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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Blu-ray Review: Anchor Bay’s ‘Halloween’ 35th Anniversary Edition

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Just when you thought Anchor Bay Entertainment had released the last edition of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” on DVD or Blu-ray, another one emerges to taunt the movie’s die-hard fans with the possibility of purchasing it. Now we have the “Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition” which was released on Blu-ray and contains an all-new high definition transfer supervised and approved by the film’s cinematographer, Dean Cundey. With a couple of new special features combined with a few from previous editions, is it worth paying a few more bucks to own another version of this horror classic? Well, let’s find out…

Anchor Bay has released just about as many special editions of “Halloween” as they have of “Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness,” so it’s hard to see what the point was of putting out yet another. But after watching this one, I can certainly see why. The colors on this high definition transfer look very balanced, and the movie looks far more vividly frightening as a result. It is a huge improvement over the 25th anniversary DVD Anchor Bay released as part of their Divimax Series as it proved to be hard on the eyes due to certain colors being far brighter than they needed to be. Seriously, this particular Blu-ray edition makes me want to watch “Halloween” over and over again as it made me feel like I had never watched it before, and I have seen this horror classic over a hundred times.

Among the brand new special features, the one I was surprised to see most was a brand-new commentary with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. That Carpenter would even consent to doing another commentary on “Halloween,” which he has long since answered every conceivable question about, is astonishing, but he sounds very enthusiastic here as he talks with Curtis about what went down during this movie’s making. It’s also great to hear Curtis’ thoughts on “Halloween” as we haven’t heard her talk too much about it in a long time. Carpenter’s commentaries are always more fun when he has someone to converse with, and he and Curtis share a lot of great memories here.

The other new special feature is the documentary “The Night She Came Home” which follows Curtis as she attends her first ever horror convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Curtis talks about how she has stayed away from her past in horror movies because she was working on other things or being a mom, but now she feels the need to honor the fans who love “Halloween” so much because she now realizes just how strong the horror fan base is. It’s fun watching her sign autographs for fans who waited hours in line, and her generosity to them is genuinely sweet. The convention also proves to be a reunion of sorts as Curtis meets up with Charles Cyphers who played Sheriff Leigh Brackett, Brian Andrews who played the young Tommy Doyle, Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace who would later go on to direct “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and filmmaker Nick Castle who was the first person to play Michael Myers.

As for the other special features, they are recycled from other previous editions. There’s the featurette “On Location: 25 Years Later” which looks at where “Halloween” was shot. Also included are the movie’s trailer, some TV and radio spots, and footage specifically shot for the television version. You’d figure Anchor Bay would make this another ultimate edition that would be jam packed with extras, but since this the umpteenth edition of this horror classic, I guess they didn’t want to make the previous editions seem altogether disposable. So for those who still own those editions, you should hang onto them as they contain a lot of extras and commentaries not to be found here.

Is it worth it to buy the “Halloween 35th Anniversary Edition” from Anchor Bay Entertainment? Well, it may depend on how much you love this movie. The remastered high definition transfer makes it look like it was filmed not too long ago, and watching it can quickly remind you of how frightening this horror classic is. You also get a nice booklet with interesting behind the scenes photos of the production and an essay by Stef Hutchinson which details why this movie still has a powerful impact on people years after its release.

The fact is none of the sequels or shameless imitators of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” can ever take away from the suspense and uneasiness it generated upon its release. I find myself revisiting this classic quite often, and this 35th anniversary edition makes me want to revisit it more and more. If you are happy with the “Halloween” special edition you currently own, then you probably won’t need this one, but you should at least check out how it looks here. For those who are still committed to buying every single incarnation of this movie Anchor Bay releases, then this one is definitely worth your money.