Muddled, jaggedly edited, sometimes unintentionally hilarious and frequently incoherent horror slop from a man who should really know better. Carpenter, who also scripted (using the alias "Martin Quartermass"), co-produced and did the excellent electronic music score, seems to have bit off more than he could chew with this one. Just as I always suspected, the ectoplasmic essence of Satan himself is being kept in the basement of an abandoned Los Angeles ghetto church, imprisoned inside a giant lava lamp that looks like it was filled by Slimer from GHOSTBUSTERS. Priest Donald Pleasence notices some weird stuff is afoot and contacts a college professor (Victor Wong), who puts together a team of multi-ethnic brainiacs (biochemists, radiologists, computer experts, mathematicians, theologists and various other scientist types) to investigate. When some ancient text is decoded, it reveals that the gunk is actually the liquefied remains of old scratch, put there by his own father seven million years ago. The container springs a leak, spits out a stream of slime into a young woman's mouth and then the fun and games begin as people trapped inside the old church are killed off (or possessed) one by one. People share nightmares (actually video transmissions from the future?!), others commit suicide, a black zombie sings "Amazing Grace," a head falls off, a neck is cracked, a throat is slashed, demonic messages show up on a computer screen, there's an infestation of bugs, worms and maggots and a cult of schizophrenic street people lurking the alleyways and killing off anyone who tries to leave.
Granted, this is an ambitious and sometimes interesting film, but it's also needlessly cluttered and excessively talky. The latter wouldn't even matter so much if the dialogue was well-written, but it's not. Carpenter certainly means well, but he seems to be trying too hard to capture the academic setting when he clearly doesn't have the ear for it. The constant stream of science, theory and speculation heaved at us from various mediocre to bad actors playing pseudo-intellectual characters who behave as though any every random casual conversation is a dissertation becomes downright annoying after awhile. The production values are decent and there are a few genuinely creepy moments in the film, but the acting and script (as well as a rotten ending) really drag it down. And for a movie that obviously wants to be taken seriously, such high camp moments as rocker Alice Cooper (as the pale-faced leader of the killer bums) impaling a nerd with a bicycle seems a bit out of place. I much preferred Carpenter's follow-up film - the clever, politically charged sci-fi film THEY LIVE (1988) - to this one.
Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount (an 80s actress I definitely miss - come back, Lisa!) star, along with Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Dirk Blocker, Peter Jason and Thom Bray.