John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 2 – “This is not a dream”: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 23/52
In Part 1 of this post I began to write about John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, a low budget film he made in 1987 which interweaves, layers and explores horror shocks and tropes with an alternative scientific exploration/explanation of religious archetypes, with a plot where evil takes the physical form of sentient liquid that is discovered to be what we know of as the devil and the source of evil and which has been hidden and contained for millennia.
This liquid or devil is the offspring of a mass mind which is thought to controls all matter and which is bound to an anti-matter realm or universe.
Members of a research group who are called in to investigate this liquid by a priest begin to have the same dream, which appears to be sections of a transmission and warning from the future where a dark foreboding figure appears at the entrance of the church where the liquid has been hidden, with the dream transmission telling those receiving it that they must change the events that will lead to this.
As I mention in Part 1 of this post, the film has a sparse, tense, ragged energy and contains within it an overarching sense of dread.
Within the film, the portal between the dark/evil universe and ours takes the form of a mirror, which a possessed or transformed human attempts to aid the father or devil figure’s through by reaching into.
(Some of these sections draw inspiration from sequences in Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orpheus – if I remember correctly in Prince of Darkness the liquid surfaces of the mirrors were created using liquid drained from the base of a steadicam.)
This crossing over appears to be ended or at least thwarted when one of the research group essentially sacrifices herself by running at the possessed human and carrying them both through into this other realm, immediately after which a priest smashes the mirror with an axe in order to destroy the portal.
However, after this resolving of the plot the main male hero character is shown as having the recurring dream transmission again, only this time it is broadcast in full:
“This 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. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness, but this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation.” (From the “dream transmissions” in the film.)
In this final dream transmission the shadowed figure is shown to be the member of the research group who sacrificed herself in order to stop the crossing over: it is possibly implied in this full version that the figure which is shown emerging from the church was not previously but has now become her – that their actions have not ended but merely changed the vessel from the dark universe.
After “viewing” this version the hero wakes up to find the human who earlier in the film was possessed by the liquid or devil in his bed, he screams but this is still part of his dream. The final shot shows him rising from his bed and approaching his bedroom mirror with his hand outstretched, seemingly in a manner that implies that the Anti-God’s attempts to break through to our universe are not yet at an end.
As a film Prince of Darkness leaves space for the viewer’s imagination and this lack of closure is part of that.
And as a viewing experience it also imparts a lingering sense of dread, something which is in part caused by the way in which it plays with religious archetypes, alongside the dream transmissions connecting with our associations with television transmissions: these often normally are a source of relaxation, escape and comfort but here they have invaded the dreamers (or should that be viewers?) minds and are anything but.
Here they have a spectral quality, both literally as they may well show a form of super or preternatural presence and also, as I mention in Part 1, in the way that they contain the signifiers and “spectres” of analogue television transmissions – scanlines, crackles, glitches and interference.
Which brings me to hauntological spectres…
I have mentioned at A Year In The Country before how a connection could be made between say the hauntological, spectral montage cut-ups of Ghost Box Record’s artist The Focus Group and the crate-digging turntable orientated musical montaging of say DJ Shadow or Kid Koala, with both hauntological and turntablism work often utilising and even celebrating the audio artifacts and imperfections of older media such as vinyl crackles.
(As an aside The Focus Group bring to mind a parallel world late night Open University broadcast from some indefinable past era where a bearded and bespectacled lecturer attempts to explain and demonstrate such turntablism… I feel an exclamation mark would be appropriate about now – !)
With Prince of Darkness such things are interconnected further, as the dream transmissions share an aesthetic/siginifiers (previous periods media artifacts – the aforementioned crackles, glitches etc) and unexplained nature with some of hauntology – they seem like spectres in the modern day but ones transmitted via media and technology rather than being purely supernatural in nature.
Connected to and intertwined with which, as I mention in Part 1 of this post, hauntological and some related work could be seen at times as being a form of exploring or creating modern-day magic, the mystical, the supernatural, spectres and hauntings
While Transmission 1 on DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. album from 1996 begins with what sounds as though it could be recordings of astronaut/control centre communications which as it plays is overlayed with sounds that may be the physical turning of tape, which then segues into samples from the dream transmisions from Prince of Darkness.
To be continued in Part 3…
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #205/365: The interfaces between the old ways/cathode rays; twelve spinnings from an (Electric Edenic) Invisible Ghost (Juke)Box
2) Day #207/365: The Eccentronic Research Council: modern day magic on a monthly tariff and the rhyming (and non-rhyming) couplets of non-populist pop
3) Wanderings #8/52a: Dropping Science: From Endtroducing to The Electronique Void Via Haunted Tea Rooms And Pans People
4)Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 22/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 1 – The Sleeper Awakens