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Christine (1983) – Carpenter countdown #9

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At the time, Stephen King was an enormously successful horror writer and the rights to Christine were bought (and the film started production) before the book's publication.

Concept: The film of the Stephen King novel.

A red Plymouth Fury car is being built on a 1957 assembly line to the anachronistic sound of Bad to the Bone. Someone hurts their hand when the hood falls on it, while another person is killed while smoking in it during a break. Twenty-one years later, nerd Keith Gordon spots the car as a barely mobile wreck and falls in love with it despite the advice of cool friend John Stockwell who goes on to discover that the body count has increased in the intervening years. By that point, it's too late: Gordon may be unable to open his school locker without help, but he proves able to fix the car at the local junkyard cum garage.

Before long, he's dating the most gorgeous girl in the school, Alexandra Paul, and distracting Stockwell enough to help cause a serious football injury. Paul nearly chokes to death inside Christine, and when she gives Gordon a 'me or the car' ultimatum, he picks the car. But before long, the school gang of bullies has completely trashed the car. Oh noes! Gordon's reaction is to call Paul a 'shitter' and his father a 'motherfucker', but is delighted to see that Christine can repair herself. The gang is then hunted down: chased, crushed and crisped by car. Despite sustaining serious damage each time, Christine is restored. Concerned about Gordon, Stockwell and Paul get together and decide to save him, even if that means destroying Christine. But will he let them do that? And will she?

What’s good: The cinematography, this time by Donald M. Morgan, is excellent and it has lots of Carpenter's fluid camera work.

For almost unknowns, the leads are all very good. Gordon's transition from nerd to cool, and from nervous virgin to sexually confident (but still possibly a virgin) is done particularly well, both with his acting and the visual design. The supporting cast, including Harry Dean Stanton, is even better.

The question of whether or not Gordon is behind the wheel as Christine attacks the gang that trashed her is kept nicely concealed until the reveal.

Typically, the 'why' for Christine being evil is simply handled. In the book, it's the ghost of a previous owner encouraging the bad stuff, but here, Christine is just evil from the assembly line. No explanation, much better.

What’s not so good: Not much actually. The main problem is that, for a film sold as horror, it's simply not scary and there's not enough tension either. There are a couple of effective 'boo's, but ultimately, the story is silly. It's also a tiny bit long at 1h45m.

Music: Improvised 'in association with' Alan Howarth. At the time, I wasn't convinced. There's no main title music (there's just the sound of the car's engine running over them) and the best section – Christine Attacks – is an hour in. But it is very atmospheric and the use of other music is well done (Christine's radio will only play 50s music) such as having Little Richard's Keep A-Knocking ('but you can't come in') is used when Stockwell tries to open the door. There's a lovely transition between the Buddy Holly Not Fade Away and a modern cover version as the film moves from 1957 to 1978.

Miscellany: There's not much gore. In order to get the US 'R' / UK 18 rating that the makers thought horror fans would expect, lots of swearing was added. Without that, I suspect it'd be a 12A.

The leads are one of the very few in Carpenter films who don't smoke on screen.

Overall: The first and easily the best of Carpenter's 'films of the book' (the others being Vampires, Memoirs and Village, so that's not hard), this is much better than I remembered. Part of the problem was that it directly followed two of his very best films, and as mentioned, the marketing was misleading as well. I wouldn't characterise it as a horror film – the car doesn't scare me – more a supernatural drama. The commercial flop of his previous film meant that this was the only thing on offer, but he ended up doing a very good job.

The love between Gordon and the car comes across as the second best romantic relationship in a Carpenter film. The budget it had in comparison to Carpenter's early films shows, the pre-CGI effects work well, and almost the only thing that looks dated is Alexander Paul's hairstyle. Easily a contender to be the fifth best of the many adaptations of Stephen King's work (Carrie, Stand By Me, Misery, and The Shawshank Redemption have the top four places).

TL;DR It's hard to believe that the same person did this and Memoirs / Village

Film: 3.5/5
DVD: 4.5/5

Commentary with Keith Gordon (a mix of reminisces and technical info), deleted / extended scenes and three modern featurettes. Excellent visual quality for its age.

DVD and the Carpenter/Howarth score:

Written by Ian

June 20th, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

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