Making the Leap To Scream Factory's Prince of Darkness

Fans had been calling for a special edition of John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness for dog's years. Fans other than myself, that is. And it's not because I wasn't a fan of the film - in fact it's one of my favorite Carpenter films; I've always enjoyed its supernatural "all Hell breaking loose and anything can happen" theme of horror, a la The Beyond or In the Mouth of Madness. But I'd always been happy with the foreign Studio Canal editions which had a great 2.35:1, uncut transfer and a super fun audio commentary by Carpenter and Peter Jason. I wound up getting the German disc just before realizing there was a French one which also had a short interview and intro with Carpenter as an extra bonus. But either way, I always felt like Prince of Darkness had been scratched off the "desperately in need of a proper release" list, and just shook my head at those people who'd never gone region free.

Update 4/2/17: "You compared the Scream Factory blu to a German import DVD, but not the regular American one from Universal? That's weird," said no one in particular.  Okay, well now here's the USA Universal DVD in the mix, too.
You're probably think just like me if you put off picking this one up. But the upgrade to an HD presentation of a brand new transfer, accompanied by a bevy of new extras, was eventually enough to force my collector's hand for Scream Factory's 2013 special edition blu-ray. Especially as this atmospheric, anything goes horror is right up my alley.
The film opens by introducing a strong ensemble cast, including Donald Pleasance and several returning cast members from Big Trouble In Little China, as a group of clergymen and scientists who will wind up teaming up in a race to decipher the secrets of the universe before an ancient evil wipes out humanity. I like the idea that these characters are racing against the clock to learn. I mean, sure plenty of horror movies have had people striving to figure out something like "the monster's weakness is electricity!" But here they've got to basically crack the secrets of quantum physics and theology that the human race has been working on since the birth of the original man... in about 24 hours.
But it's not nearly as nerdy as all that. It's a wild, atmospheric ride that doesn't let the limitations of its tight budget allow you to believe that you know what's coming next. Whether its an army of evil homeless people, zombies, shadowy figures from the future, telekinetic green slime, swarms of killer insects or a giant monster behind a mirror, the film is always creeping up the ante to something new and bigger. And while there are occasional lines of wit and levity, the film does a nice job of playing everything straight and getting pretty far out there without becoming silly or harmless.
And yes sir, Scream's blu sure trumps the old DVDs. Sure, they both have a proper, colorful 2.35:1 picture. But I just didn't know what I was missing until I popped Scream's disc in. You should know by now that I love matching up screenshots whenever I get the chance, so let's do it!
Universal on top; Studio Canal/ Kinowelt middle; Scream Factory bottom.
Interestingly though, there's almost more difference between the two DVDs. The Universal DVD is much softer, paler, and and has uglier color timing.  It's also interlaced, yuck!  The German DVD is still in standard def and naturally a step down from the blu, but it was a big step in the right direction. Still, the colors look more vivid and natural on the Scream discs, and when you right click to see these full size is when you really notice the difference. The German DVD's pretty good, but by comparison, it's splotchy and looks like it's relying on a lot of edge enhancement or unsharpen mask. The blu just looks more natural and energetic, and there seems to be a sliver more picture around its edges. To be fair to the DVD, which was really quite good for its time, I don't see a lot of additional detail in the new version or anything. I can't read any small print in the background that was previously just a blur. Oh, and fans of Carpenter's scores should especially appreciate the even cleaner, smoother audio.
So the Universal DVD has nothing but a fullscreen trailer, so let's jump right to the good stuff. For some reason, the back of Scream's box really undersells the extras. It just says, "audio commentary with director John Carpenter" (no mention of Peter Jason, who's jovial and has a lot to add... often remembering more about the movie than Carpenter. And yes, it is the same commentary ported over.
Then, the only other thing it says, besides the theatrical trailer, is "new interviews with director John Carpenter and Alice Cooper." Those are true, of course. The Carpenter interview is interesting and does a good job of not being too redundant with what he says in the commentary, despite having recorded them many years apart. And Cooper's interview is fun and gets into the back-story of how they wound up working together. But there's a lot more than just those two interviews, and things a lot more compelling than the trailer which somehow got billing in their stead!
Effects supervisor Robert Grasmere has a really fun interview about winding up as a cast member in the film, and having not one but two death scenes in the film. Then there's composer Alan Howarth who talks about working on the music with Carpenter. Especially fun is another episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds, where they visit almost all of Prince of Darkness's old locations today. You also get a seven minute segment of the television version of the film, which features some interesting footage not seen in the theatrical version, although the quality is lacking, as it just seems to have been taped off of broadcast TV and added with the channel's watermark pixelated out through the whole thing. Plus there's a stills gallery and radio spots. And finally, there's an entertaining, 13 minute Q&A with Carpenter from a 2012 screening where he takes questions from their host and a general audience. All together, it's a pretty rich package.
In every aspect, it's a pretty great release of a film that's pretty dang neat in its own right. You really can't ask for much more. I'm always hesitant to double-dip, and admittedly if you jumped from the Universal DVD to the Kino, that was already half the battle. But I'm glad I quit stalling on this 360 upgrade.

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