Blu-ray Review: ‘Prince of Darkness’

Prince of Darkness blu-ray poster

It continually amazes me how the movies of John Carpenter have endured years after their release. Many of them were critical and commercial disappointments when they first came out, and it seemed for the longest time that Carpenter would forever be trapped in the shadow of his most successful movie, “Halloween.” “Prince of Darkness” was one of those movies, but it has long since gained a cult following to where the original DVD release became a very valuable collector’s item once it went out of print. Now, Shout Factory has released a special collector’s edition of it on Blu-ray, and it shows us why this movie has lingered in our minds long after we first saw it.

“Prince of Darkness” is about a research team of academics, students and a priest who discover an ancient canister in the basement of an abandoned church. This canister contains a liquid which ends up turning people into zombies, and the team eventually realize they have unknowingly unleashed the evilest thing imaginable as it could destroy anything and everything. It is not your typical horror movie as it deals with theoretical physics and atomic theory, but once you get into the story and look closely at the theories being explored, everything becomes quite terrifying.

I won’t bother going into how great the audio and visual elements of this Blu-ray are because it goes without saying “Prince of Darkness” has never looked as good as it does here. Let’s just skip ahead to the special features on the disc as the ones included here will provide fans with a wealth of information.

First off, the Blu-ray case states there is a commentary track with John Carpenter, but what it neglects to mention is that he is joined on this track by actor Peter Jason. Jason plays Dr. Leahy in “Prince of Darkness,” and he has appeared in many of Carpenter’s movies from this one to “Ghosts of Mars.” Carpenter’s commentary tracks are always great fun to listen to, but they are even more entertaining when he’s pared with someone else, and the conversations he has with Jason are tremendous fun as they discuss what it was like making a horror film with a budget of only $3 million dollars. Actually, this track was originally included in the Region 2 DVD release of “Prince of Darkness,” so it’s nice for those us who lack multi-region players to finally get the opportunity to listen to it.

Another special feature to is a brand-new interview with Carpenter called “Sympathy for the Devil.” In it, Carpenter explains how he had been making big budget studio movies before “Prince of Darkness” and had gotten tired of making them. With “Prince of Darkness,” he got the opportunity to go back to making low budget features where he had complete creative control. Carpenter speaks of how a book on quantum physics inspired him to write the script for this movie, under the name of Martin Quatermass, and of how he loves to view the apocalypse through movies even though he does not look forward to it in real life.

There’s also a brand-new interview with musician Alice Cooper who plays the leader of the street people who surround the abandoned church (he is billed as “street schizo”). The interview is called “Alice at the Apocalypse,” and Cooper talks about how he grew up on black and white horror movies like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” which he said “scared him appropriately.” He even admits he was glad his character had no dialogue, and I loved how he described how his songs get at how Satan’s greatest trick is in getting you to believe he doesn’t exist.

Then there’s “The Messenger,” an interview with actor and Special Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Grasmere. Grasmere portrays Frank Wyndham, the one guy who thinks that the research team’s job at the abandoned church is just a bunch of hooey. He starts off the interview talking about the practical effects used in “Prince of Darkness” and of how much of a nightmare the canister was to move around the set. Then he goes into how he got cast as an actor in it, and of how he ended up speaking some of the movie’s most famous lines of dialogue.

I want to take this time to tell you “Prince of Darkness” features of my favorite scores by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Howarth himself shows up for the interview “Hell on Earth” in which he discusses how they worked on the music for this movie. Howarth has done interviews on other Shout Factory releases like “Halloween II” and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” but this feels like the most detailed interview he has given on working with Carpenter yet. It’s also fascinating to hear what it was like to make a film score before everything was recorded digitally.

Other special features on this collector’s edition include an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” in which host Sean Clark toured the locations where “Prince of Darkness” was shot. Some of it was filmed at Carpenter’s Alma mater USC, and the church used is located in downtown Los Angeles and is now known as The David Henry Hwang Theatre. The scenes of the church were shot in a deserted ballroom in Santa Barbara which has long since been demolished.

You will also find the movie’s theatrical trailer which seems to imply things were supposed to end a little differently than it did. There are also radio spots which are amusing to listen to, a still gallery, and the alternate opening from the movie’s television version. Regarding the alternate opening, it makes the whole film look like it was all a dream in Jameson Parker’s head, and I never quite understood why Universal Pictures did this (it was definitely not Carpenter’s idea).

In addition, there is an easter egg to be found on this Blu-ray. When you click on the Bonus menu, you will see a cross on the right side. Click on it, and you can watch a Q&A with Carpenter at Screamfest 2012 where “Prince of Darkness” was screened in honor of its 25th anniversary. The whole thing was shot on iPhone so you will need to pump up the volume a bit to hear what is being said.

“Prince of Darkness” is by no means a perfect movie. Some of the acting is weak and the special effects do show their age, but it is still a very compelling horror film which deals with scientific theories that give the story more of an edge. Those of you who are big John Carpenter fans would do yourselves a disservice by not checking out this release. Those who really like this film will agree Shout Factory has given it the respect it deserves.

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Tom McLoughlin Revisits ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ at New Beverly Cinema

Tom Mcloughlin Jason Voorhees tombstone

On Friday June 5, 2009, Phil Blankenship presented a triple feature for horror fans at New Beverly Cinema with “Friday the 13th Parts IV, V, & VI.” The fourth film was called “The Final Chapter,” and seeing its title on the screen induced uncontrollable laughter in every member of the audience for obvious reasons. The fifth film, “A New Beginning” remains the most despised of the sequels as it tried to continue to the series without Jason, and it proved to be an embarrassing failure. “Jason Lives,” on the other hand, is one of the best in the series thanks in large part to the great sense of humor the filmmakers brought to it. All the sequels which came after this one turned out to be completely stupid and unintentionally hilarious with a few exceptions. In retrospect, these three movies marked the franchise’s peak as well as the start of its downward spiral.

As time went on, these three “Friday the 13th” sequels became known as the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. We first meet Tommy Jarvis in “The Final Chapter” where he is played by a very young Corey Feldman and spends his time playing on his computer or indulging in his hobby of making masks. Tommy ends up killing Jason with his machete, and then he can’t get himself to stop bashing him with it. In “A New Beginning,” we see an older Tommy, now played by John Shepherd, still dealing with the intense psychological damage his encounter with Jason thrust upon him. And then in “Jason Lives,” Tommy (this time played by Thom Matthews) is convinced Jason is not dead despite having been buried for years. But of course, he ends up accidentally resurrecting Jason and has to take him down yet again.

Blankenship gave the crowd a special treat by bringing out the writer/director of “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” Tom McLoughlin, to talk with the audience about its making. McLoughlin started off by saying how glad he was to be at New Beverly Cinema as he got all of his film education here, that shooting this sequel remains the most fun he has had as a filmmaker, and he confessed he has not seen a print of it since 1986.

Friday the 13th Part VI Jason Lives poster

When first hired to direct “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin admitted the only “Friday the 13th” movie he had seen previously was the first one. As a result, the executives at Paramount Pictures forced him to watch the other four. With “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin was intent on ignoring the events of “A New Beginning” because he said it really pissed him off. The audience at the New Beverly was in complete agreement with this, and they applauded him loudly.

McLoughlin also said he had originally planned to introduce Jason’s father, Elias Voorhees, into this sequel in order to give the iconic slasher more of a back story. We all know about his crazy mother, but not much has ever been said about Jason’s poppa. But Paramount Pictures was not crazy about this plot element because they weren’t sure which direction it would take the franchise in, so they put the kibosh on it. However, the DVD reissue of “Jason Lives” does have the film’s original ending with Jason’s father in the form of storyboards, and it is a must see for fans.

One fan asked McLoughlin how he got Alice Cooper to contribute songs to “Jason Lives.” It turns out Cooper is a big fan of the “Friday the 13th” series and was more than happy to participate, even allowing McLoughlin to use any of his songs in the movie. Cooper gave “Jason Lives” its end title song of “The Man behind the Mask,” but McLoughlin said the original version was much faster.

Blankenship asked McLoughlin the inevitable question about how he dealt with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and of what it took to get “Jason Lives” an R rating. Surprisingly, the MPAA didn’t want McLoughlin to cut scenes, but frames instead. McLoughlin said the frames didn’t have blood or gore in them, but the MPAA found them to be too intense. In the end, he made no secret he wanted this movie to be a “huge bloodbath.”

Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy Jarvis in “Jason Lives” as McLoughlin wanted someone who seemed more heroic. Plus, John Shepherd, who played Tommy in “A New Beginning,” didn’t want to return because, as McLoughlin put it, “he got all religious.” Shepherd had since become a born again Christian and his church didn’t feel like doing a slasher movie was in his best interest.

With this particular “Friday the 13th” sequel, McLoughlin admitted he tried to give it a strong sense of humor. This is apparent right from the start when you see how the opening title shot is a clever homage to the gun barrel sequences in the James Bond movies. Indeed, you come out of this sequel feeling like McLoughlin actually took the time to work on the script instead of just throwing something together at the last minute. Plus, the interplay with the kids, and this is one of few movies in this franchise which actually had kids in it, was great like when they hide under the beds and one boy asks another, “So, what were you going to be when you grew up?”

Ron Palillo, who plays Allen Hawes, is best known for playing Arnold Horshack on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” This got McLoughlin talking about how everyone in the city kept calling Palillo “Horshack” wherever he went. Looking back, he said this made him realize how hard it is for actors to get past a character they played which was so popular.

Another fan asked McLoughlin if he had any favorite on-set stories he could share. This got him to talk about a stunt man who came on the set dressed like Evel Knievel and said, “I’m here to crash something. So what do you want me to do?” The stunt he performed was an especially dangerous one as it required him to drive a big RV (is there any other kind?) over a ramp at 90 miles an hour. McLoughlin said this was the scariest time he ever had on a film set as he worried this guy would get killed. Fortunately, the stunt came out perfectly with the RV crashing on its side the way it was supposed to, and the stuntman pulled himself out of the wreckage and said, “Did I do alright?”

It turns out there were different endings thought up for “Jason Lives,” but McLoughlin made it clear he always intended for Jason to end up back in Crystal Lake. One of those endings did include Jason’s father bringing him back to life with voodoo magic. In the end, McLoughlin decided to keep it simple and used the image of Jason’s good eye suddenly opening up wide to show the audience that, surprise, he’s not done killing camp counselors yet.

As for the man behind the mask, two actors were hired to play Jason. The first was Dan Bradley who has since become known as the premier stunt coordinator for Hollywood movies like the Jason Bourne franchise. The powers that be at Paramount Pictures, however, after watching some dailies, decided he should be replaced because they felt he didn’t have the character’s build. Enter C.J. Graham who had just finished a stint as a United States Marine and had no previous acting experience. McLoughlin said Graham came onto the set answering all of his questions with “yes sir.” Today, Graham is a casino manager in Las Vegas.

In regards to his favorite death in “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin replied it was when Sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) gets folded in half. This came about because he wanted Jason to kill in ways he thought would seem “superhuman.” The fact Jason starts off being struck by lightning makes it seem all the more logical he would kill people this way. It certainly made for many memorably gruesome moments!

The last question for McLoughlin was if Paramount asked him to direct another installment, and why this didn’t happen. He said he was actually approached by Frank Mancuso to do the next sequel, and Mancuso asked him, “How about Jason vs. Freddy?” To this, McLoughlin replied, “How about Cheech & Chong vs. Jason?”

Later on, McLoughlin did get the offer to direct “Freddy vs. Jason,” but he said he didn’t like the script given to him. New Line Cinema, which ended up buying the rights to “Friday the 13th” from Paramount, invited him for a meeting to talk about it. However, the meeting lasted only ten minutes after which he walked out, and he has not been involved with the movie franchise since.

Since making “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” McLoughlin has gone on to make movies like “Date with An Angel” which featured Emmanuelle Béart at her most beautiful, and he also directed episodes of the “Friday the 13th” television series. His other credits include the Stephen King TV movie “Sometimes They Come Back.” Outside of his contribution to the “Friday the 13th” franchise, he has made a good and comfortable career as a director. Having him speak to the fans at New Beverly Cinema was a real treat, and he really enjoyed the time he spent with them. Special thanks go out to Phil Blankenship for putting this screening together. This particular sequel still remains one of the best of this series, and McLoughlin’s appearance made sitting through “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” somewhat bearable.