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Film / Prince of Darkness

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"I have a message for you, and you're not going to like it. Pray for death."

"You will not be saved by the Holy Ghost. You will not be saved by the god Plutonium. In fact, YOU WILL NOT BE SAVED."

Prince of Darkness (1987) is John Carpenter's second film in his "Apocalypse Trilogy", after The Thing (1982) and before In the Mouth of Madness (1994). It is a slow-paced, atmospheric, creepy and mindscrew-y little film that doesn't get mentioned very often but is nonetheless an important piece in Carpenter's filmography.

A Catholic priest dies and a strange canister with a green, swirling liquid in it is discovered in the basement of an abandoned church. Another priest (Donald Pleasence) asks an old acquaintance, quantum physicist Professor Birack (Victor Wong), to investigate the mystery of the canister. The priest claims that the liquid in the canister is in fact the corporeal form of an ancient evil, which is starting to reawaken and influence the world around itself. He wants Birack to prove this scientifically, so that they can warn the world. To this end, Birack brings several of his students and fellow scientists of various fields to the church to study the canister, and they discover that it is 7 million years old and can be opened only from the inside.


However, when the green liquid starts to come out of the canister and to possess the various scientists, and crazed homeless people surround the church and kill everyone who tries to leave, not only do Birack and company have to run for their lives, but also to try to avoid the oncoming apocalypse.

Not to be confused with the other prince of darkness. Or the other one. Or the other one. Or that one Dracula film.


This film provides examples of:

  • Amazing Freaking Grace: Sung by the possessed Calder.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Whether the heroes truly succeeded in sealing the evil in another realm is left unclear. Was the final dream really just a dream this time? Or did they merely change the future to something just as vaguely apocalyptic? Even the final shot is ambiguous - is anything going to happen when he touches the mirror?
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Brotherhood of Sleep, an order of Catholic priests who kept the secret of the canister for centuries.
  • Agent Scully: Walter and Wyndham.
  • Antagonist Title: The "Prince of Darkness" aka Satan is a malevolent disembodied presence who starts a zombie plague against the human protagonists. However, it turns out that he is merely the foot soldier of an entity far more terrifying and a threat to reality itself—the Anti-God.
  • Antichrist: It is also Satan, it seems, and wants to summon his father, the Anti-God. It appears in liquid form and may also exist at a sub-atomic level. It's all a big Mind Screw.
  • The Anti-God: The "Anti-God", a God of Evil/Eldritch Abomination based on the idea of matter/antimatter. It's also the father of Satan (who is apparently also The Antichrist).
  • Asian and Nerdy: Somewhat justified with Professor Birack (and downplayed with Walter and Lisa), considering that all of the major characters are academics.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Right before the ending, luckily it was All Just a Dream (...probably). This sequence is the subject of much Memetic Mutation.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Our heroes are successful in preventing the Anti-God from escaping its prison, thus stopping the inevitable apocalypse had he escape, but in the process many innocent lives were lost in order for it to be sealed back up. Plus it’s implied that the Anti-God may escape again in 1999. To add more insult to injury, Cathrine is trapped inside the Anti-God’s prison and is the new vessel for it.
  • Blob Monster: More of a liquid type than most, but is very amorphous and sapient just the same.
  • Body Horror: The Chosen One, Kelly, appears more and more rotten and decayed as time goes by.
  • Bugs Herald Evil: One of the first signs that things are starting to go to hell is vermin showing up in the windows, crawling all around the area and even taking up the shape of the recently deceased Wyndham to deliver a warning. It's revealed to be Satan exerting some psychic influence outside of his prison as he starts breaking out.
  • Came Back Wrong: After being killed, Wyndham is revived under the control of Satan, being brought back as a Mouth of Sauron controlled by a swarm of black bugs.
  • The Chosen One: A very dark example. Kelly is chosen by Satan to become his primary vessel after being freed, allowing him to free the Anti-God.
  • Conveniently Precise Translation: Lisa deciphering the ancient message in the book.
  • Corrupt Church: The Brotherhood of Sleep.
  • The Corruption: Satan acts something like this.
    Birack: Suppose what your faith has said is essentially correct. Suppose there is a universal mind controlling everything, a god willing the behavior of every subatomic particle. Well, every particle has an anti-particle, its mirror image, its negative side. Maybe this universal mind resides in the mirror image instead of in our universe as we wanted to believe. Maybe he's anti-god, bringing darkness instead of light.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: More so than Religious Horror, despite the overtones.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Jesus was an alien trying to explain all of this to everyone. The Church basically turned His instructions into a moral code.
  • Daylight Horror: Many scenes take place in the span of a single day.
  • Demonic Possession: Sort of. More specifically, Satan infects people with smaller particles of himself, and without him, the smaller pieces can't live.
  • Doomed Contrarian: Zig-zagged. Walter and Wyndham are the only members of the group to vocally, and repeatedly express disbelief for the story once Lisa translates it, while Lomax seems undecided but interested in finding out more. Walter survives, Wyndham dies, and Lomax's fate is a bit ambiguous.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "The Prince Of Darkness" is one of Satan's most well-known nicknames. This movie offers a literal explanation as to why: Satan is only the earthbound son of something much more serious, the "Anti-God".
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: How The Brotherhood of Sleep got its name, thanks to tachyons.
  • Dwindling Party: The number of participant-students lessens as the movie goes along.
  • Dying as Yourself: Horrifically and tragically averted. Calder cuts his own throat after being infected with the liquid to prevent coming under full possession. It doesn't work and his corpse reanimates with him still left Fighting From the Inside.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Anti-God, who is the father of Satan and the god of anti-matter who resides in a mirror universe. "Satan" in this film is pretty Eldritchy himself and mostly takes the form of green liquid.
  • Famous Last Words: “You guys, this is crazy! This is caca! ...Caca.” Frank Wyndham
  • Fantastic Catholicism: The Church kept the Devil prisoner in the basement of an out-of-the-way church, alongside proof that Jesus was an alien, and that the Church was meant to be a militant society on guard in case the Devil (also an alien) ever escaped his prison. Unfortunately, the Church became corrupt and started seeking power for its own sake.
  • Fate Worse than Death: "I have a message for you, and you're not going to like it: pray for death."
  • Fighting from the Inside: Calder, after being possessed, desperately struggles against Satan’s control. However, he can’t do anything, and is mainly reduced to alternating between pained sobs and deranged laughter.
  • Fling A Light Into The Past / Ominous Message from the Future: Scientists from the year 1999 use a tachyon signal to warn everyone who sleeps in the church of the disaster awaiting them.
  • Gainax Ending: Was it a dream? A new recording from the future? What happened to Catherine anyway?
  • Gentle Giant: Calder is the largest and most muscular of the students, and is a friendly, earnest guy before being possessed.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Satan, the quintessential Big Bad turns out to be just The Dragon for the Anti-God
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Presented but quickly averted; after being infected by liquid Satan, Susan bodily confronts Lisa on a cot. Lisa is squicked out at her apparent impending homosexual rape, at which point Susan vomits on her, allowing her mind to be controlled.
  • Happily Married: Susan the radiologist (glasses), apparently.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When the Chosen One, possessed by the Antichrist, is about to summon the Anti-God from the other side of a mirror, Catherine pushes the Chosen One inside the mirror, falling into it herself, and the priest is finally able to shatter the mirror with an axe and to trap the evil in the other dimension forever: along with Catherine.
  • Hope Spot: It initially seems as though Etchinson, a minor student, might avoid the supernatural happenings, as it's quickly established that he's only there to help set up the equipment and then will be leaving. Instead, upon leaving, he becomes the first victim, being ambushed by the possessed hobos.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Hobo-Alice Cooper impales Etchinson with a broken bicycle.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Etchinson, with a bicycle, no less!
  • Just Think of the Potential: After the translated text has some of the others disbelieving or freaked out, Calder (and to a lesser extent Lomax) want to stay, feeling that they're "on the brink of the ultimate truth."
  • Laughing Mad: Calder's unnerving laughing after being possessed veers between maniacal giggles and piteous sobbing.
  • Leaking Can of Evil: Satan is trapped inside a glass cylinder inside a church. It sprays a liquid at one of the people researching it and takes control of them, then has that person spit the liquid at other people to possess them as well. It also uses Mind Control on street people who live near the church to surround it and trap the researchers inside.
  • Madness Mantra: Lisa writes one of these on a computer after being possessed.
    • I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live! I live!
  • Mirror Universe: The Devil wants to summon his father the Anti-God from the other side of a mirror. We only get to see a big ugly hand, though.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Anti-God.
  • Nice Guy: Calder, making his fate all the more horrific and tragic.
  • No Name Given: Officially, the priest. The fans of the film give him the moniker "Father Loomis."
  • No Such Thing as Space Jesus: Inverted: The book of prophecies pretty much says that Jesus was an alien who fought the Devil, also an alien.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We are never shown more of the Anti-God than its demonic hand and the glimpse of the world it inhabits looks like an underwater black void. The finale is unexplained, possibly a dream sequence, and cuts in a cliffhanger just before Brian touches the mirror.
  • Nuke 'em: The message "You will not be saved by the god Plutonium" makes it clear that the Anti God cannot be stopped with nuclear weapons.
  • Orifice Invasion: The green liquid possesses people by jumping into their mouths.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: A combination of Technically Living Zombies, a corpse filled with a swarm of beetles and bugs that delivers a message before disintegrating, and a demon possessed rotted body that can reassemble itself and regrow limbs.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Walter and Professor Leahy serve as the primary source of humor in an otherwise grim movie.
  • Porn Stache: Brian has an epic example.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Supernova 1987-A was incorporated into the film, though it has nothing to do with the story save as an ominous portent and its tenuous connection to quantum physics.
    • It’s implied the supernova was caused by Satan, as one of the signs of his awakening.
  • Recurring Dreams: Everyone involved with the Brotherhood of Sleep and/or the canister experiences the same eerie dream about a mysterious cloaked figure standing in front of the church... except it is not a dream, but a broadcast from the future that uses brain waves as a signal to be transmitted and may or may not be a warning from Alien Jesus about the risks of letting the evil escape.
  • Religion Is Right / Religion Is Wrong: Zigzagging Trope between the two. The priest is understandably distraught about the true nature of Christ and Satan; Professor Birack points out that what he believed all along is essentially correct.
  • Religious Horror: Again, sort of.
  • Running Gag: No one seems to know who Susan is without being prompted "Radiologist, Glasses".
  • Sexy Spectacles: Susan has a pair, which she tosses off after getting possessed.
  • Scary Black Man: Calder after being possessed. He has a very unnerving evil giggle.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Wyndham (although not so much out of fear as out of disbelief in the situation) attempts this, after Calder and Lomax fail to persuade him otherwise. He doesn't get far before the possessed homeless people appear.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: One of the most literal examples.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Brian is a transfer from Kneale College. Carpenter even uses Martin Quatermass as a screenwriting alias, and in the original press release actually described "Martin" as the younger brother of Bernard Quatermass.
    • Wyndham is named after John Wyndham of Triffids fame, and Susan Cabot after the titular star of The Wasp Woman.
    • Catherine Danforth is probably named after Danforth from At the Mountains of Madness, as Carpenter often references the Cthulhu Mythos in character and placenames.
    • The famous "You will not be saved" quote is likely an allusion to Stephen Vincent Benet's "Nightmare, with Angels," itself a poem about how technological and philosophical progress will not save humanity from its worst instincts.
  • Super Spit: Zombies can spray the green liquid into the mouths of other humans and turn them into zombies.
  • Technically Living Zombie: A horde of violent mindless homeless people with Alice Cooper as their frontman and the students and researchers infected and controlled by the evil from the tank.
  • Temporal Paradox: The tachyon emission states near the end that it is proof against causality, meaning it'll remain the same even if the future is altered. Granted, the full message is only heard in Brian's dream at the end, so it could just be a subconscious, not real, message.
  • Tuneless Song of Madness: Exposed to the liquid, Calder is reduced to singing "Amazing Grace" at the top of his voice, before tearing his throat out.
  • Unexpectedly Real Magic: Brian, an amateur magician who is constantly practicing a "make the card disappear behind the magician's hand" sleight of hand trick, suddenly, and quite accidentally makes the card disappear for real.
  • Tricked Out Time: What the broadcast is intending ("You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation.")
  • Villain Song / "The Villain Sucks" Song: Alice Cooper (who plays the Street Schizo) composed a song for the film called Prince of Darkness (which can be heard faintly in Etchinson's headphones right before he's killed by Cooper's Street Schizo character). It tells of the titular Prince Of Darkness (the central antagonist of the movie) and his monstrous evil, retelling his story from Biblical times.
    Prince of Darkness!
    Studies the world with hungry eyes
    Prince of Darkness!
    Ready to baptize you in lies
    Heart of evil
    Soul of blackness
    Prince of Darkness!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's unclear if Lomax, Susan, Lisa and Leahy survive their wounds when the possession is being lifted, or whether the possession itself was fatal.
  • What Have I Become?: Calder takes a moment while stalking Fr. Loomis to look at himself in the mirror, and his unnerving giggles start to resemble sobs.
  • Widescreen Shot: It's John Carpenter. The movie is full of them.
  • The World Is Not Ready: The Church's justification for hiding the truth about their origins.
    Fr. Loomis: Why weren't we told the truth?
    Birack: Without the technology to confirm it, it would've been another legend.
    Loomis: But he was our prisoner, not yours!
  • The Worm That Walks: Wyndham is killed by the hobos; later he returns to give his former colleagues a creepy message, and then it's revealed that his dead body is kept together by swarms of black bugs, that then scuttle away, letting the corpse to fall apart. Or they were waiting to the last minute to finish eating him after he delivered his message.


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