Release Date(s)1987 (January 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Alive Films, Larry Franco Productions, Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: The film and special features portions of this review are by Tim Salmons. The 4K video and audio evaluation is by Bill Hunt.]
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is a film that’s always seemed to be in the bottom tier of his work, but one that’s slowly grown its audience over time. An unorthodox horror film about a priest and a physics professor and his students investigating a strange cylinder filled with green liquid in an abandoned church—a liquid that takes over the bodies of each student one by one—didn’t warrant the kind of success Carpenter enjoyed with his earlier work. Instead of being welcomed with open arms, his return to horror after having made films like Starman and Big Trouble in Little China was met with a lukewarm reception from both critics and audiences.
Prince of Darkness is not an easy film to unpack. On one hand, it’s nothing more than a story about an evil entity, presumably Satan himself, attempting to step into our reality. On the other hand, there’s Carpenter’s obvious interest in quantum mechanics, which adds an academic and exploratory aspect to the story. But by mixing hard science—particularly an area of science that isn’t easy to interpret—with the supernatural, Prince of Darkness manages to do something different and, in many ways, more disturbing than other films of its ilk.
Prince of Darkness was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras and E-Series high speed anamorphic lenses. Scream Factory’s new Ultra HD Collector’s Edition release presents the film in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, sourced from the same 4K scan of the original camera negative as the 2018 Studio Canal UHD release. The restoration was supervised, graded for high dynamic range, and approved by cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available). The image quality is very good for a film of this vintage. Fine detail and texturing are generally strong, save for the usual anamorphic softness around the edges of the frame and a few shots with softer focus as originally photographed. The grain structure is light-moderate but always organic. As was the case with Scream Factory’s They Live in 4K (see our review here), the HDR grade is subtle but brightens the highlights while adding pleasing depth to the shadows—particularly important given that this is a moodier film. The color palette is accurate and more nuanced than ever before, though somewhat subdued by design. (The difference between the Dolby Vision and HDR10 presentations is slight.) The encode is excellent too, with little in the way of visible artifacting. And since this is a UHD-100 disc, there’s plenty of room for maximum video bitrates. This 4K image offers a very nice upgrade over Scream’s 2013 Blu-ray presentation.
The new English Dolby Atmos mix is also a nice improvement over the previous Blu-ray’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, offering clear and well-positioned dialogue, excellent directional effects, and a much-expanded sonic environment. The height and surround channels are mostly used for atmospherics and music, though it should be noted that the mix preserves the film’s original sonic character while adding a bit more in the way of immersion. The overall fidelity is terrific, with full sounding tones, and firm bass. This previous 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA mixes are also included, as are optional English SDH subtitles.
Scream Factory’s new UHD package includes the film on 4K as well as Blu-ray (which is also mastered from the new 4K scan and includes the new Atmos mix). The 4K disc offers the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by John Carpenter and Peter Jason
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:04)
- TV Spot (Upsampled SD – 0:33)
The commentary was recorded in 2001 for an overseas release of the film (as evidenced by Carpenter’s reference to Victor Wong’s recent passing). The TV spot appears to be new to this 4K disc. The Blu-ray Disc in the package also includes the commentary and adds the following:
- Audio Commentary by John Carpenter and Peter Jason
- Sympathy for the Devil with John Carpenter (HD – 10:28)
- Alice at the Apocalypse with Alice Cooper (HD – 9:27)
- The Messenger with Robert Grasmere (HD – 12:41)
- Hell on Earth with Alan Howarth (HD – 10:15)
- Alternate TV Opening (Upsampled SD – 6:55)
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (HD – 13:44)
- Still Gallery (HD – 51 in all – 4:27)
- Theatrical Trailer and Two Radio Spots (Upsampled SD & HD – 2:48)
- Easter Egg (HD – 12:10)
The commentary with Carpenter and actor Peter Jason is lively and enjoyable as the two discuss the film, its cast and crew, and its various facets. The two are old buddies, so it acts more as a fun back-and-forth than a serious discussion. Sympathy for the Devil interviews Carpenter, who talks about how the film came to be, the making of the film, religion, quantum mechanics, new ideas in horror, and telling apocalyptic stories, among other subjects. Alice at the Apocalypse interviews Alice Cooper, who speaks about his love for horror movies at an early age, meeting and working with Carpenter, the idea of exploring the origin and inner workings of evil, and the longevity of the film. The Messenger is an interview with the film’s special visual effects supervisor and actor Robert Grasmere about his role in the film, executing the film’s effects, and being shocked by appearing in the film’s TV campaign. Hell on Earth features co-composer Alan Howarth who speaks about his work on the film, working with Carpenter, and the type of equipment and sounds used for the score. The alternate opening from the TV version of the film is interesting, as it reorders scenes and credits (suggesting that the entirety of the story is a dream). Horror’s Hallowed Grounds features host Sean Clark revisiting the filming locations. The Still Gallery contains 51 behind-the-scenes photos, promotional photos, posters, and press stills. The Easter Egg is a Q&A with John Carpenter from a 25th Anniversary screening of the film at Screamfest 2012 (moderated by Brian Collins). It can be found on the second page of the Bonus menu by selecting the crucifix to the right of the Still Gallery option. It’s worth noting that the StudioCanal 4K UHD release film included an introduction to the film and a scene analysis featurette, both by Carpenter, as well as the Malevolent: Unearthing John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness documentary, none of which have carried over here. That same release also included a poster, a set of art cards, and a booklet as swag.
Be aware that Scream Factory also has versions of this 4K Collector’s Edition available for purchase with an exclusive Sacred Bones 7” vinyl LP of Carpenter’s music, as well as a different poster. You can find those here on their website.
Considered by Carpenter to be the second part of his Apocalypse Trilogy (which began with The Thing and ended with In the Mouth of Madness), Prince of Darkness is not an easily digestible film, but it offers up enough creepy atmosphere and nightmarish imagery to improve with repeat viewings. Scream Factory’s new 4K edition—its third release of the film on disc—delivers a fine A/V upgrade and is definitely recommended for fans.
- Tim Salmons and Bill Hunt