Friday, 11 February 2011

Christine (1983)

What’s interesting about John Carpenter is that having kicked off the slasher movie boom of the 80s with Halloween he lost interest in the genre so quickly and so completely.

In fact Carpenter went back to making what were in many ways very traditional horror movies. His next feature after Halloween was The Fog, which is very old-fashioned gothic horror. Maybe that’s why I have a soft pot for Carpenter. His output has been uneven but he clearly sees himself as being part of a horror movie tradition, and he understands that tradition extremely well, and he respects it.

You could say the same thing about his science fiction movies. The influence of the George Lucas style of science fiction on Carpenter’s work has been virtually nil. There was an older tradition of sci-fi movies, and Carpenter belongs to that tradition.

Carpenter’s 1983 movie Christine sums up his approach. It’s a classic sci-fi/horror drive-in movie. Drive-ins may have already been dying by that time but you can’t help feeling that this is a movie that would work best in a drive-in.

The plot is pretty dodgy (not surprising since it’s based on a Stephen King novel and Kind is not renowned for his subtlety) but a great traditional sci-fi/horror movie actually benefits from a plot that is fairly basic.

Arnie Cunningham is a late-70s uber-nerd. The only thing that makes him unusual is that instead of being obsessed by typical nerd interests he is obsessed by cars. Which beings him into unsurprisingly conflict with the kinds of high school kids who normally spend their time studying car maintenance at high school. Arnie’s life is a succession of humiliations until he meets Christine. Christine is a 1957 Plymouth Fury. Her tail-finned glory is difficult to recognise in the rustbucket that Arnie and his friend find slowly decaying by the side of the road, but Arnie can see it. Arnie knows he can bring her back to life.

And he does. The trouble is, Christine is just a little bit too much alive for a car. And she’s very jealous and possessive. And sensitive. This has already caused the deaths of her previous owner and numerous other people who have aroused Christine’s ire. Owning Christine is not like owning a car. It’s a love affair. A dangerous love affair. But Arnie is besotted.

Pretty soon Arnie is no longer the school’s biggest nerd. In fact the hottest girl at school is dating him. But how is Christine going to feel about this?

As I indicated earlier the whole thing has a slightly old-fashioned feel to it that I rather like. It’s a popcorn movie that doesn’t try to to be anything else. You get the feeling that Carpenter sees no need whatever to apologise for making a straightforward horror movie.

The acting is passable for the sort of movie this is. The special effects are OK. It’s not a movie that is going to redefine your ideas of cinema or give you any deep insights into the human condition. But it’s fun.


Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I agree that CHRISTINE is fun, but it was also the first theatrically released Carpenter film that just didn't have any edge to it. The films that preceded had a special quality, and CHRISTINE is marked more by blandness in my view. This is the film where the rot first set in for Carpenter.

Neil Fulwood said...

Although I'm in agreement with Shaun - 'Christine' is the first Carpenter movie where he seems detached from the material, just going through the motions - it's still a very entertaining film and true to the B-movie aesthetic of the material.