It always amazes me how the movies of John Carpenter continue to endure years after they have been released. Many of them were critical and commercial disappointments when they first came out, and it seemed that Carpenter would forever be trapped in the shadow of his most successful movie, “Halloween.” “Prince of Darkness” was one of those movies, and it has long since gained a cult following to where the original DVD release became a very valuable collector’s item when it went out of print. Now Shout Factory has released a special collector’s edition of it on Blu-ray, and it shows us why this movie has lingered in our minds long after we first saw it.
“Prince of Darkness” came out in 1987 and it is about a research team of academics, students and a priest who discover an ancient canister in the basement of an abandoned church. This canister contains a liquid which ends up turning people into zombies, and it soon becomes evident that the team has unknowingly unleashed the most evil thing that could destroy the earth. It is not your typical horror movie as it deals with theoretical physics and atomic theory, but once you get into the story then everything becomes quite terrifying.
I won’t bother going into how great the audio and visual elements of this Blu-ray are because it goes without saying that “Prince of Darkness” has never looked as good as it does here. Let’s just skip ahead to the special features on the disc. While there aren’t as many extras as there have been on previous Shout Factory releases, the ones included here will provide fans with a lot of entertainment.
First off, the Blu-ray case says that there is a commentary track with John Carpenter, but what it neglects to mention is that Carpenter is joined on this track by actor Peter Jason. Jason plays Dr. Leahy in “Prince of Darkness,” and he has appeared in many of Carpenter’s movies from this to “Ghosts of Mars.” Carpenter is always great fun to listen to in a commentary, but he’s even more entertaining when he’s pared with someone else and the conversations he has with Jason are a lot of fun as they discuss what it was like making a horror film with a budget of only $3 million dollars. Actually, this commentary track was originally included in the Region 2 DVD release of “Prince of Darkness,” so it’s nice for those us who lack multi-region players to finally get the opportunity to listen to it.
Another special feature to be found here is a brand new interview with Carpenter called “Sympathy for the Devil.” In it Carpenter explains how he had been making bigger budgeted studio movies before this one and had gotten tired of it. With “Prince of Darkness,” he got the opportunity to go back to making low budget features where he had complete creative control. Carpenter speaks of how a book on quantum physics inspired him to write the script for this movie (under the name of Martin Quatermass) and of how he loves to view the apocalypse through movies even though he does not look forward to it in real life.
There’s also a brand new interview with famous rocker Alice Cooper who plays the leader of the street people who surround the abandoned church (he is billed as “street schizo”). The interview is called “Alice at the Apocalypse,” and Cooper talks about how he grew up on black and white horror movies such as “Creature from the Black Lagoon” which he said “scared him appropriately.” He even admits that he was glad his character had no dialogue, and I loved how he described how his songs get at how Satan’s greatest trick is getting you to believe that he doesn’t exist.
Then there’s “The Messenger,” an interview with actor and Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere. Grasmere portrays Frank Wyndham, the one guy who thinks that the research team’s job at the abandoned church is just a bunch of hooey. He starts off the interview talking about the practical effects that were used in “Prince of Darkness” and of how much of a nightmare that canister was to move around the set. Then he goes into how he got cast as an actor in it and of how he ended up speaking some of the movie’s most famous lines.
I want to take this time to tell you that “Prince of Darkness” has one of my favorite scores by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Howarth himself shows up for the interview “Hell on Earth” in which he discusses how the two of them worked on the music for this movie. Howarth has done interviews on other Shout Factory releases like “Halloween II” and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” but this feels like the most detailed interview he has given on working with Carpenter yet. It’s also fascinating to hear what it was like to make a film score before everything was recorded digitally.
Other special features on this collector’s edition include an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” which has host Sean Clark touring the locations where “Prince of Darkness” was shot. Some of it was filmed at Carpenter’s Alma mater USC, and the church used is located in downtown Los Angeles and is now known as The David Henry Hwang Theatre. The scenes of the church were shot in a deserted ballroom in Santa Barbara which has long since been demolished.
You will also find the movie’s theatrical trailer which seems to imply that it was supposed to end a little differently than it did. There are also radio spots which are amusing to listen to, a still gallery and the alternate opening from the movie’s TV version. Regarding the alternate opening, it makes the whole film like it was all a dream in Jameson Parker’s head and I never quite understood why Universal Pictures did that (it definitely wasn’t Carpenter’s idea).
In addition, there is an easter egg to be found on this Blu-ray. When you click on the Bonus menu, you will see that there is a cross on the right side. Click on that and you can watch a Q&A with Carpenter at Screamfest 2012 where “Prince of Darkness” was screened in honor of its 25th anniversary. The whole thing was shot on iPhone so you will need to pump up the volume a bit to hear much of what was said.
“Prince of Darkness” is by no means a perfect movie. Some of the acting is weak and the special effects do show their age, but I still find it to be a very compelling horror film that deals with scientific theories which give the story more of an edge. Those of you who are big John Carpenter would do yourselves a disservice by not checking out this release of this movie. Those who really like this film will agree that Shout Factory has given it the respect it deserves.
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