A John Carpenter Film
"The Prince of Darkness stinks." - the Washington Post
If you're a big fan of this film, please look away now.
I admit that I was bored and looking for something to jar me from lassitude, and found this little zombie horror puppy on Netflix. It was written, directed and scored by John Carpenter, who I have to say has made some pretty decent films (The Thing and They Live come to mind). The cast includes character actors Victor Wong and Donald Pleasence, and on that basis I thought it might be a good ride. This, sadly, was a puppy that was abandoned, run over and should have been put down. I could almost leave the review there, but I feel that you deserve to know why. No spoilers here; as I said in another review, this one comes pre-spoiled.
The story concerns a priest who finds a mysterious seven-million-year-old container full of swirling green goo, and calls upon a local university to help him unravel its mysteries. So far so good. They all arrive at the church with their scientific scepticism intact and prepare to do battle with presumed evil. So what can possibly go wrong?
Dealing With The Undead
The first warning sign was the score, a dread modern-monastic piece that sounded as though drunken mediæval monks had somehow managed to work a synthesiser. The music is not bad to begin with, but after a while the repetition grates. Perhaps in 1987 it sounded better, but twenty-five years has clearly been too long for it.
Next up, the characters. There's a priest, a professor of physics, some of his graduate students and a few other people from the university, ranging from a metaphysicist to a student of theology able to translate ancient languages. Sadly, they all move as though made of hinged cardboard, and I had sympathy for not one of them. The usual game I play in such films is to guess who is going to die first, but the characters were expressing so little apparent interest in what was going on, that I lost interest too. The setup for the first death was so dreadful that I was actually relieved when the poor sod got a bicycle frame through the heart. It turns out that it's difficult to watch a film when the characters start out as though they were already zombies.
The direction of the actors was also pretty bad. The usual horror scenario is played out in which one of the characters goes into the Scary Place all alone, but despite seeing physically impossible things (and bear in mind that this is a scientist), she stands about, idly waiting for her fate to be sealed.
Another key scene involves the Chief Zombie (the presumed possessed antihero) about to call for her "father", presumably to bring the Evil One into the world. Despite its being dragged out and made uninteresting by one too many closeups of a reaching hand, the scene includes one of only two really interesting pieces of action, around an hour and fifteen minutes in. It's not worth waiting for, though.
This brings me to my fourth point. I know that I'm expected to suspend disbelief, but this was absurd. I'm expected to believe that a trained scientist responsible for studying a Really Strange Scary McGuffin is going to hang around when she sees the laws of nature being broken? No, she's at least going to try to run off and alert the other scientists, rather than hang around like a starched fart waiting to be spiked. Another fellow watches his sweetheart go to her doom with little more than boredom. No points for the wooden acting, none for the flat direction.
Apart From That, How Did You Enjoy The Show?
The story is actually not bad, but with no action, no drama and no suspense, I was disappointed in the extreme. The characters plod their stupid way through a good tale, with no facial expression other than the occasional grimace. There's no life - even the arguments are half-hearted. There are a few mentions of tachyons and antimatter in an attempt to justify all those scientists being in the same place around an intelligent, evil slime, but it's not enough.
There are a few interesting dream sequences that attempt to connect the pieces together, but really don't. The action scenes toward the end are poorly played out, with no sense of urgency; there's no pumping adrenaline here for the actors or myself. I found it hard to sit through an hour and twenty-seven minutes to get anything that surprised me. Yes, an hour an a half before Carpenter made me jump. That's a bad puppy.
In conclusion, I did not enjoy this film, and I'm not alone. RottenTomatoes gives it a mere 47%, AllMovie 2/5★. Critical reception was universally pretty poor, witnessed by a final comment from the Post reviewer Richard Harrington, "[it] too deserves to be shut up in a canister for 7 million years". Couldn't have put it better - it's not often that I pray for a remake, but I'm doing that right now. Apologies to you, Mr Carpenter, but I give this 3/10.