Review by Gordon Justesen
Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround, Portuguese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: September 28, 2004
John Carpenter is,
and was, one of the purest kings of cinematic terror, so for him to translate a
story by none other than Stephen King was something pretty phenomenal, even in
the aftermath of the late great Stanley Kubrick's cinematic converting of The
Shining. To be honest, I think names Carpenter and King go hand in hand with
In 1983, Carpenter
was just coming off his extravagant gorefest, The Thing. Although that film, to me, is the director's signature
film, it wasn't too well received by critics or at the box office. The reviews
often mentioned how he had let the blood and guts aspect take over that movie.
So Carpenter decided that, for his next project, he wanted to do a much more
laid back horror movie that didn't rely too much on gore. His next film would
perfectly meet those requirements.
Along came a
screenplay adaptation of a book by Stephen King about a 1958 Plymouth Fury that
happens to be possessed. The name of the book was Christine. Everything fell into place at just the right moment, and
with a decent budget at his disposal ($10 million, to be exact), Carpenter made
what was hailed at the time as his finest achievement since Halloween
Christine remains a sharp, deeply enthralling piece of movie terror. Surprisingly
enough, Mr. Carpenter managed to not rely on gore overload, as he intended, and
still come off with a film just as effective in its frightening element as The
Thing, The Fog, and of course his aforementioned breakthrough masterpiece.
Of all of Carpenter's films, this is by far one of the more character driven
pieces, although that aspect is most likely attributed to the original Stephen
The film takes
place in 1978 in a small Californian town. The focus of the story is high school
nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon). For Arnie, most days consists of constant
embarrassment, frequent confrontations with a gang of bullies. His best friend
is Dennis (John Stockwell), who's also the star player on the school's football
team. Although Dennis has all the things that Arnie can't, his best friend has
always got his back.
After a disastrous
first day at school, Arnie and Dennis happen to pass by a run down home with an
even more beaten down car beside it. Arnie, however, is awestruck by the car so
much that he agrees to pay whatever will be accepted by the proprietor. The car
is a red hot 1958 Plymouth Fury that carries the name Christine. It turns out
the previous owner died as a result of…well let's just say it has something to
do with the car. The deceased's brother nevertheless strikes a cheap bargain
with the kid, as Arnie is given for once something he truly wants.
It is at this point
where one of the movie's most signature elements is established; Arnie's slow
and dangerous psychological deconstruction, as he becomes more and more obsessed
with his new car. He shies away from his disapproving parents, spends less time
with Dennis, and even manages to startle his new girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra
Paul) with his obsessive and destructive behavior. Every inch of Arnie's life is
now revolving around his new joyride.
But the movie's
MOST signature moments are the sequences where the car extracts force on those
who've done Arnie wrong. Even before then, there is an astonishing sequence
where in which the car, having just been wrecked to death by the same bullies at
Arnie's school, physically regenerates right at the boy's request. Even by
today's standards of special effects, this twenty year old sequence still
manages to create something of a reaction.
When Christine gets
her revenge, that's when the movie places itself into the horror movie hall of
fame. A sequence that has the car relentlessly chasing after one of the bullies
is a monumental sequence of terror. I even remember seeing that scene as a kid,
and a feeling of fright was certainly generated. A later scene, which has
Christine covered in fiery flames and still kicking is one of those sequences
that can still grab your attention.
Christine, for me, remains one of the best horror treasures to come from the
early 80s. John Carpenter's undeniable talent for developing a dark moody tone
works extremely well in the re-crafting of a Stephen King story. And for a
horror movie to entertain you without dousing the screen with blood and guts is
always a refreshing note to go on. Though beware, this isn't by any means a
light horror movie, as Christine herself maims and kills in the most chilling
ways I've ever seen.
BONUS TRIVIA: Look
closely, and you'll spot a young and very pretty Kelly Preston as the girl who's
hitting on Dennis. Ms. Preston was gorgeous then, and has gotten even more
beautiful with age. She's one of the many reasons I wish I was John Travolta.
ADD. TRIVIA: In
case you thought that stars Keith Gordon and John Stockwell had vanished from
the movie business, they haven't. Both have gone on to become successful
presentation from Columbia Tri Star is a pleasing accomplishment. I had seen the
movie numerous times on its initial DVD release, which was double sided and
although it wasn't a bad looking disc, it was very much in need of some
remastered work. This new dual layer presentation is exactly what was needed.
The picture is superbly clear, balancing tones brilliantly. There's a heavy
level of nighttime sequences (an area where the original disc did not quite
succeed), which now look flawless. Minor light grain, but nothing far from
distracting at all.
I think that the
2.0 channel mix on this disc is a whole lot better here than it was on the first
release. Then again, it may be the sound system I have. Nonetheless, the sound
on this release provides a close to strong level of audio power that you're
likely to find in such a presentation. Carpenter's unbeatable music score is
especially well delivered, dialogue is heard ultimately clearly, and the
sequences of action and terror are especially superb.
This terrific new
Special Edition package boasts some neat extras that will make any engine roar!
There's a commentary track with John Carpenter and actor Keith Gordon. Like all
Carpenter commentaries, it's an intriguing and often humor-filled listen. Also
featured are 20 alternate and deleted scenes, three featurettes; "Fast and
Furious", "Finish Line" and "Ignition". Lastly, there
are filmographies, and a bonus trailer gallery.