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Prince of Darkness

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Prince of Darkness

If your tastes skew to the gothic and unearthly, it's the most wonderful time of the year, especially when it comes to new DVD releases. On the menu:

 

Prince of Darkness

The credited screenwriter of this John Carpenter thriller from 1987 is "Martin Quatermass."

Actually, Carpenter himself wrote the screenplay. The pseudonym was a homage to the British Quatermass movies/TV series of the '50s and '60s, which were distinguished from American sci-fi counterparts with stories that were not afraid to delve more seriously into science, instead of using scientific theory as an excuse to simply create creepy bugaboos to menace beautiful women. (A character in this film is named "Wyndham," which we'll assume is a shout-out to English author John Wyndham of Day of the Triffids fame.)

Hence, this movie strays from the typically simple-minded horror premise. When a container of evil goo is discovered being kept under wraps in an L.A. church basement, a priest (Donald Pleasance) drafts a cadre of scientists to decipher some baffling ancient texts to determine the nature of the ooze, a mission that uncovers, among other things, that Jesus Christ was a benign alien from space.

It's a refreshingly smart tale, but of course, Carpenter delivers the spooky goods too. The ooze starts to infect some of the scientists while, outside the church, a group of scary street people (led by Alice Cooper as the chief tatterdemalion) eliminate anyone who tries to leave.

In short, we have a good, old fashioned John Carpenter siege movie (see also: Assault on Precinct 13; The Thing; The Fog) to go with a thematically adventurous premise.

Given his predilection for British sci-fi, it's a shame Carpenter didn't get to do an intelligent adaptation of Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires. That job went to Tobe Hooper and the result was the lamentable 1985 boobs 'n'blood epic Lifeforce.

***1/2

 

Ethan Hawke in The Purge

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Ethan Hawke in The Purge (CP)

The Purge

On Halloween, people come to your house and make demands of goods contained therein. If you don't deliver, you may expect some wilful damage to your property.

For this reason, the thriller The Purge is entirely appropriate seasonal fare, albeit with a rather more deadly trick-or-treat dynamic.

In the near future, the American government has decided that every year, for one 12-hour period, all criminal activity including murder, is legal.

A security consultant (Ethan Hawke) intends to sit out the mayhem, keeping his wife (Lena Headey) and two kids behind the walls of a security system his company builds. But things don't go as planned, first because his daughter's boyfriend has smuggled himself into the house, and second because his young son has rescued an innocent fugitive from the violence raging outside. When the family's act of mercy is discovered by a roaming gang of masked, upper-class punks, the nation's madness comes home.

The premise is provocative, and it occasionally pays off with some savage satire about the American culture of violence. But writer-director James DeMonaco isn't an especially good director of action, and the movie tends to fall into a cycle of attack/counter-attack/rescue/rinse/repeat.

**1/2

 

Vera Farmiga

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Vera Farmiga (TRIBUNE MEDIA MCT)

The Conjuring

This is the second ghost-busting outing for director James Wan this year, the other being Insidious Chapter 2.

This one also stars Patrick Wilson, but it is beefed up somewhat by a bigger budget, a more impressive supporting cast and the added incentive of being based on a "true story."

Wilson plays Ed Warren, one of the first modern "demonologists," accompanies his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) on missions to cleanse various abodes of demonic forces.

The gig takes him to the rustic abode of the Perron family, afflicted with a fiendish spirit that menaces mom (Lili Taylor) and her five daughters.

Despite some DVD extras with stories of witnesses describing the basis for the film, The Conjuring is just not credible as a true story -- at best it's true-ish. But it's well-constructed and well-performed. (It's always a pleasure to see Lili Taylor do movies; she's one of those actors whose talent is so much greater than her resumé.)

After having created the Saw franchise, Wan achieves a kind of satisfactory penance by continuing to deliver old-fashioned heebie-jeebies.

***

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2013 C8

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