Blu-ray: John Carpenter’s ‘Prince of Darkness’ and ‘Halloween’

Two from John Carpenter arrive this week in newly remastered editions.

Prince of Darkness: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory) gives the Blu-ray debut and deluxe treatment to what is perhaps the most underrated film in John Carpenter’s filmography. “While order does exist in the universe, it is not what we had in mind,” explains a professor in theoretical physics in the first act, as good an introduction as you can get to this metaphysical mix of quantum physics and Christian mythology. Carpenter wrote the film under the pseudonym Martin Quatermass, a tribute to writer Nigel Kneale, and this is very much in the Kneale tradition, bringing myth and science together into a metaphysical horror. The premise is basic — a group of people (in this case scientists and graduate students) in a confined space (a neglected Los Angeles church) hunted by a killer — but the stakes are cosmic. Carpenter, working in a small budget, returns to simple, practical special effects, which has the effect of grounding the horror, while the dialogue plays with the scope of the threat. It’s a film that, a few awkward performances aside, gets better with each viewing.

Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by John Carpenter with actor Peter Jason, new interviews with John Carpenter (10 minutes), Alice Cooper, who is memorable in a wordless role as a possessed street person (9 minutes), effects supervisor and actor Robert Grasmere (12 minutes), and co-composer / arranger Alan Howarth (10 minutes), a “Horror’s Hallowed Ground” tour of the locations, and an alternated opening from the TV version.

Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition (Anchor Bay) doesn’t need as much build-up. It is, after all, the film that put the director on the map. But while it was a massive hit movie that (for better and for worse) pushed the slasher movie into the American mainstream, it is also a beautifully-made made picture by a director who brings a visual intelligence to a genre so often reduced to hack directors and gimmicks in place of storytelling. Carpenter was a master of the Panavision frame and he brings an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere to the film, hiding his boogeyman in the shadows and sometimes in plain sight, taunting the audience not with what they can’t see, but what they can’t control. Which is much scarier.

It gets a superb new high-definition transfer, supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey, and a new commentary track with Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis, reuniting for the first time in years (“Jamie and I haven’t seen each other in a long time,” remarks Carpenter during the credits) to compare memories and swap stories. The Blu-ray and DVD also features the new hour-long documentary “The Night She Came Home” with Jamie Lee Curtis at a rare convention appearance and the previously available featurette “On Location: 25 Years Later” from the “25th Anniversary Edition,” with P.J. Soles and Debra Hill back at the scene of the crime to revisit the original Michael Myers house, plus ten minutes of footage from the TV version.