Prince of Darkness 4K UHD

pdark1.jpgI’m always a little wary revisiting old favourites. I’m pleased to say that John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which I haven’t actually seen since back in the DVD days, holds up very well today. I thoroughly enjoyed the film from start to finish- harking back to Hammer’s classic Quatermass & The Pit this is a thought-provoking, intelligent horror film full of ideas. Okay, as a horror film, it may suffer a little from lack of genuine scares and perhaps a budget a little too short for its lofty ideas (this is a film, after all, that was made for a paltry $3 million), but it really does feel fresh and interesting. As with They Live a few days ago, its such a pleasure watching a great John Carpenter movie.

And it does look lovely in 4K- better than I ever saw it before infact, although admittedly the last time I saw it was on DVD, as we never got a Blu-ray release over here. Honestly its been so many years since I saw this at the cinema back in 1987 there is no way I can compare this to its theatrical presentation, but I can’t imagine it was any better than this. Detail is excellent, really impressive, the colours are vibrant and even the night scenes hold up well- when they do suffer from crushed blacks its obviously inherent in the source and the original photography.  It really looks gorgeous and I am thrilled to have this film in 4K.

One of the chief pleasures watching this film again, was of course its great cast of b-movie actors- and I say that with some affection. These thespians (other than the great Donald Pleasence) were never destined to be superstars of the screen but several have links to some of Carpenter’s other films- familiar faces from other favourite films are always endearing and a pleasure to see. As well as seeing Pleasence again (Halloween & Escape From New York),  there are Victor Wong and Dennis Dun (both from Big Trouble in Little China), and Peter Jason (They Live, Village of the Damned and other Carpenter flicks).

However, I was struck again by the great performance of Lisa Blount as the female lead (and ultimate hero of the film albeit with a terrible fate- that last shot of her always fills me with horror) and I wondered at how she never became a bigger star. Looking her up on IMDB I sadly learned that she had passed away back in 2010 at the age of just 53. Not for the first time I am struck by sobering reality when looking up someone from an older film on IMDB to see they have passed, a life summarized by a brief bio and filmography. Its a perspective I don’t really like and it makes me increasingly reticent to look people up on IMDB.  It left a bit of a shade upon my experience of rewatching this great movie.

I would not suggest that Prince of Darkness is a perfect film- far from it. It never really lives up to the promise inferred by its great nine-minute title sequence and it does noticeably sag towards the end as the characters sort of do nothing at all while the film waits for night to fall again. The ending doesn’t really have the impact it should but the coda  with its cheeky scare has a truly chilling final shot that infers all sorts of grim horror to follow in the viewers imagination- a great thing for a horror movie to do. Indeed, this film has always been a favourite of mine chiefly from all the ideas behind it, all the concepts going on that linger in the mind afterwards, rather than anything particularly in the film, strangely. Not all films do this.

The film has an absolutely perfect score that has always been a favourite of mine (I originally had the soundtrack on audio cassette that says everything about the age of the film, funnily enough) and I really do rate the film as being one of Carpenter’s very best. In my book, there’s The Thing, Escape From New York, They Live and Prince of Darkness.. but then again, Big Trouble in Little China is no slouch, and I love In the Mouth of Madness‘ Lovecraft vibe and The Fog is a lovely old-fashioned ghost story and.. yeah, well, this is why lists are so useless- Carpenter may have made a few duds late on but he made some great films.

Anyway, this film with They Live really has me hoping for the best with the release of Escape From New York on 4K UHD later this month.

 

They Live 4K UHD

they1
I don’t believe my eyes- 4K UHD??

They Live is a film that gets better with age. There is a sense of truth to it- not that aliens really are secretly in control of the world and are subjugating the poor, but rather that certain classes and groups of humanity can behave like aliens against their own. The class and power divide is as valid now as it was when the film was made, and its portrayal of the detached political elite and the power of television as true as it ever was.

In this sense, it also seems one of John Carpenter’s most sophisticated and intelligent films, and will, I suspect, have a greater shelf-life than some of his ‘bigger’ hits. Whenever I re-watch the film it remains as horrifying and thought-provoking as ever and its a lovely demonstration of Carpenter’s craft- thriving, as he always seems to, under a tight budget and shooting schedule. I don’t think big-budget studio films really suited him, and its such a shame he retired from the business having become so tired of it. They Live suggests that he might have had some great low-budget/high-concept anti-establishment films in him and its our loss that he didn’t make them.

This 4K UHD release of one of Carpenter’s later, so-called lesser, films (when he dabbled back in the low budget arena with films like Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness after the big-time left him behind), is something of a surprise and is perhaps a measure of how popular his films are. After all, we haven’t even seen a release for James Cameron’s The Abyss on Blu-ray, let alone 4K UHD, and here’s Carpenter getting his due with 4K releases of They Live, The Fog, and next month Prince of Darkness and Escape From New York. On the  demonstration of They Live, the other releases may be cause for some excitement (particularly EFNY, which has recently not fared well on home video) because They Live looks terrific. Detail is excellent, colours balanced and really, any issues are likely down to the original photography, such as the night footage still having some black crush. I doubt this film has ever looked this good before and for a fan its a great treat. I haven’t watched any of the extras yet but one particular surprise is that the soundtrack bundled in the collector’s edition is actually the extended ‘full’ soundtrack issued as a limited CD some years ago. Being such a fan of the film this boon is somewhat wasted on me, as I own both versions of the soundtrack already- I remember ordering the original album on import via mail-order way back in the pre-internet days and getting such a thrill when it eventually turned up. I kinda miss those days. But some fans will get a kick out of that CD, I’m sure. They Live has a great Carpenter score, one of my favourites.

Anyway, They Live is one of the greats and its a real treat to see it get this 4K UHD treatment. The only bad news is that it likely paves the way for all the rest, and having bought so many on DVD and Blu-ray before, the prospect of another set of purchases is a little depressing- at least this should be the last double/triple dip of the Carpenter catalogue. Besides, in this case, I only had They Live on VHS and DVD prior, we didn’t get a Blu-ray over here… so win-win! But wait, this box contains both 4K UHD and Blu-ray so they got me anyway. Dang it, they get you everytime… like I said, there is a truth to this film, you can’t beat the system….

they2

 

This is not a dream…

prince1This is not a dream… not a dream. We are using your brain’s electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing…

So you wait for what seems like years but might be even longer for a UK Blu-ray release of Prince of Darkness... and then out of the blue it transpires that such a release is indeed coming but also on 4K UHD, which is even better news for someone who’s stepped up to the format.

Suppose what your faith has said is essentially correct. Suppose there is a universal mind controlling everything, a god willing the behavior of every subatomic particle. Well, every particle has an anti-particle, its mirror image, its negative side. Maybe this universal mind resides in the mirror image instead of in our universe as we wanted to believe. Maybe he’s anti-god, bringing darkness instead of light.

But possibly because of interference from the Prince of Darkness Himself, while three Carpenter films are released as boxsets and widely available for preorder, this particular film, by virtue, it seems, of rights issues with the soundtrack album, is released seperate from the others as a steelbook, and it then transpires that said steelbook, by the intervention of the Prince of Darkness’ Arch-Demon, Zavvi, is quite likely not only a limited edition but also a retailer exclusive.

The outside world doesn’t want to hear this kind of bullshit. Just keep it locked away. You’ve already managed that for two thousand years.

Its really not fair.

Hello… Hello… I’ve got a message for you… and you’re not going to like it.

I mean really, its like some John Carpenter Meta-Reality is going on or something.

The hardest thing to hear… for any of us… is something we don’t agree with.