. It is presumed that meant they ordered the food and yet when things go south and people are being murdered there’s not even ‘they cut the phone’ to explain the lack of calling out for assistance. The canister we are told holds the offspring of a god, the anti-god. He buried the canister on Earth in the Middle East before he was banished. Christ was not a divine but a humanoid alien come to warn us about the godling in the bottle. IF he was an alien and the aliens knew about the godling in a bottle why did they leave it with the savages of Earth? That seems pretty irresponsible.
Those issues aside this is one of my favorite Carpenter films and when I got the chance to get it on Blu-ray I did not hesitate. It is film for the season.