One of the dangers with attempting to mix science and the supernatural in your horror movie is that, unless you very carefully blend the two realms together, you risk creating something that’s an incoherent mess and fails to satisfy fans of either approach. And such is the case with this film, where John Carpenter wants to present an “ancient astronauts” theory of theology with a filmic approach to the subject of quantum mechanics, and ended up making a movie where Satan is a bottle of green goo in a church basement.

Carpenter’s real intent is pretty broadly telegraphed. “Martin Quartermass” is a rather poor pseudonym to adopt if you don’t want people to figure out the inspiration for your movie. And, in fact, a tremendous amount of exposition here takes the form of translated latin documents and scientists making astonishing claims about the impossibility of the discoveries they’re making. The gist of it is, seven million years ago, Satan, in the form of a viscous green liquid came to Earth in an attempt to free his “father”, the Anti-God, from an extra-dimensional prison. He was trapped, and some time later an alien, by the name of Jesus, came to warn the Earth about what Satan really was, but he was killed because no one wanted to hear it. The Catholic Church then covered all this up so well that even they forgot the truth. And in the midst of all this people in the future are beaming a video into people’s dreams via tachyon emissions to try and warn them about the very stupid thing they’re doing fussing around with Satan In A Jar.
At this point, even Von Daniken thinks the film is straining suspension of disbelief just a tad.

To be fair to Carpenter, as over the top as all that is, by itself it would have been a perfectly acceptable plot for a film. Where things really go off the rack is in the semi-supernatural elements that are introduced. The film’s rationale is that these are just the byproducts of the super-advanced quantum effects of having Satan in a jar in your basement, but I apparently missed the day in physics class where we discussed how a plus spin state results in a rain of worms. If you want me to accept a purely supernatural explanation for strange phenomena, I can. I’m fully willing to take demon possession and zombies and satanic mind-control in my stride if you want me to believe that it’s magic. (Even if your film’s use of homeless people as minions of evil is an odd choice that suggests a strange political statement that’s never adequately articulated.) I can do it. But asking me to accept that homeless people turn into homicidal killing machines because a math equation is being written down a hundred yards away…no, sorry, can’t do that.

The best way to approach the film is to take it with tongue firmly in cheek. The film can’t be taken seriously past a certain point, so to enjoy it, you need to have fun with it. Yes, it has Victor Wong in an amazingly subdued performance and Donald Pleasence in an over the top one. But it also has Jameson Parker in a lead role that’s gayer than a gay thing that’s very gay. It’s gayer than Freddie Mercury in drag duetting with Liza Minelli. I mean, just look at the gay…tucked in polo shirt with khakis, a man bag, a magnificent porno stache…and he flirts with women by doing card tricks, when he isn’t playing shirtless solitaire. He’s the A Gay of every Log Cabiners dreams. He’s not crying at the end of the film because his “girlfriend” dived into a mirror so that Satan and Anti-God would be trapped forever. He’s crying because now he has to find a new beard.

3 Responses to “Spooky Month Review: Prince of Darkness”
  1. So “Satan” is Anti-Jesus to the Anti-God, and Jesus is Jesus to God, and they’re all aliens?

  2. Sir A1! says:

    This seems like the first draft of every third Warren Ellis comic.

  3. This film is something of a guilty pleasure for me. I know it doesn’t stand up to any real scrutiny but I caught it late night on TV once and enjoyed it and still do.

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