I consider myself a jaded horror fan. I go into films with a half hope, but only half, that the film is gonna get me. It will unnerve me or jolt me or surprise me. It's that way with all types of movies, right? We don't want the movie to take the safe, predictable path. We want to see something new.
But that in itself isn't the highest measure of success. What I really love is when a scene, no longer new, continues to jolt upon repeated viewings. When you know what's gonna happen, and it still gets you, that's the blue-ribbon moment. And when that happens in a horror film, I think that's the highest mark in cinema, honestly. Those films are constructed to spook you, but 90% of those scares diffuse over time. But the other 100%, we horror fans treasure because of their rarity.
So it is with Prince of Darkness. Now it's not perfect. The film drags in spots. But the story is secondary to the visuals, and it's there that the filmmakers go all in. Essentially, it's a haunted-house movie: The people can't escape, and the danger is growing. In a small church sits a large cylinder, a prison for Satan, and it's weakening. A group of scholars is whittled away as the devil's influence seeps free, and doom with a capital D sets in.
What really gets me are the dream sequences. In the film, the scholars nod off and suffer a shared dream that's actually a time-shunted video from the future: Satan has escaped, and he's about to bring the thunder. It's a simple set piece -- a figure silhouetted in a doorway -- but director John Carpenter makes it work thanks to the "found footage" conceit. This presages quite a bit of modern horror/thrillers like Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, and the first alien scene in Signs. When Prince of Darkness was released (1987), home video was just starting to became affordable to everyone, and the audiences recognized what a first-person video moment looked like. More than 20 years later, this recurring scene gets me each time. And there's a significant alteration at the film's end that makes it all the creepier.