Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Don't Neglect Christine

Mention the name John Carpenter around horror nerds and you're libel to be subjected to their top ten list of his films in short order. This shouldn't come as a shock, the man's been a visionary staple of the horror genre for almost forty years. While the 70's play host to his largest hit (Halloween), the 80's where his busiest decade. With The Fog, Escape from New York and The Thing behind him and Big Trouble in Little China, Starman, Prince of Darkness and The Live all yet to come, Carpenter brought a little 50's muscle car to silver screen in 1983 that would kill you for neglecting her.

Christine is an adaptation of the CONCEPT of a Stephen King novel (which was not yet completed at the time of filming) brought to film by by John Carpenter but sharing only characters, locations and general concepts with the source material. The long and short details Christine, a custom 1958 Plymouth Fury, with a cherry "Ford Red" paint job, who isn't even off the assembly line before managing to murder while playing 50's rock and roll. Cute concept.

And now we're pulled forward to the "modern times" of rich suburban California of the 1980's and introduced to Arnie and Dennis. The former being an awkward nerd without a ride, the later being a popular football star who drives a 70's Charger. Despite the differences Arnie and Dennis are best friends, which is pretty refreshing given how infrequently that seems to happen in movies.

During one uneventful drive home, after being beaten by shop class bullies, our duo notice a rusted out, weather worn and junk yard destined Christine, for sale on an overgrown lawn. The car has a nasty history of death, but Dennis flat out cannot talk Arnie out of purchasing her. From this point forward, Arnie becomes a progressively different person as he spends almost a month repairing her to cherry condition.

It's fascinating to watch the parasitic relationship develop, as Christine reacts to any slights to herself or Arnie with acts of violence. She reacts to Arnie's girlfriend as though she was a jilted lover. And she enacts merciless vengeance on the shop class bullies who trashed her. At the same time, Arnie transforms into a cocky, arrogant punk with a wardrobe shift to a 50's greaser aesthetic and an obsessive compulsion that would make Gollum say "damn that dude's got some issues".

The most fascinating cinematography takes place during the famous Christine self repair scene. It's a bad ass moment, kicked off by Arnie's complete admittance that Christine is sentient, phrased as such succinct punctuation to the moment. "Show me." With that Christine, who was trashed to totaled, repairs herself completely in a miraculous display that should amaze and frighten. Though, of course, Arnie isn't sane enough at this point to be afraid. I first saw this film when I was six or seven; this scene left me in awe. It's still striking, even this morning when I watched it again. No CGI folks. Without the aid of the 'net, I challenge you to figure out how they did this.

I'm not trying to tell you that this is a better film than The Thing or any other Carpenter film you have a filthy obsession with (Ghosts of Mars? Really dude?). All I'm suggesting is that, when next you whip out your Carpenter top 10 list, you give Christine some attention. If you don't, she'll find you.

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