Alice Cooper in John Carpenter’s 1987 film The Prince of Darkness.
John Carpenter is the King of Halloween. And not just because he made Halloween.
He is the creative force behind creepy classic seasons like The Mist, Christina, and The Thing. A lucrative new trilogy of Halloween sequels to its 1978 original has just wrapped up. “Halloween Ends” which Carpenter helped record and produce. He and his wife, writer/producer Sandy King Carpenter, oversee Comics The Storm Kingwhich just turned 10 years old and features dozens of horror and science fiction films, including annual Halloween specials.
But this year, one of Carpenter’s most obscure films, The Prince of Darkness, which is crawling with bugs and metaphysical horror, finds momentum and finds a new audience.
The film’s 35th anniversary was just last weekend, in the heart of peak time for horror films. Highly Intelligent Movie Streaming Service The Criteria channel presents it this month as part of the Halloween program. And it has been released three times on horror-focused home video horror center Shout Factory. Label “Scream Factories”latest edition famous 4K high definition disc last year. (Carpenter is the most represented director at Scream Factory. “We tried to get all of his films,” said CMO and co-founder Jeff Nelson.)
This is a real twist for The Prince of Darkness, which was panned by critics when it was released in 1987. New York Times critic Vincent Canby called it “surprisingly cheesy.”
The film is now considered one of Carpenter’s finest and most entertaining films. Phil Hod of The Guardian called it “perhaps the director’s most underrated film”. Cheryl Eddy of Gizmodo said it “contains one of the most disturbing depictions of evil”.
The revaluation suits Carpenter quite well.
“It makes me feel good. It’s a good feeling, not a bad feeling,” he said, with a dry emphasis on “good” and “bad,” in a recent CNBC interview.
The Prince of Darkness tells the story of how Satan, in the form of a demonic green liquid, breaks out of his canister-slash prison in the bowels of a Catholic church in Los Angeles, brutally killing and possessing a number of graduate students and scientists. It was a modest success, grossing around $13 million on a budget of just $3 million.
At the time, Carpenter was in a number of major Hollywood films such as Starman and Big Trouble in Little China and wanted to return to his indie roots.
“It shows how great it is when you don’t have a huge budget and need to get creative,” said Cliff McMillan, another co-founder of Scream Factory.
Director John Carpenter and co-creator Sandy King sign copies of The Vault at Golden Apple Comics on October 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Albert L. Ortega | Getty Images
Carpenter agreed to distribute several films with Universal Pictures and independent studio Carolco. According to Sandy King Carpenter, who was the script supervisor for The Dark Prince, all the director had to submit to the studio were one-paragraph synopses for the films.
The first project was the “Prince of Darkness”. The second film, 1988’s They Live, a poignant sci-fi satire of Reagan-era politics, consumerism, and economics starring professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, has become a cult favorite in its own right. (A planned third film titled Victory Out of Time was not made.)
Due to the low budget of The Prince of Darkness, Carpenter and his team had to resort to some tricks to achieve the film’s ambitious imagery.
“That’s where you get innovative when you don’t have money,” Sandy King Carpenter told CNBC.
The script called for tons of bugs to swarm around the characters, so that meant they were real bugs. Thousands of bugs, said Sandy King Carpenter. It was such a sight that one day the Aerosmith band came to see their old friend’s filming. Robert Grasmere“a big, disgusting insect scene,” she added.
Aerosmith weren’t the only rockers who showed up to watch the horrendous special effects in action. Shock rock icon Alice Cooper, whose manager Shep Gordon executive produced The Prince of Darkness, visited the Los Angeles set to watch Carpenter and crew film the scene with the mirror that serves as a door to another dimension.
The next thing he knew, Cooper told CNBC, Carpenter told him to put on a stocking hat and act in the film as the de facto leader of the demonic killer street people who crowd outside the church as the story progresses. He became one of the most prominent characters in the film and its marketing, although he didn’t have a single line of dialogue.
Carpenter also asked Cooper to repurpose one of his infamous stage gags—using a microphone stand to “stab” someone—for a death scene that would end up with the rock star theme song for the movie playing in the background.
“Can you run a bike through this guy’s chest?” Cooper said, Carpenter asked him. “I said, ‘Of course you went to the right guy.’
Cooper also stopped by to watch the shooting of the mirror scene, which showed just how far Carpenter was willing to go to get the right shot on a tight budget.
“We needed a shot of a hand coming out of a mirror,” Carpenter said. So he and his team threw out the mercury that served as the ballast for the camera crane and used it to simulate liquid glass.
“It was very dangerous,” the director said. But Sandy King Carpenter was quick to explain that it was a fake hand, not a real one.
“We weren’t psychopaths,” she said, “we were just a little cocky.”
Disclosure: CNBC, Universal Pictures, and Peacock airing Halloween Ends are all part of NBCUniversal.