Tuesday 1 November 2011

Movie Review: Christine (1983)

A stylish supernatural thriller, Christine is sleek and flashy. John Carpenter directs the adaptation of Stephen King's book with sly verve, and delivers entertaining suspense.

A 1958 Plymouth Fury is born rotten: still on the assembly line, it injures one worker and kills another. 20 years later, and nerdy high school kid Arnie (Keith Gordon) spots an abandoned and rusted Christine for sale. He impulsively buys the car, despite the protestations of his friend Dennis (John Stockwell). Arnie sets about repairing Christine at the garage of Will Darnell (Robert Prosky), while Dennis discovers that Christine's previous owner committed suicide in the car, after both his wife and child were killed also in Christine.

Arnie's personality changes: he confidently wins the affections of Leigh (Alexandra Paul), the new girl at the school, then he becomes aggressive, foul-mouthed and finally enraged. Mysterious accidents take place, with Christine violently running down anyone who is mean to Artie or demanding of his attention, including Buddy, the local bully, and all his gang members. Detective Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton) connects the dots and starts to pressure Arnie into explaining why his car is involved in so many unexplained deaths, leading to a final confrontation involving Artie, Christine, Dennis and Leigh.

The transformation of Arnie is the centrepoint of Christine, and Keith Gordon convincingly transitions from geeky to cocky to obsessed as Christine gets a hold of his soul. John Stockwell is also solid as Dennis, while Robert Prosky as the pot-bellied and foul-mouthed Darnell uses copious amounts of bile to chew up and spit out every scene that he's in. In one of her earliest roles, Alexandra Paul cannot rise beyond the confines of the stock attractive girlfriend role.

But the true star of the movie is Christine, or the 21 Plymouth cars that Carpenter used and mostly destroyed to make the film. Ostensibly a 1958 Fury, Carpenter actually used a combination of Furies, Belvederes and Savoys to represent Christine, and succeeded in creating an intimidating automotive monster, all the more menacing due to its sick sense of humour in using old tunes on the radio as a soundtrack to it's murderous intentions.

Carpenter's greatest success is visual. The scenes of Christine's self-repair are mesmerizing, while the Fury-on-fire sequence chasing Buddy to his death is a haunting classic.

Technology running amok and turning against humans is one of Stephen King's favourite topics for creating suspense stories, but Christine also works as a metaphor for the destructive impact of the automobile age. Christine succeeds in effortlessly transforming the staid and cerebral Arnie to a self-obsessed anti-social maniac, and destroys all his relationships, in other words a direct if exaggerated parallel to the impact of the auto industry on overall societal behaviour.

Christine charges down the road, throttle wide open, on the way to a gratifying and classy horror film experience.

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