Single Take: Kleber Mendonça Filho on “Prince of Darkness”

Back in 1989, I went to see John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness all by myself at downtown Recife’s Art-Palacio cinema, a 1,300-seat palace built in 1938. (It closed in 1992.) It was a weekday. I was in college at the time and those years set my moviegoing-attendance record. I would watch just about everything, and in fact it was easy — I actually wanted to see everything that came out. Also, I was 19 but couldn’t help noticing Prince of Darkness was rated “18,” quite remarkable at a time when RoboCop and Aliens got a “14.” “How bad can it get?” So there was the excitement of seeing something heavy, in downtown, by Carpenter, alone and in a massive old cinema.

The movie theater was mostly empty and I decided to see the film in the balcony, which was always closed except for major attractions from that time, e.g. Rambo III. Watching the film in the balcony was like seeing the film by myself, right on the first row, facing the large and very wide screen at mid-point.

After about 20 minutes, Prince of Darkness started to get to me, much like in the film with those scientists in that Los Angeles church. Maybe it was the music, which also, after a while, did not feel or even sound like music at all, but just some presence in the room.

At some point, it felt like I had made the wrong choice having gone up to the balcony, and I started looking around and over my shoulders. The homeless people outside the church is one disturbing image I still carry vividly: I actually remember the screen and the wide shot of someone running — CUT — to a wrist and a large pair of scissors on their way to a victim in the middle of a parking lot.

Then something happened: at some point, somebody showed up in one of the dark entrances to the balcony. I could just about see that it was a homeless man who used the balcony to sleep and who most likely had the sympathy of the cinema manager; he had a plastic bag and noticed me, but went further up the balcony. And that music, and that widescreen work from a director who has this thing with horror and dread. What a strange and powerful filmgoing memory.

Born in 1968 in Recife, northeastern Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho was raised and continues to live in his hometown. After graduating college, Mendonça Filho worked extensively as a journalist and film critic. During the 1990s, he directed several documentaries and experimental shorts. His two feature films are the widely-acclaimed Neighboring Sounds (2012) and Aquarius (2016).

Single Takes are short reflections on memorable viewing experiences. Read more entries.