Devil in a Can (Prince of Darkness, 1987)
John was pretty prolific in the 80’s and most of them are quite memorable. Prince of Darkness is a religious themed horror film that is played straight. Carpenter brings back Victor Wong and Dennis Dun from Big Trouble in Little China. He also brings Donald Pleasence back.
Prince of Darkness begins with a dying priest passing a secret on to Pleasence’s character (simply called “Priest”). The secret could rock the church. With the help of a local Professor and his students, a study is taking place in an abandoned church. In the Church basement is a giant glass container with a swirling green liquid. It is revealed that this is the container of the son of Satan…it is prophesied that he will release his father.
As the film progresses, there are stranger and stranger events. The local homeless community, led by Alice Cooper (who also provides the theme song), are amassing around the church. People start to disappear, and then show up possessed and passing on the virus. The name of the game is both survival and stopping the father of evil from being unleashed on the world.
The film is set around an intriguing story. It is not a serious exploration of religion. The theology is pretty wonky. But the film is not trying to establish a truth kept hidden by the church. Carpenter is not pulling a Dan Brown. He is just working to tell a scary story.
Is Prince of Darkness John’s scariest film? No. For one thing…(Son of) Satan in a Can is a pretty goofy concept. But the film does have a nice, creepy atmosphere at play. One of the strong suits of pretty much any Carpenter film is casting. He had people he seems to have liked working with and would bring them back. His films are full of great character actors.
The visual effects are very good. They do a lot of simple, yet effective, practical visuals here. The score (by Carpenter) is eerie. In spite of a goofy concept, the film works pretty well, and is part of Carpenter’s more memorable films.