Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Flashbacks: Christine

Christine 1983
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Bill Phillips
Starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Christine Belford, Robert Blossoms, Kelly Preston, William Ostrandor and Malcolm Danare

Stephen King film adaptations have a long and varied history in the horror film genre. There are the flawless classics like Pet Sematary and The Mist, but along with those you have films like Sometimes They Come Back and Graveyard Shift. Thankfully, Christine falls into the former category. This film is a solid cinematic version of the book and though it streamlines certain things like the back history of the car, you don't judge it for that as the finished product is a great horror film that is not only scary but touches on the problems that face many teenagers as they try to endure high school. This is a film that is a great study of high school just like films like American Graffiti and Heathers. But, when it is time to amp up the horror elements of the story the film does not hold anything back. With scenes like the chasing down off the fat bully or the almost asphyxiation of Arnie's girlfriend, the film has many truly scary moments that make it a great horror film and by far the best one to deal with a demonic car. This was yet another film that shows Carpenter at the top of his game and shows how well he can work with someone else's material. The film balances the angst of high school life with the supernatural elements of a supernaturally possessed car deftly. That is why I see Christine as one of Carpenter's underrated classics.
The plot basics are this, Arnie Cunningham (Gordon) is your typical high school nerd, just trying to survive high school in one piece. His life is a perpetual hell, until as he is riding with his one friend, football player Dennis (Stockwell) and his eye catches on Christine an run down 1958 Plymouth Fury. He falls in love with the car and devotes all his energy and time to restoring her to her former glory. As he gets more wrapped up in the restoration, Arnie changes and begins to make himself an outcast to his girlfriend, Leigh (Paul) and Dennis and all he lives, eats and breathes is Christine. Dennis investigates on the past history of the car and discovers that it has a horrible and tragic past with its past owner. It becomes clear that there is something not right about the car and Dennis and Leigh decide that they must destroy Christine before the same thing happens to Arnie. Though, it seems Christine has ideas of her own and plans to destroy them before they can destroy her.
This is a great film. Carpenter's direction of the film is expertly done. The way he balances the monotony of high school life with the terrors of a demonically possessed car is masterful. This could easily feel like 2 disparate films but he commingles them together with craftsmanship precision. The whole conflict between Arnie and the bullies is done very realistically and when Arnie takes revenge on them after what they do to Christine it feels like a logical progression of his thought processes even though it has fantastical elements to it. It never feels forced and that is why the film works so well. The script by Phillips takes the central theme of King's book and distills it so it works perfectly in film form. The story is first about surviving high school and secondly about the horrors of a vengeful possessed car. The characters in the film are fleshed out completely, with a special note on Arnie and Dennis. You really sympathize and feel for Arnie and hope he survives the influence Christine has on him. While Dennis, is the caring friend who tries to make Arnie see the error of his ways, and though he has no success he keeps on trying like a good friend should do. The cast for the film is exquisite as it always is in a Carpenter film. Gordon is great as Arnie, his transformation from a geeky nerd to the all things car obsessed Arnie is gradual but inevitable. Its a testament to Gordon's acting that he pulls it off so well without over acting. Stockwell fills his role as the requisite hero very well, he has a stoic and empathic feel to his performance. Paul as Leigh is very good too especially in her opening scene in the library. The supporting cast is great too, with Prosky as the owner of the garage and Stanton as the cop investigating the rash of deaths attributed to Christine. The SFX and effects in the film are done expertly well. There is not much gore but what really works is the restructuring scenes of Christine, it is eerie and mesmerizing to watch. The score by Carpenter and Alan Howarth is another gem and is especially telling in the scenes when Christine is on the attack. Also, the use of 50's and 60's rock and roll music is a great addition to the soundtrack and really evokes the mood and period that the film is aiming for. All in all, this is another great film by Carpenter and well worth another view and I think any horror fan will get a deeper appreciation for this film with a second look.
This one gets 4 out of 5

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