M.I.A.: Lamberto Bava's Prince of Terror

I've been adding so many films to my on-going list of DVD & blu-ray titles I want to cover on this site, that I've been neglecting those that are still desperately in need of any kind of disc release at all.  And man,  am I tired of waiting for this one!  Lamberto Bava's Il Maestro del Terrore, or The Prince of Terror, was made for Italian television in 1989 as part of their Alta Tensione quadrilogy, along with School of Fear, Eyewitness (a remake of a previous Dario Argento television production) and The Man Who Wouldn't Die.  But The Prince of Terror didn't air until 1999 because it was deemed to be just too much for television audiences at the time.  And oh boy, is it!   If you're looking for the kind of obscure movie with scenes so outrageous they can make you break out into applause even when you're just watching the film at home by yourself, this is it.  Sure, as a whole, the movie's a bit clunky, but prepare for an inflating zombie, chainsaw attacks, deadly golf balls marked 666, twisted mind games, lethal booby traps, multiple madmen, a dog named Demon, fake deaths, toilets overflowing with blood, diegetic special effects and one of the great, absurdist endings of all time.  There's even a robot!
Now, when I call this clunky, I think I mostly mean the typical Italian post-sync dubbing, which makes all the performances feel stagey and ridiculous.  In this case, though, that adds almost as much as it subtracts; and beyond that, screenwriter extraordinaire Dardano Sacchetti certainly knows how to keep the plot twists coming.  Production values are high and Bava's scenes are atmospheric and well lit, with that 80s neon tone and plenty of blue night filters.  Simon Boswell's score is reliably effective but feels a little low effort compared to his other work.  Typical suspense riffs play through scenes of our protagonists slowly creeping around the house, helped by the fact that our protagonist is a horror director himself, so while for the most part it plays like any other thriller, you'll notice he's suddenly walking past a giant glowing eyeball or a portrait of Frankenstein's monster.
Yes, Tomas Arana, star of The Church and The Sect, plays Vincent Omen, a famous horror director who's so successful, people have begun to associate him with the devil himself.  "Take a good look at me," he tells a reporter on his private golf course, "do I look different?  Do I have skin like a reptile?  Are my eyes phosphorescent?  Do I have hoofed feet?"  Yeah, so with an attitude like that, it's not hard to guess that he's made some enemies in the business, including a longtime collaborative screenwriter who he fired off his most recent production and an actor he injured in a dangerous stunt.  So when his family home is invaded in the middle of the night by someone intent on sadistically toying with the Omens, it could be anybody, or seemingly even multiple murderers, out to prove just who is the true prince of terror.
They have a daughter who's character, I guess, is supposed to be 13 or so?  She's treated as being that age and plays it that way, if not even younger.  Plus Mr. Omen says he's 37, so how much older could she be?  But she's clearly played by a grown woman to allow for some sexual tension in the third act.  It's the sort of move they'd never try to pull nowadays.  Not that there's ever actually any nudity, and the sleaze factor is never allowed to rise to House On the Edge of the Park levels.  It's mostly more of a fun, one-surprise-after-another spook show, but some moments dance on that edge.
Italian horror fans will spot plenty of familiar faces, including David Brandon from Stage Fright and monstrous cameos from the actual creatures of Devil Fish and Demons 2.  There are some great, gruesome effects by the one and only Sergio Stivaletti, and even a crazy bit of stop motion animation.  The Prince of Terror might not quite add up to a masterpiece, but it's constructed out of so many great parts, that I'm sure it would accrue a healthy following if it were ever allowed to find its audiences.  I honestly believe the cult video label that started putting titles like this and Spider Labyrinth out in HD would quickly become a horror fan favorite, even in this age of stiff competition.  And I know it's silly, but I want Mask Of the Demon, too, dammit!  Come on, guys, who's going to finally step up for these must-have gems?

1 comment:

  1. Your copy looks much better than mine, which was a time-coded dupe several gens deep! I'd definitely get behind a proper release.