|Con una carrera que abarca más de tres décadas, John Carpenter tiene en su haber varias películas de terror que han tenido poderosa influencia en el género fantástico, desde el seminal asesino enmascarado de “Halloween” hasta el arquetípico anti-héroe de “Escape from New York”. Pero una de mis favoritas es la poco conocida “Prince of darkness”, que Carpenter dirigió en 1987.
Luego de varios años de sonados éxitos críticos y comerciales, Carpenter empezó a resentir el sistema de los grandes estudios hollywoodenses, repletos de limitaciones e influencias negativas. Por ello, a mediados de los ochentas, se alió a la pequeña productora Alive Films para regresar a sus raíces de cine independiente, con pocos recursos pero mayor libertad como cineasta.
El primer proyecto de esta alianza fue precisamente “Prince of darkness”, donde Carpenter (bajo el pseudónimo de “Martin Quatermass”, como homenaje al notable guionista Nigel Kneale) escribió uno de los guiones más imaginativos de su carrera.
La cinta comienza con la plácida muerte de un anciano sacerdote. Como parte de su legado hay una antigua llave, y el Padre Loomis (Donald Pleasence) decide investigar su procedencia.
La llave resulta ser de una decrépita y clausurada iglesia en un barrio pobre de Los Ángeles. Pero en ella el Padre Loomis descubre algo misterioso y fascinante que lleva siglos oculto en las catacumbas subterráneas del edificio.
Entonces, el Padre Loomis pide ayuda al renombrado Profesor Birack (Victor Wong), experto en física, que de inmediato accede a la petición de su amigo. ¿La misión? Estudiar el extraño cilindro lleno de líquido verdoso que yace en el sótano de la iglesia.
El Profesor y un grupo de aventajados estudiantes instalan avanzado equipo de cómputo, detección y análisis en la iglesia y se preparan para pasar un fin de semana estudiando el cilindro. Pero un antiguo libro y el testimonio de sus instrumentos les tienen una sorpresa… aparentemente el contenido del cilindro es ¡Satán mismo, que ha dormido durante siglos esperando su liberación para conquistar al Mundo! El Profesor Birack, sin embargo, tiene otras ideas, que más tarde son confirmadas por las traducciones del venerable libro: es posible que el “Satán” de la teología cristiana haya sido una entidad extraterrestre que fue contenida gracias a tecnología inimaginable. Más aún, las escrituras y religión que en torno a ello se crearon representan una mera pantalla instituida por la Iglesia, que espera el advenimiento de tecnología suficientemente avanzada para combatir la maligna entidad.
Pero parece que la entidad se adelantó pues, sin que el Profesor o los estudiantes se den cuenta, el cilindro empieza a gotear… hacia arriba. Y el líquido resultante empieza a “poseer” a algunos jóvenes, buscando la presencia corpórea que necesita para renacer… y ayudar a que otra entidad extra-dimensional (llamada “el Anti-Dios”) entre de nuevo a nuestra realidad.
Los estudiantes y el Profesor tienen diferencias de opinión sobre los eventos que presencian. Algunos piensan que es mera sugestión, y otros están convencidos de su veracidad, especialmente el Padre Loomis, que señala la coincidencia del sueño que todos parecen tener cuando duermen por breves momentos: ¡una especie de transmisión telepática que desde el futuro les advierte sobre los hechos que ellos mismos están desatando!
Pero no hay tiempo para discutir… el líquido verde ha tomado posesión de una joven estudiante y ha revivido algunos cadáveres, por no mencionar que controla a los indigentes del barrio, que impiden el escape del resto del equipo. Y cuando finalmente la entidad toma nueva forma corpórea y abre la puerta entre las dos dimensiones, hará falta un gran sacrificio para salvar al Mundo. O para simplemente posponer su caída.
Aunque Carpenter visitó terreno más ostensiblemente lovecraftiano en la película “In the mouth of madness” (1995), “Prince of darkness” evoca también los temas que popularizó H. P. Lovecraft, sobre poderosas entidades extraterrestres que han sido confundidas con dioses y apariciones de ultratumba, y que eran mejor combatidas con ciencia moderna que con rezos y rituales.
En repetidas ocasiones se menciona durante “Prince of darkness” la principal paradoja de la física cuántica: todos los conceptos de realidad que damos por sentados pierden sentido en el mundo sub-atómico, sugiriendo una naturaleza del Universo mucho más compleja (o simple) de lo que suponemos.
“Prince of darkness” es una de esas raras películas que logran provocar terror de forma pasiva y casi accidental. Aunque hay cierta sangre y violencia, el sobrio tono y la combinación de ciencia y teología es lo que realmente causa inquietud. Los “sueños” que son en realidad mensajes del futuro son igualmente fascinantes y perturbadores, sugiriendo épicos desastres sin necesidad de invertir mucho dinero en mostrarlos. En resumen, “Prince of darkness” es una perfecta muestra del ingenio y talento de John Carpenter, mejor expresados cuando la escasez de recursos estimula la imaginación.
Habiendo dicho eso, hay que admitir las múltiples fallas de la cinta. Algunas secuencias bordean en el ridículo, como la posesión por medio de un chorro de agua a presión que siempre atina a la boca de sus víctimas. O la extraña secuencia donde un estudiante tiene que escapar a dos “zombies” rompiendo desesperadamente una pared.
Pero por cada desacierto hay bastantes virtudes para compensar, desde la notable música (co-escrita e interpretada por Carpenter mismo y Alan Howarth) hasta la corta, pero impactante participación de Alice Cooper como uno de los indigentes bajo el control de la entidad.
Quizás su modesta manufactura impidió que “Prince of darkness” tuviera mayor difusión, pero creo que merece la atención de los aficionados al género fantástico. Repleta de interesantes ideas y provocativas teorías, la mera ambición intelectual de la película supera sus limitaciones económicas y sus ocasionales clichés de terror ochentero. Desafortunadamente John Carpenter ha tenido una mala racha desde principios de los noventas, pero al menos tiene un legado de excelentes películas que lo respaldan… por lo que todavía tengo esperanzas de que encuentre su segundo aire.
Lo soñé en un sueño del futuro.
Prince of darkness (film)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Directed by: John Carpenter
Produced by: Larry J. Franco
Written by: John Carpenter (as “Martin Quatermass”)
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong
Music by: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
Cinematography: Gary B. Kibbe
Distributed by: Universal (United States and Canada) & Carolco (all other territories)
Release date: 1987
Running time: 102 minutos
Country: United States
Budget: $3,000,000 (approximate)
Prince of darkness (also known as John Carpenter’s Prince of darkness) is a 1987 American horror film directed, written and scored by John Carpenter. The film is the second installment in what Carpenter refers to as his “Apocalypse trilogy”, which began with The thing and concludes with In the mouth of madness.
A priest (Donald Pleasence) invites Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and his students to investigate a mysterious cylinder in the basement of an abandoned Los Angeles church. The cylinder contains a constantly swirling, green liquid. Throughout the night, it begins to possess the students one by one and uses them against the remaining survivors. After researching the text found next to the cylinder, it is discovered that the liquid is actually Satan himself.
The text also reveals that Satan is the son of an even more powerful force of evil, an Anti-God, who is trapped in another dimension. Satan possesses one of the students and attempts to bring his father through a dimensional portal, using a mirror.
At the climax of the film, Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), one of the students, stops this from happening by tackling the possessed student, and both of them fall through the portal. Before she or the Anti-God can escape, the priest shatters the portal, trapping Satan, the Anti-God, and Danforth in the other realm. Danforth is seen on the other side of the mirror with her right arm extended reaching out to the edge of the mirror/portal as if trying to escape.
Following the climax, the students return home. An eerie and fragmented foreshadowing dream sequence occurs repeatedly during the film, apparently a transmission from the future year of 1999, each time showing a little more and also providing a final twist.
Marsh appears to awaken, and rolls over to find Satan, in the form of the possessed student, lying in bed with him. Marsh then awakens screaming, recovers, and approaches his bedroom mirror, hand outstretched. The film cuts to black just before his fingers touch the mirror.
The idea for the film came about as Carpenter had been researching theoretical physics and atomic theory. He recalled, simply, that “I thought it would be interesting to create some sort of ultimate evil and combine it with the notion of matter and anti-matter”. This idea, which would eventually develop into the screenplay for Prince of Darkness, was to be the first of a multi-picture deal with Alive Pictures, where Carpenter was allocated $3 million per picture and complete creative control.
Executive producer Shep Gordon was also manager to singer Alice Cooper and suggested Cooper record a song for the picture. Carpenter also cast Cooper in the picture as one of the homeless zombies. Cooper also allowed the use of his ‘impaling device’ from his stage show to be used in the film in a scene where Cooper’s character kills Etchinson. The song Cooper wrote for the film, also titled “Prince of Darkness”, can be heard briefly in the same scene playing through Etchinson’s headphones, although the song itself would not be released until a year later.
This film was shot in 48 days. Carpenter brought back to the film people that he had worked with previously, including Victor Wong and Donald Pleasance. Peter Jason, soon to become a Carpenter regular, was also in the film.
Critically, the film was poorly received at the time of its initial release, accused of having an over-complicated plot and uneven pacing. It is generally thought to have done poorly at the box office, but as the movie’s budget was under $3 million and the eventual gross was $14 million, it managed a profit for the studio. Over the years, the film’s critical reputation has improved considerably and it has obtained a cult following.
The film is very popular in Japan and Spain. In Japan, the film was re-named John Carpenter’s Paradigm and Spain released the film under the title El Principe de las tinieblas. Both countries created their own artwork for the film. The Spanish DVD has an extra not on the UK disc, a two minute feature with John Carpenter talking about the film.
Carpenter’s inventive skills in editing and mood-setting music are in evidence throughout the film. The film was shot through a slightly anamorphic lens, giving a subtle distortion to every scene.
Although Carpenter wrote the screenplay, in the film’s credits the writer is listed as Martin Quatermass, a homage repeated in the film with Kneale University. These were in reference to the British film and television writer Nigel Kneale and the famous fictional scientist he created, Professor Bernard Quatermass. The storyline features elements associated with Kneale (the ancient evil aspect of both Quatermass and the Pit and The Quatermass Conclusion, the idea of messages from the future from The Road, and the scientific investigation of the supernatural from The Stone Tape). Carpenter would return to the idea of clerical secrecy in Vampires.
Kneale, however, was irritated with this use of the character’s name in the film’s credits, as he feared that the impression may be given that he had something to do with the film. Previously, he had written the original screenplay for the 1982 film Halloween III: Season of the Witch for Carpenter, but had been so incensed with all of the changes director Tommy Lee Wallace had made to it that he had his name removed from the credits.
John Carpenter: Prince Of darkness:
Come the death of a priest, responsibility for his church and its contents falls to Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence). In amongst the religious memorabilia normally associated with a church, albeit one that, in parts, is in a state of disrepair, Loomis finds a book written in a jumble of ancient languages and a mysterious cylinder, within which a green liquid is constantly swirling around. Troubled by both Loomis invites Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and a group of his students in to analyse them. Philosophers, physicists, engineers and linguists move into dormitories in the church and begin work. Each one, though, is troubled by what they find as well as the crowd that seems to be gathering outside.
It doesn’t take long for these students to discover something of the two objects. The book explains that the cylinder contains a great evil, Satan himself. It also reveals that Satan is not the embodiment of absolute evil. Instead, Satan is the means in our world to bring forth an even more powerful evil from another. Possessing each of the students, Satan intends opening a gateway to allow this spirit to pass through. Meanwhile, those students not possessed dream of seeing a figure stepping out of the church, something that they believe can be stopped. But facing danger both inside and outside the church, the students have very little time.
Most of the good ideas in Prince Of Darkness are contained in those paragraphs above. The cylinder is a perfectly good idea on its own but Carpenter dresses a good setting for it, that of the basement in an abandoned church. The book of secrets is another, its translation and meaning giving this the notion of a piece of detective fiction in which the students must crack both the code and a great evil. Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong urge their charges to take great care in the work, muttering about prophecies, omens and of the apocalypse. But what is most effective about Prince Of Darkness is, for this viewer, the videotaped sequence of a figure emerging from the shadows in the doorway of the church. It is revealed that this is a televised sequence from the future, carried back in time on a tachyon stream showing this great evil after emerging into this world. It can, however, be avoided but only if the students can prevent Satan from opening a portal between worlds.
These are the good things about Prince Of Darkness but there’s a lot of really terrible ideas in it as well. Carpenter certainly lost his way with a cast in this film. Where he had previously written films with strong female characters in mind, no one outside of Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount) does anything of interest. Everyone else, both men and women, stand aimlessly around in the basement while Satan leaks out of his cylinder to take possession of them. That he drips upwards seems to imply something wicked is at work but rather than do anything explicitly supernatural, Satan simply directs a stream of green goo at them not unlike the gunge of children’s television. That this is all that Satan manages doesn’t instil much confidence in which his father, this figure of supreme evil, might do, particularly when all we see of its future efforts is not a scorched earth but his standing with arms outstretched in the doorway of the church.
The biggest problem with Prince Of Darkness is that it’s just very dull. Pleasence is good, as is Victor Wong and Lisa Blount’s character isn’t unappealing but the rest of the studios are forgettable. The bums that loiter outside of the church, led by Alice Cooper carrying what I’m sure are pretty threatening bicycle handlebars, are even worse, their shambling being a far cry from the savage gang members that circle the police station in Assault On Precinct 13. The lowest point, though, must come in seeing what Carpenter, who once led the field in horror, is reduced to doing to get scares. No longer are there vicious murders, ghouls in the fog or alien creatures but only the cliches of horror that Carpenter has sprinkled over his film, including bugs, snakes and so on.
Carpenter implies that Nigel Kneale has influenced this work, not only in his Martin Quatermass writing credit but in the similarity it bears to Kneale’s The Stone Tape. It is, frankly, not a patch on Kneale’s 1972 ghost story for Christmas, being neither as clever, as atmospheric nor as frightening. It also shows real cheek by Carpenter after the experience Kneale had on Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, which led to the writer taking his name off the credits. One suspects that Kneale would have managed the story of science in the face of evil much better than does Carpenter. All that said, though, it’s not a complete failure. It’s certainly a minor work amongst all Carpenter’s films but there are still moments to enjoy. The pity, though, is that this was one patchy film amongst many more than Carpenter would deliver over the next two decades, all the while showing flashes of the brilliance that made him a name in horror but never again capturing the highs of his early films.
Like the other releases in this set, Prince Of Darkness looks fine but isn’t going to set the DVD world alight. It comes after John Carpenter’s string of really good-looking films – Halloween, The Thing, The Fog and so on – and settles into a run of (for the most part) cheap sets, a bland university campus and some barely-dressed accommodation. The only redeeming factor in how the film looks is in its design of the church in which the evil resides. And, of course, Satan itself doesn’t look at all bad, with Carpenter framing the swirling green canister nicely against the background of a church altar.
The quality of the picture on this DVD is reasonable. Granted, there aren’t many moments that will actually test it but the picture is fairly sharp, the colours are good when the film is in the frame of mind to show them off and while there’s some artefacts in the darker scenes later in the film, it’s nothing that ought to trouble the viewer. Unlike some of the other films, the source print is in good shape with there being only a few faults to the picture. Otherwise, there is a choice of soundtracks, DD5.1 and DD2.0 mixes. There’s not much between them. The DD2.0 is quieter but sounds warmer and less harsh. The DD5.1, on the other hand, is obviously louder but the boosting of the track sounds too forced as though the increase in bass and treble has reduced the middle range of the audio. Finally, there are no subtitles on this release.