Today’s post is made up of two parts. Part I is about John Carpenter’s Christine and is a full post by itself. Part II is just a short aside about They Live. I really enjoyed They Live and wanted to say something about it somewhere but it’s not really a horror film so I didn’t feel like it should get a full post on its own. Today I’m finishing up with the John Carpenter movies but this isn’t the end of Stephen King. Nope, there’s more of that yet to come.
Part I: Christine
I’ve spent the last two days writing about Stephen King and John Carpenter. Why not keep that going and combine two good things, see what happens? Today I’m going to write about the movie I thought I was writing about last night, John Carpenter’s version of Stephen King’s story Christine.
Christine was a new one for me this month. Several people suggested I watch it and since I obviously love both Stephen King and John Carpenter, it’s an idea that makes sense. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite by either but I did enjoy it quite a bit. It’s a fun movie that has a lot of familiar elements from both King and Carpenter. Not a bad combination at all.
Christine is about two highschool boys growing up in small town America in the 1970’s – All-American Dennis and bookish nerd Arnie. They’re best friends, even if on the surface they have little in common. Dennis is the football star, the prettiest girl in school wants to date him, he’s just generally liked. Arnie on the other hand is struggling with his overbearing mother, social awkwardness, and status as a virgin. It seems like Dennis is constantly looking out for Arnie, defending him from bullies, sticking up for him, even unjamming his locker. For all that Arnie doesn’t seem to mind. It seems like these guys are just genuinely good friends.
Things begin to change when one day on a drive home, Arnie spots a rusted, neglected red car sitting in a field with a “For Sale” sign posted on its window. Despite Dennis’s pleading and his mother’s objections, Arnie insists on owning and restoring the car. This car named Christine. Soon Christine’s sordid history is revealed to be full of accidents, deaths and suicides. To everyone’s concern Arnie begins to change. First it’s subtle, he goes from nerd to having a measure of confidence. He restores the car, gains the trust and admiration of the garage owner, and even lands the new girl in school as his girlfriend.
Of course nothing stays right for long. This is a Stephen King story after all. Arnie’s personality continues to change, going from confident to cocky to worse. The movie is basically about Arnie’s relationship with this car and how it effects him. It plays out like a story of addiction, Arnie’s increasing obsession changes his personality, alienates him from the people he loves, and eventually threatens to destroy him. Dennis and Leigh try to save Arnie from himself, but a man can only be saved if he wants to be. Salvation is not something Arnie desires.
The pacing of Christine is a little slow, occasionally tedious but that’s really the biggest complaint I have. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It definitely feels like a John Carpenter movie – from the music to the cinematography to the characters and thematic elements. The score combines Carpenter’s style with an early 50’s rock & roll feel. Christine’s radio plays almost entirely 50’s love songs. It’s kind of hilarious. There’s also a lot of the minimal lighting and stark silhouettes that characterize much of Carpenter’s work. I love the shots of Arnie and Christine as Arnie realizes for the first time that Christine is capable of much more than he first imagined. As she repairs himself, Arnie watches on in awe from the other side of the garage. Increasing the shots move tighter on Arnie and Christine, eventually framing them together in a shot that’s half close up Arnie, half Christine. It’s in this moment that we know Arnie is lost. His desire for Christine has become to great, his love for her has consumed him.
As Arnie continues to slip away, Dennis is injured in a football accident and is forced to spend much of the second half of the movie in a hospital bed. Where these scenes could have been boring and wasteful, they’re anything but. Every time Arnie comes to visit Dennis in the hospital, we’re treated to a glimpse into not only Arnie’s personality but also the subtle ways in which it is changing. We see the increasing cruelty of Arnie and the growing discomfort of Dennis. Short and to the point, these brief conversations tell us what we need to know about who Arnie is becoming and how he views the people around him. This all culminates in the New Year’s Eve drive when Dennis has finally left the hospital. As Arnie allows Christine to speed down the nearly deserted highways, Dennis sits in horror as he finally realizes his friend is beyond help.
As much as Dennis has always tried to stick up for Arnie, this time there is nothing he can do. His days as protector or over.
These characters are what really made this movie for me. Arnie’s progression of victim to bully is believable and striking. Dennis’ realization that he is powerless forces him to grow up before our eyes. In the end, this is the story of two boys growing up. One of them will make it, the other one won’t. Sometimes in life that’s just how things go.
Part II: They Live
I’m not really sure I can include this in my 31 Days of Horror. It’s really not a horror movie. It’s sci-fi for sure and the aliens do look kind of like walking skull people. But it’s not scary, there’s not even really a concrete threat – more of a general the aliens are bad and we have to save humanity kind of thing.
It’s just, this movie is amazing. It’s another I hadn’t seen before and it’s been on my list for a while. I love John Carpenter, especially the stuff he did up through the 80’s. In the 90’s his films started to slide quickly downhill but the 80’s were grand. John Carpenter, do I really need to list his movies? The Thing, Halloween, Christine, Escape from NY, Assault on Precinct 13, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live…
They Live, while not scary, is hilarious and wonderful. It’s full of 80’s cheese, paranoia, anti-consumerism, and a barely concealed homoerotic subtext. Which leads to the most amazing fight scene with no point ever.
The music is pretty good too.
I’m not going to include this as an official 31 Days movie but I really did love it. I’m glad I finally saw it. Maybe at some point I’ll come back to this and write a bit more about it. Until then, check it out if you haven’t seen it yet. There are a lot of things happening here to love.