John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS arrives on 4K UltraHD

Good vs. Evil. Science vs. Faith. In Carpenter’s horror classic


A group of graduate students and scientists uncover an ancient canister in an abandoned church, but when they open it, they inadvertently unleash a strange liquid and an evil force on all of humanity. As the liquid turns their co-workers into zombies, the remaining members realize they have released the most unspeakable horror of them all. Terror mounts as the team must fight to save the world from a devilish fury that has been contained for over seven million years.

Often regarded as the second in an unofficial “Apocalypse Trilogy”, bridging The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness holds an even more interesting place in Carpenter’s output, marking a return to auteur status, after a foray into the studio machine that was met with some stumbles at the box office (including the now revered Big Trouble in Little China). With this freedom came a swing for the fences in terms of ideas, with a blend of B-movie horror and theological rumination. A priest (Donald Pleasence) uncovers a relic in the basement of a church in Los Angeles: a large vessel filled with a ominous, swirling green liquid. Suspecting it’s dark portent, he reaches out to theoretical physicist Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong), and 13 of his colleagues from academia, to study the object. Translations warn of devilish ties, other scientific studies are confounded by the material, and as they try to understand the dark object, it slowly releases its contents, leeching its way into these people and the world.

Science vs. faith isn’t a new topic for cinema, especially horror. But Carpenter puts his own spin on proceedings. Drawing parallels between the two by riffing off Newton’s third law of motion with the film heralding the existence of a parallel or anti/opposite dimension, and the impending arrival of an “Anti-God”. A single location, nightmarish visions of a possible future, and a gradual possession and perversion of those in proximity to the vessel, Carpenter wraps the viewer in a ever tightening sense of dread as we witness these scientists failing to understand or control something so primordial, foreign, and evil. Wrestling with reason and faith on a slow march to doom.

It’s triggering in both an existential sense, and an experiential one. Carpenter uses the camera to great effect. Moving through these claustrophobic areas showcasing the siege like conditions his players are under, a circumstance he has always shown a predilection for. The visuals and practical effects are as gnarly and memorable as you’d expect, mood also aided thanks to the cinematography of Gary Kibbe’s and Carpenter’s own foreboding score.

Overall the film is played pretty straight, the ensemble playing to the tone intended, with standout work from Pleasence and Wong as they work their roles with relish. Some of the story is a little muddled, with later parts of the film struggling to manifest some of Carpenter’s ideas, leaning hard on expositiony scenes. But still, there is a boldness, and consideration to the tale, a weight to the struggle here. Above all there’s a dark tone that permeates this tale, one that drips with dread in a way that only Carpenter can conjure.

The Package

This is the first time the film has been released in 4K Ultra High Definition in North America. The standout feature is how vibrant some of the colors are. Red and greens, particularly synonymous with the film, come across very strong. Blacks too are deep with a impressive range. Detail is a clear step-up from previous Blu-ray releases, and while some of the grain does come across as a little artificial in darker scenes, it’s a minor issue

As seems to be the trend for 4K releases, most of the extras are on the Blu-ray disc, which in this instance seems to reflect all the features on the 2013 Scream Factory release:

4K Bonus Features

  • Audio Commentary: with director John Carpenter and actor Peter Jason. There’s a nice relaxed rapport between the two. Standout moments generally circle around Carpenter trying (and often failing) to explain the story, and discussions about some of the practical effects used
  • Theatrical trailer:

Blu-ray Bonus Features

  • Audio Commentary: as above
  • Sympathy for The Devil –Interview with Writer/Director John Carpenter: A really great conversation with the filmmaker Carpenter talks about how religion and faith has informed his oeuvre, and perhaps surprisingly how the Hammer Films seemed to utilized religious iconography or concepts quite a bit.
  • Alice at the Apocalypse –interview with Alice Cooper: A 10 minute chat with the singer about his key role in the film
  • The Messenger — Interview with Actor & Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere: He talks about his dual role on set, and how they pulled off some of the effects in the film
  • Hell On Earth — A look at the film’s score with Co-Composer Alan Howarth: Carpenter’s scores are the stuff of legend, so any featurette that spends time on this aspect of his works is always a treat, even if insights come from Howarth rather than the man himself
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with host Sean Clark: A breezy but enjoyable tour of the locations used in the film
  • Alternate Opening from TV Version:
  • Radio Spots:
  • Still Gallery:
  • Original Theatrical Trailer:

The Bottom Line

While not as revered as some Carpenter releases, Prince of Darkness is a bold and darn effective work of horror. A smart and alluring concept, delivered with skin-crawling moments and a consuming sense of dread. Scream Factory continue their sterling work as the go to for John Carpenter home video releases with this UltraHD release of Prince of Darkness. A vibrant 4K image and a nice array of extra features make this a fine release.

Prince of Darkness 4K Collector’s Edition is available via Scream Factory from January 5th

Further reading:

Previous post Inaugurate This! Five Streaming Films Highlighting American Leaders
Next post Criterion Review: THREE FILMS BY LUIS BUÑUEL