October 28th, 2014

Bad Luck Bosch

Prince of Something Vague and Important

One of the biggest mistakes made by religious people who attack or deny science is to treat science as another religion, like a belief system. Horror fiction about scientists who "lose their faith" when confronted with evidence of God or the Devil suggests this point of view. Though, in reality, science is more methodology than belief system and if the existence of God were confirmed by evidence there would be nothing unscientific about it, very much the opposite. John Carpenter's 1987 film Prince of Darkness seems half aware of this. The second in Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy, which began with The Thing, is much more muddled than the first instalment which was a clear tale of extraterrestrial menace. I found Prince of Darkness to be an enjoyable film but its story about a Satan of perhaps extraterrestrial origin slides a little more into the camp camp than its brilliant predecessor.

Donald Pleasence, who plays "the priest", gets top billing and he's the best actor in the film but most of the screen time goes to the very cheesy Brian (Jameson Parker).

Not exactly Kurt Russell, is he? Before things get rolling, we witness him wooing the female lead, Catherine (Lisa Blount) who is offended by a sexist joke he tells before he apologises, ask that they start over, and there's a jump cut to them waking up in bed together, a period of impressive charisma on his part apparently being taken as read.

In bed, Catherine stops him from saying something, perhaps "I love you." "How do you know what I'm going to say?" he asks and she says, "If you're not going to say it, I don't want to know." This references back to a discussion she'd had with another student about Schrodinger's Cat and the movie begins with a lot of discussion of realities that occur because they are witnessed, discussions of quantum physics where observing the data actually influences it.

Some credit ought to go to Carpenter perhaps for bringing this up well before 1990s and 2000s New Age gurus bogarted the concept. It's a shame it's not used to summon Satan more often.

I'm not sure if any real connexion is made between quantum physics and the main story about Pleasence keeping a mysterious, swirling green cloud in a capsule in a church basement and taking the time to keep a whole lot of candles lit around it.

Victor Wong plays Professor Black who teaches at the university attended by Brian and Catherine. Black is old friends with the Priest who begs his assistance. Black gathers a bunch of students of a variety of specialities to sleep over in the church and analyse the capsule.

Black is the secular authority counterpart to the Priest and over the course of the movie both are forced to admit that what they believed was wrong and that a sinister truth somewhere in the middle is the reality. Black postulates that we all really live in a sort of antimatter universe, that while God may be real, he exists in another universe. The influence of Lovecraft's Old Ones is apparent in the film as Black and the Priest realise that all knowledge of God and Satan originated from an extraterrestrial source.

There is something effectively frightening, and Lovecraftian, in the sense of a universe without order or benevolent influence.

And homeless people outside, including Alice Cooper, get possessed, so do some of the students, there are a lot of unexplained insects and worms and murder and general mayhem. And some of it really is effectively creepy. I had two favourite bits:

One student who's possessed seems horrified by her altered appearance glimpsed in a mirror but then reaches through the mirror calling "Father!".

My other favourite thing was a dream everyone has that seems to be a transmission from the future bearing some ominous warning but is always gets cut off. It's left largely unexplained and something about the ambiguity is really effectively scary.

Mostly the conceptual ambiguity of the film renders it an inferior version of The Thing. But it's not bad.

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