Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

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It is Evil. It has awakened.

by Chris McEneany Nov 12, 2013 at 1:58 PM

  • Movies review


    Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £24.99

    Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    It is Evil. It has awakened.
    Sadly though, it is liable to put you to sleep.

    Prince of Darkness, or John Carpenter’s first major misstep, finds a disparate group of wannabe boffins recruited to investigate and study the strange and ancient liquid discovered languishing in a glass vat in the basement of a disused LA church. Science and religion collide head-on as it becomes clear that the vat holds the essence of pure Evil, and as various members of the team succumb to its diabolical influence, it seems as though we about to witness the Devil’s Big Daddy being brought forth into our world.

    Carpenter tries to play Nigel Kneale with a bizarre tale of quantum mechanics and theological threat, but with a screenplay that has no idea where it wants to go, a large cast of irritating bores, and an incredible dearth of thrills, chills or spills, his concept spirals into the ether as you enter the land of nod. Although nowhere near as bad many of the films that he would make afterwards, this is clear evidence that the former cult genre king was losing his touch. An eerie cameo from Alice Cooper and a terrifically brooding synth score cannot save this from being a total snooze-fest that juggles too many unresolved ideas, and ends up dropping them all.

    Being a devoted fan of Carpenter’s, I can patently see that he loses his way with this one and just gives up on it.

    With this in mind, my advice is to keep the lid on this vat of tedium and steer well clear.

    Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Picture Quality

    Prince of Darkness Collector
    Scream’s region A transfer of Prince of Darkness(2.35:1, AVC) is a good, strong, detailed and colourful one. But it is also one that has been the unfortunate recipient of some digital tinkering.

    Gary B. Kibbe’s anamorphic photography is sublime, but not as fluid or as majestic as Dean Cundey’s. His use of the lens tends to bring more of that trademark softness to the frame than we are used to seeing in a John Carpenter film. I normally love this “look” but there are many times during Prince when I am distracted by it. But, still, this is a beautifully shot movie that makes the most of the location setting and the earthy brown décor and shadows so that the brighter colours of the characters and some of the effects stand out all the more.

    Although this is definitely far more detailed than you will have seen it before on home video, the softness to certain elements is also more pronounced. Background details are often smeary and blurred. Once subjects are front and centre, they have fine definition and satisfying clarity. Close-ups are very keenly presented, such as the swarming ants and the various other bug moments. Text in the ancient book and upon the screens is also finely etched and always legible. You can plainly see that Jameson Parker’s walrus ‘tache is longer on one side than on the other. The black and grey of Susan Blanchard’s Devil-teeth is now more apparent against the oozing crimson and pink of her mutated face. Depth is also very good. There are plenty of occasions when we are looking down long hallways and across the parking lot or along alleyways, and the level of visual spatiality is appreciable. Three-dimensionality is also pretty decent, although there are times when the camera flattens things down, such as the dolly-shot that moves in on the entire group as Pleasance explains about the ruse that the Church has played upon the world to protect the truth.

    this is definitely far more detailed than you will have seen it before on home video

    Despite being deliberately set in a drab location, this is actually quite a colourful film. Greens and reds really stand out. The computer screen readouts, the swirling Devil-liquid in the cylinder and the various weird pools that it forms on the ceiling are gloriously satanic emerald. Skin-tones are warm, and the lighting that Carpenter and Kibbe use tends to have a golden cast to it, partly because of the use of the candles, but also intentionally lit that way on set. The pustulent face of Susan Blanchard’s transformed Kelly has never looked this gloopy and glistening. Ambers and yellows, too, are nicely saturated.

    There are no problems with the black levels, which are consistently deep and ominous. I don’t think there is any crushing going on. The darker portions of the frame add significant depth and mood to the image. Pockets of blackness look inky and perfectly spooky. This darkness moves into midnight blue quite smoothly, too. But contrast has been ramped-up, heightening things quite considerably. Now, to be fair, this didn’t bother me so much as it made the image more lurid and comic-book – which I like – and added to some of the unearthly glowing. But, still, that’s tinkering that probably shouldn’t have been done.

    Exacerbating quite a prominent downside, the image looks digitally manipulated. There is an unfair degree of edge enhancement. It won’t be too glaring to many viewers but, as far as I am concerned, you will see it around the stone cross atop Saint Goddards, the railings and various characters seen outside in the daylight, which you could, at a stretch, have put down to the source photography. But there is unmistakable haloing around interior objectivity as well, which cannot be excused so easily. I also noticed some bubbling noise in the bright lights that the team set up in the church, noise that, once observed, seems to stretch out into other lighter areas, as well. Grain is in evidence, and the film’s original texture appears to be relatively intact in certain scenes, though I definitely think that far too much unnecessarily excessive filtering as also taken place. Combined with the often softening effect from the photography, the picture can seem a touch too artificial, too overblown and wrongly exaggerated.

    There is no denying that this is the best the film has looked away from cinema screens, but the image is still too digitally compromised to really impress. Yes, we have added detail, but the picture looks manipulated and enhanced at the same time … and this needn’t have been the case. It is raised in terms of contrast and sharpening and this cannot help but irk.

    If this is on the books of UK’s Arrow Video, I would seriously hope for a better transfer than this. Superficially glorious, but nothing more than a 6 out of 10, given the meddling.

    Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Sound Quality

    Prince of Darkness Collector
    There are two options with Scream’s release. We can listen to Prince of Darkness in either DTS-HD MA 2.0 or 5.1. Personally, I opted for the surround mix because it has more weight to its bass, a heftier foundation to Carpenter’s moody, brooding score and more dynamics.

    Whatever problems we may have encountered with the video transfer, there is nothing to worry about with either sound track mix. Originally released with Ultra Stereo sound, and let’s not forget that John Carpenter really knows his stuff when it comes to mixing his multi-channel sound designs, Prince of Darkness was always quite an impressive audio treat. The power, clarity, separations and, most importantly in this instance, bass presence, is well served by either option. But the surround adds an essential strength, depth and gut-shriveling extension that the 2.0 channel mix just can’t match.

    The power, clarity, separations and, most importantly in this instance, bass presence, is well served
    No problems with the dialogue. Donald Pleasance was really wheezing by this stage, but even his most whispery croaks are easily discernible. Victor Wong, also, has one of those strange voices that can lose syllables and drop into a rasp but, once again, there won’t be a problem hearing his bland theorizing. Everybody else fares perfectly well. Wyndham’s bizarre, bug-filled warning from the car park has an unearthly throaty trill. Then there is that ridiculous dream voice that warbles in and out of frequency that scratches through waves of static. The grotesque wheezing that the possessed Kelly does when trying to contact the Devil’s FAAAAAA-TTTHHHEEEEEEERRRR! It all comes over clearly and with definite presence within the mix.

    Carpenter and Howarth designed many stingers that were actually part and parcel of the scoring process and performed on the synth. These are often brilliantly jangling and intense. Various effects, such as the upside-down dripping of the Devil-juice, the hose-pipe spitting of the stuff into peoples’ mouths, the vicious clonging of possessed heads with various bits of improvised weaponry and the stabbing sounds as poor Wyndham gets “pruned” by a bag-lady are presented with fine emphasis. The sudden shrieking of metal as things are telekinetically moved about is also bound to set some nerves a-jangling like nails on a blackboard.

    The score has much more room to breathe and move about the soundscape, really filling in the ether with its thrumming, deep and ominous tendrils. All the speakers get to grips with this, and it really adds to the menacing mood that Carpenter strives so hard to capture.

    This gets a strong 8 out of 10.

    Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Extras

    Prince of Darkness Collector
    Scream delivers Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness unto us in a slipcase and boasting a reversible sleeve that has the original (and rubbish) artwork one side and an actually pretty decent alternative new design on the other.

    The old commentary track with John Carpenter and his actor and close friend Peter Jason returns, and it is a good one. I actually prefer to watch the film with this track on than without it. Both are very relaxed and whilst Jason likes to ask questions and add some amusing comments, Carpenter explains a fair amount of his filmmaking process and his technical standpoints on scoring, directing, working with actors and storytelling. Because the filmmaker is so blasé about many of the concepts that his script propounded, citing that it either doesn’t matter, or that he doesn’t know when Jason queries something, I feel that I ought to be more forgiving towards the film in general. But, then again, as the creator of the story he really should take more responsibility for getting such things locked down. When the maker, himself, uses the excuse that it’s only a horror movie, when he has such a fine pedigree, that simply isn’t good enough. But this is a fine commentary in its own right, with many rewarding anecdotes and tidbits. I love listening to Carpenter’s laidback drawl, and it does tend to help when he is supported by one of his stars with a sense of humour … such as Kurt Russell. Peter Jason fulfils this role pretty well.
    There are several new interviews to enjoy.

    The first, Sympathy for the Devil, is with Carpenter, himself, in which he breaks down the reasons for making this movie and his interest in quantum mechanics. He is quite relaxed and insists that no matter what the approach taken to filmmaking might be, and acknowledges that it has changed a great deal over the last decade, “it’s all good. Life is good.”

    Alice Cooper gets to discuss his appearance as the hobo from Hell and how he got involved with the production in Alice at the Apocalypse. He clearly loved his role in the movie and especially how he was able to incorporate his stage impaling gag into the proceedings.

    The Messenger lets us hear from “bug-man” Robert Grasmere, who played Wyndham in the film and also served as the visual effects supervisor. This is quite amusing.

    Hell on Earth is an appreciation of the film’s unique score with Carpenter’s collaborator Alan Howarth.

    Thankfully, we get another of what has rapidly become one of favourite extras on Shout/Scream releases in Horror’s Hallowed Ground. Creator/presenter Sean Clark takes us on a tour of the film’s locations, intercut with their relevant scenes. The movie’s score plays throughout this and, brilliantly, the credits keep appearing, Carpenter-style as the feature goes along. A very amusing guy, Clark is always engaging, occasionally irreverent, but never-less-than passionate.

    There is the Alternate TV Opening, a Stills Gallery, Trailer and Radio Spots and a little Easter Egg in the form of a quick Q & A session with John Carpenter who was present at the 2012 Screamfest screening of Prince of Darkness for its 25th Anniversary.

    Is Prince of Darkness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Worth Buying

    Prince of Darkness Collector
    If you are a fan of John Carpenter, then getting this is a no-brainer, really.

    But, to be perfectly honest, Prince of Darkness is a false promise. Visually splendid and bolstered by a skin-crawling synth score in the filmmaker’s best hypnotic tradition, it is a sprawling attempt to combine science and religion and walk in the footsteps of the great Nigel Kneale. But Carpenter throws too many sub-atomic particles in the air and fails to catch any but the most generic, fashioning a very slow-moving, overly crowded and aggravatingly uneventful yarn that consistently tries to tease the grey cells but only succeeds in stretching the yawn-bones.

    Scream have still given it the treatment, though.

    If you are a fan of John Carpenter, then getting this is a no-brainer, really.

    This region A release looks and sounds very nice, although the video has definitely been unnecessarily boosted in some areas, and has plenty of good extras to help get behind the making of the movie and explore what Carpenter was attempting to do with his tale of a Quantum Anti-God trying to burst his tachyon-talons into our world.

    Personally, even though I freely admit to denouncing the film, I wouldn’t dream of not having it in my collection … but for those of you still sitting on the fence I would suggest that maintaining that precarious position for a little while longer to see what UK’s Arrow Video come up with. Which will hopefully be a more faithful transfer than we have here.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99

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