Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Real Horror Show

Stacie over at Final Girl has a little something called Film Club where she picks a topic and asks people to write to it. I love the idea in general, but especially this month because the topic is none other than John Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness.

The 80s were very good to Carpenter, or should I say that Carpenter was very good in the 80s. He put out a slew of great movies like The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China, and like a cherry on top there is Prince Of Darkness in 1987.

To me there are two types of horror movies. The first type lives in this area where evil interacts with real people, but there isn't a logical explanation for that evil and it is contained for the most part within this fantasy world. Jason from Friday The 13th was scary, but there was never a fear of him outside of Camp Crystal Lake. And if you doubt me check out Jason Takes Manhattan. Jason died as a boy and came back as a scary man. He wants revenge, but you don't understand what kind of pact he made with the devil to make him rise from the dead over and over again. And you don't really care that much, you just want to see him terrorize a bunch of sex-crazed teenagers. A Nightmare On Elm Street is very much like this too. These are fables, late-night boogie man stories that you tell while you're snuggled in sleeping bags. This is not real life. And that's not where Carpenter works. Carpenter always seems to explore the convergence of fantasy and reality. His ideas are far out, yet grounded enough to be somewhat believable. Yes, crime could get so out of control that they turn New York into a maximum security prison. It is possible that an alien ship could land and create such a paranoia that we make ourselves the enemy instead of the alien. And yes, right now as I write this there could be the Prince Of Darkness himself (or herself) held up in a capsule in the basement of an old church.

What fascinates me with Prince Of Darkness is the story of this ongoing struggle to make the unbelievable believable. This group of young scientists try to put ones and zeros together to explain all of the craziness around them. And they do it in such a way that you believe it could actually be happening. There is no time in the movie that somebody says "holy shit, the devil is downstairs can you believe it?" because they don't really believe it or can't really believe it because common sense and science has told them it can't happen. Donald Pleasence as Father Loomis and Victor Wong as Professor Howard Birack hold up in a room for some time and represent the clash of science and spirituality and their conversations go on through the movie as all hell begins to break loose.

As Carpenter points out in Prince Of Darkness "shit happens." We can try to explain it, but weird/bad/strange things just happen sometimes. Cards vanish into thin air. Homeless people become zombie-like soldiers serving a higher, or in this case a lower purpose. Worms become magnetic and form on the windows. And people dream about a message that is broadcast so fast it's projected from the future. Wrap your mind around that one for a few moments.

Prince of Darkness is more than a horror movie. It asks more of us than to be just mindless horror movie buffs waiting for someone to be killed in an interesting fashion (although it has that also). It asks us to accept that the battle of good and evil is not a story we read in the biggest bestseller of all time or learn about at Sunday schools. It is not a fable or fodder for the campfire. It is solid, as real as the nose on your face. And it is happening right now in the smallest of places where you least expect it.

And if that doesn't scare the shit out of you, I don't know what ever will.

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