Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter / U.S., 1987):

It begins gnomically: A wide shot of a university edifice tilts down to a flaming anthill, a cloudy sky segues into a church fountain, behind which a trio of priests unlocks a small chest and produces a key. Like in Big Trouble in Little China, Victor Wong presents the method -- "Say goodbye to classical reality," he utters, and the whole arcane welter starts taking on an air of Dreyer. John Carpenter's theme is the expansion of worldviews, Frost's Armageddon in "Fire and Ice" figures somewhere in his basis, with science and religion working together over the weekend and the Devil knocking at the door. A priest named Loomis (Donald Pleasance) discovers a portal leading to catacombs, physics professor Wong is summoned with a batch of students (Jameson Parker, Lisa Blount, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard); evil is a green substance swirling within a long cylinder connected to computers and candles, leaking upwards into a ceiling pool a la Cocteau. Carpenter fashions a poetic effect by sketching a scene in the deepest chiaroscuro, then turning his camera 45 to discover successive occult crests -- Alice Cooper decked in kabuki-zombie makeup, the ghoul envoy who crumbles into a pile of creepy-crawlies once his message is delivered, the possessed bloke who sings "Amazing Grace" before spearing his jugular. White Zombie, Quatermass and the Pit, The Exorcist, and The Shining are a some the works called into play, reworked to reflect the ways the ancient book Pleasance and Wong find has been rewritten ("you can still see the old writing"). A film of ineffable existentialism: A TV set broadcasts Dante according to Tom and Jerry and the genesis of a supernova, and, when quantum theoretics can accommodate apocalyptic mysticism, the priest compounds his faith with an ax. No less disturbing and prophetic is Carpenter's vision of collective spiritual unrest, where everyone has the same dream and the dream has been distorted by video. With Anne Marie Howard, Ann Yen, Ken Wright, Dirk Blocker, and Peter Jason.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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