Donald Pleasance plays a frightened priest who has inherited keys to the vault of terror and, along with the late Victor Wong as Professor Birack, he churns out the biblical and technical exposition with aplomb. Carpenter handles a number of revelatory shocks with his customary skill, and there are many extremely sinister events affecting Birack's student research assistants, punctuating some generally atmospheric goings-on. There are differential equations written 2,000 years ago, a bruise with religious significance, zombified down-and-outs, an opportunity to see Alice Cooper's bicycle impalement gag, and chaotic forces disturbing order in the universe - as the anti-god seeks a way back to Earth from another dimension. Dimensional mirror visual effects (using mercury, and a blacked-out swimming pool) are suitably uncanny, and there's a shared dream sequence appearing like a warning video message from some unimaginably doomed future that's efficiently spine chilling.
Prince Of Darkness was written by the pseudonymous Martin Quatermass (John Carpenter), and is the kind of genre-bending movie that Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), Poltergeist (1982), and The Entity (1983) could have been if their respective makers had understood the unique challenges of successfully mixing science fiction with occult themes. As a filmmaker, Carpenter has a rare affinity for both SF and horror, and is enough of a craftsman to balance these apparently incompatible genre elements in required hell-raising proportions to ensure that Evil is depicted in all its in un-quantifiable glory. Shots of still and silent figures down long corridors, and the collapsing bug-man in the darkened courtyard are not easily forgotten. A brooding synthesiser score by Carpenter and collaborator Alan Howarth beefs up suspense and does not outstay its welcome, as some film critics have suggested.
Although others have declared that Prince Of Darkness marked the beginning of Carpenter's decline as an important director of genre cinema, I think it is clear evidence of a talent confident enough in his abilities and the tolerance of his fans for quality exploitation, to rework the weird siege themes from his earlier movies (such as The Fog, 1980) into something fresh and wholly original.
DVD extras: anamorphic widescreen transfer with Dolby digital 2.0 sound and subtitles in nine languages, director's commentary track (with actor Peter Jason, who plays Dr Leahy), plus original trailer.