The Prince of Darkness
When I was about twelve or so years old, I was fortunate enough to be situated in a classic situation of having my parents’ semi-finished basement as my play space, complete with cable television. The SciFi Channel (you may know it as its current form of SyFy) hadn’t been around too long and was actually still in this wonderful period of just kind of having a giant, targeted array of programming which was classic science fiction and horror. They have since ventured into pro-wrestling and reality shows, but they’re starting to return to form by introducing some quality original programming. The point is that the early days had some classic stuff, including some of the works of the venerable John Carpenter.
It’s a little hollow to discuss the virtues of John Carpenter because at the age of twelve I had no idea who he was or if/why he was great. To this day I remain not intrinsically aware of all of his contributions. I do know now that he was responsible for the movie “Prince of Darkness”
I showed up in the middle of the movie. I can tell you what I later discovered I didn’t see. I didn’t see the blood oozing skinless face scene. I didn’t see the crazy liquid streaming out of the woman’s face scene. I didn’t even see the main character, which is a tube full of green goo.
I saw the scene where the main characters were investigating a video recording. It is a shaky cam POV stalking around some kind of church yard with gates blocking access to a building, and the building has an open door with smoke and light pouring out and standing in this doorway, bobbing about, is a silhouetted cloaked figure.
I admit, it’s even a little hard for me to retell, seeing it again now. But indulge me when I convey to you that at that time, in that darkened basement, that cheesey effect was the scariest god damn thing I’d ever seen in my life. Go ahead and consider anything you’ve ever been scared by, from a mild concern over gravy to an authentic, unprepared jump scare, and there’s solidly 85% odds I had you beat.
For me it was a fairly swift rising dread panic. It took but a moment, but you could feel the entire experience occur.
You saw something.
Your eyes process the image itself.
Your brain goes ahead and interprets the image in its own special way (you precious unique snowflake, you).
Then it dawns on you: this is frightening! Like, for real!
And then finger mashes power button.
And there you are. For the rest of your days you’ll be able to recall that ten seconds of screen time from your childhood and it will always be accompanied by a little bit of that pit of your stomach feeling. I’ve since seen clips and screen grabs and it seems clear that it’s really not terribly scary, but, it does remain, to some small degree, to this day.
In those pre-internet days, it was far more difficult to suss out what that movie was from ten seconds of fuzzy recall. In fact, I believe I had to wait for the internet to be a widely available thing before I could track it down. It’s not terribly effective to ask around your limited group of friends wondering “Hey have you seen the scary movie with the thing in the doorway?”
“What’s it called?”
“I don’t know.”
“What else happens?”
“I don’t know.”
I think it’s to his credit: John Carpenter, you’ve scarred me for life.