Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 110 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Keith Gordon (THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, DRESSED TO KILL, director of THE CHOCOLATE WAR, WAKING THE DEAD), John Stockwell (MY SCIENCE PROJECT, TOP GUN), Harry Dean Stanton (PARIS TEXAS, WILD AT HEART), Alexandra Paul (BAYWATCH, DRAGNET '87), Robert Prosky (GREMLINS 2, LAST ACTION HERO), Kelly Preston (JERRY MAGUIRE, TWINS), Roberts Blossom (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, FLASHPOINT). Original music by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Special effects supervised by Roy Arbogast (RETURN OF THE JEDI, THEY LIVE, JAWS 2). Stunt coordinated by Terry Leonard (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, COBRA). Written by Bill Phillips (FIRE WITH FIRE, EL DIABLO), and based on the novel by Stephen King.
Tag-line: "Seductive. Passionate. Possessive. Say hello to Christine...Your Girlfriend, The Car."
Best one-liner: "No shitter ever came between me and Christine!"
I didn't like CHRISTINE very much the first time I saw it. I think I expected either mind-blowing gore and stomach-churning tension á la THE THING or balls-out fun and Americana smart-alecks á la BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and so I was left a little disappointed. However, I've found that my appreciation for it increases exponentially with each viewing, and now I'd have no problem whatsoever referring to it as an upper-tier Carpenter.
A much-hyped collaboration between two titans of modern horror, Stephen King and John Carpenter, CHRISTINE plays well to some of their respective fascinations: King's being the turbulence of adolescence heightened by runaway supernatural evil (see also: CARRIE) and Carpy's being an obsession with 50's nostalgia and the feeling of being born in the wrong time (see also: WAITING OUT THE EIGHTIES). The story of a murderous '57 Plymouth Fury and the strange hold it takes over the personality of a 70's teenage outcast, CHRISTINE is equal parts thriller, chiller, and a freaky coming-of-age. Here's ten reasons I think it's quite a plum in Carpenter's oeuvre:
#1. The soundtrack (and occasional lack thereof). Right off the bat, Carpenter lets us know it's not exactly business as usual: despite the familiar Albertus font, the film opens not with the familiar strains of a synthesized Carpy score, but the malevolent idling of an engine. Later, we get some Carpy-penned tension-building tracks, but the majority of the soundtrack is made up of classic, early Rock n' Roll tracks (which take on an even greater significance when the demon-car Christine begins to use their lyrics to communicate!). Carpenter also beautifully illustrates the decline of American culture as Buddy Holly's original "Not Fade Away" literally fades away into Tanya Tucker's 70's-tastic (and fairly abhorrant) version. Including Bonnie Raitt's reinterpretation of Del Shannon's "Runaway" achieves the same purpose: groundbreaking, sincere work gives way to glossy, poppy, overproduced nonsense. (And I don't mean especially to pick on Tanya and Bonnie, because the state of mainstream artistic expression has only worsened since!)
#2. Robert Prosky. One of the great character actors, his irascible (and frequently improvised) Old Man Darnell can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned.
"That's the last time you run that mechanical asshole in here without an exhaust hose," he gripes while chewing on that old man cud that all grizzled garage owners apparently chew on. "Don't think you got the gold key to the crapper-nobody takes advantage of me!" He's great.
#3. Use of the word "shitter." Sometimes Stephen King goes a little over the top with the stylized patois, but every once in a while, a term pops up that truly warms my heart. Like when Keith Gordon squeals "Don't touch her... SHITTER!" Or when Roberts Blossom (any relation to Buck Flower?) malevolently intones "You don't know half as much as you think you do...SHITTER!" I could go on.
#4. Christine's self repair. Sure, the key principal at hand here is running the film backwards, but even the 80's SFX-naysayers must admit that the end result is astounding.
And just think of how shitty it'd look with CGI. I'm sure a remake will be in the works shortly, as the powers that be continue to mine Carpenter's back catalogue– it makes my skin crawl.
#5. The choking scene. Carpenter illustrates a supernatural event (a car consciously trapping a girl inside as she chokes on some food) through the simplest terms (extremely bright light)...and it works!
#6. Photographing Christine as though she's Michael Myers from HALLOWEEN.
And it occurs to me that those early scenes in HALLOWEEN on Michael driving around and stalking the girls likely later served as Carpenter's 'audition' for CHRISTINE! (And see the opening sequence of HALLOWEEN III for the aftershocks.) Also, the sudden lighting of piercing headlamps in the darkness makes for a great and unexpected horror motif!
#7. Carpy's meditations on the relationships between humans and machines.
Carpenter takes a different, less fleshy approach than, say, Cronenberg, but he's got a lot to say about the feelings which we ascribe to our objects. At what point does a car merit a gender? At which point does Christine emerge as a character beneath the indifferent chrome and candy apple? Is it when she's wounded- when that gaping maw of gnarled pipes and twisted metal resembles a mouth?
Regardless, there's an excellent moment when, after a demonstration of Christine's sentience, a porch light flips on suddenly in the darkness. We're in a state of mind which believes immediately somehow that the light may be 'alive,' yet it quickly sinks in that a person (soon revealed to be a parent) has turned on the light in response to a teenage argument. But it demonstrates perfectly that odd disconnect between identifying machines and the people who operate them.
#8. Harry Dean Stanton. Sure, his part's not that big. Sure, he's been better used elsewhere. But when Harry Dean Stanton shows up, I stand to attention and salute.
It does make me kind of sad that Harry Dean and Carpenter only collaborated twice, though––can you imagine him as one of the crew in THE THING? Or as a resistance member in THEY LIVE? The mind reels.
#9. I love it when high-schoolers are ambiguously middle-aged. It's like it was a prerequisite to have at least a couple in every teen movie.
#10. Keith Gordon. Sometimes I can't quite tell if an actor is terrible or brilliant, but I enjoy their performance all the same. His character begins as a nerd that's excited about Scrabble and can't even open his own locker,
but transforms into a psychotic, car-obsessed 70's greaser prone to Pesci-esque explosions of emotion. Occasionally he enters the realm of "Hoo boy, that's over the top," but that's really such a fine line that perhaps it's not for me to say.
What is for me to say? Well, how about a toast– "Death to all SHITTERS of 1979!"