The Daily Stream: John Carpenter Does A Lot With A Little In Prince Of Darkness

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Prince of Darkness"

Where You Can Stream It: Peacock (with ads)

The Pitch: When a mysterious cylinder full of green liquid is discovered under a Los Angeles church, a priest commissions a local professor and his graduate students to perform tests to discover what it is. The liquid turns out to be Satan (or at least part of him), and the sentient liquid breaks free and begins killing and zombifying the students looking for a host so it can pull the full embodiment of Satan through a portal into our universe.

Why It's Essential Viewing

Donald Pleasence plays the unnamed priest at the center of this story, and one of the movie's big joys is watching the veteran performer with Victor Wong as Professor Birack. Writer/director John Carpenter uses this "man of science, man of faith" dichotomy to help work through some of the film's most bonkers ideas – in this film's telling, Jesus Christ was an alien who was sent to Earth to warn humanity about the Anti-God, who lives in a mirror dimension. That concept probably sounds wacky (or even downright blasphemous) to some of you, but as is the case with most Carpenter films, the director doesn't wink at the audience or make it out to be a joke: while some characters naturally question this revelation, the film ultimately wants them (and, by extension, you) to take it seriously. 

The religious component is also balanced out by a cool sci-fi subplot: when these characters fall asleep, they all start to have the same dream, which isn't actually a dream at all. Instead, it's a message from the future, a warning delivered back in time via tachyon particles in the hopes that our heroes will be able to avert a terrible disaster befalling our society. The visuals in their shared dream are fairly captured with an eerie haze, which is somehow scarier than if it were drenched in high contrast colors

Carpenter Doing What He Does Best

Shot on just a $3 million budget, Carpenter manages to utilize every last cent to bolster the sense of dread that permeates this entire film. The special effects are all relatively simple – there's lots of liquid spraying into people's mouths, tons of disturbing bug work, and he frequently flips the camera upside down to make it appear as if things are dripping upward toward the ceiling. But even if they don't always look ultra-realistic, those effects lend the movie an unnerving quality that gets under your skin. One of the effects with the biggest impact required almost no money at all: as the experiments are being run, the church is slowly surrounded by a horde of homeless people who stand frozen in place and stare in silence at our protagonists any time they look out of a window. (That feeling of being trapped and encircled is something Carpenter also employed to great results years earlier in "Assault on Precinct 13.")

I hesitate to say too much else about this movie because I feel like it's one of Carpenter's lesser-loved projects, it may have slipped through the cracks for many of you, and now is the perfect time to catch up on it. But I'll just tease that the ending contains a real gut-punch, with Carpenter crafting one particularly tragic and evocative image that I won't be able to shake for a long, long time.