Reviewed By Ross Hughes
“Instead of hitting top gear, the film manages to stay in neutral!”……….
When you take a bestselling book from horror king Stephen King and put into the hands of the man who gave the world Halloween, its only right that you are excited by the prospect. Lets not forget as well, that Christine came out about the time Mr John Carpenter was on a roll, with that Michael Myers flick creating a new cinema sub genre, his creepy sailor ghost story The Fog still fresh on the sea coast, and of course The Thing still only a year old, Carpenter in charge of a story from the mind of The Shining should have worked , the fact it didn’t and the reasons why, is something of a deep mystery.
Some books they say are just unfilmable. Maybe the concept of a car with a mind of its own, works better on page than on screen but then that did not stop Herbie from going banana’s in many films and remakes. Christine leaves you cold when watching. Not from the horror that comes from the screen because I have to be honest there is hardly any, but from the characters to the plot flaws that blight the film. Every good horror needs a character we can sympathise with and root for, Christine has no one, other films can get away from the that by having a real mean bad guy has a hook, again Christine fails to provide. Its hard to believe in a possessed car, so you need good characters behind it, when you have either then you in trouble and for its a massive misstep from Carpenter who should have known better. If we were scared shitless and believed that there were sailors that came in with The Fog then, we should have accepted that a 1958 Plymouth Fury can have a mind of its own and kill people when it wants, and the reason why we can’t can only be contributed to the reasons above.
And it all starts ever so well. The intro shows the headlights of a car, the name of Carpenter appears underneath the title and the music is ever so John. If you have not seen this film before, you have hope that this would be the 4th film in a row that the great man has nailed. But then only five minutes in the change of tone is apparent. Gone is the doom sounding music replaced by the rock “Bad to the bone!” song that embarks the first appearance of the car, on a production line in all its red and white glory. If this is supposed to be the first scene that sucks us in then its wrong as it all feels comical. When a worker gets in and shows a lack of respect to the car by flicking ash from his cigar all over the place, there is no feeling of dread or tension, and in the next scene, when we see the worker dead in the passenger seat, it fails to give the apparent push towards horror that it was intended. Interesting, this scene was never in the book, the first few pages sees young Arnie Cunningham discover Christine, but here that process takes a lot longer. Its very rare to say that a book is more leaner and meaner than the film, but in this case it is.
Arnie in this played by Keith Gordon is the typical school outsider. You know the ones that filled American films in the eighties, a very nerd like boy, thick glasses, nervous towards girls and dominating parents. His best friend is the more cooler Dennis (John Stockwell) who somehow has this friendship with Arnie that does not quite border on pity, but of more mutual respect. Its this friendship that should be the engine of the film, but it never quite materialises. The reason behind that is despite Carpenter following the same principle of Halloween, in which we get nearly an hour of build up, we the viewer can not quite connect with Arnie like we did with Laurie. When Arnie discovers and buys the old rust car and does it up, we do not see the transformation of quiet kid to hot stud that we should believe in. The first time we see his new found confidence is when Dennis spots him kissing the hot new girl Leigh (Alexandra Paul), a girl that Dennis liked. When Dennis asks Arnie how he got the girl, we then see the more smooth taking with attitude kind of guy, who has thrown away his glasses and has become quite smartly dressed. All we have known up this point is that Arnie at night is doing up the car, trying restore it to its former pride, it would have been nice to see these scenes, and see for ourselves how Christine is changing this once nice boy.
Its the pacing and editing that shows how much of a mess Christine is. Despite the direction talent, the film never hits a stride and always seems to be stuck in the slow lane. When the school bullies swear revenge on Arnie by smashing up his car, we are shown a wonderful scene in which after they have destroyed the car, Arnie, upset and heartbroken stands back and asks Christine to show him….in which it does by somehow rebuilding itself. The headlights shine bright and Arnie smiles in a brilliant image and this was the cue that the film will kick in. Even though we get to the first killings, they are very unmemorable and instead of hitting top gear, the film somehow manages to stay in neutral.
Interesting, Carpenter was working on Firestarter when the major flop of The Thing made Universal pull him from the picture. He ended up doing this adaption because the makers knew they were hiring a man of many talents. Christine shares many classic hallmarks of the man from the music to some startling imagery, but its the weak plot that lets everything down. There is nothing really to get excited, even the climax is half hearted and while die hard Carpenter fans will scream blue murder at my criticism of the great man, they seem to forget that maybe at a time when his powers were high, we should have expected a lot better than what we were given.
Carpenter himself said he had a major problem when it came to filmng. Originally the film had Arnie haunted by the deceased past owner of the car, he would appear to Arnie all decayed and talked to him. The trouble was, Carpenter thought this was too simialr to the then recent American Werewolf In London, and saw the script was changed many times and it shows
its not that Carpenter made a bad film, its just Christine is not a good film full stop. A concept that may go down well with the kiddies and their Volkswagen Beetle, but not for grown ups who get no explanation why this car is what it is. I have always said that the bogyman with no motive and back-story is is more scary than anything else on offer, but a car with a mind of murderous intent, needs some explaining and while the book offers the reader a solution, we the viewers of the film are left in limbo, and as a result, the film is another of those that can join the list of great booK poor adaptation!….
OVERALL: What may have been a great read, fails to translate onto the big screen despite the name of John Carpenter above the title. This is more Sleepwalkers than The Shining…..