Let’s face it — there was no better genre director in Hollywood that was making films during the “peak” decade than John Carpenter from 1978-1988. No one even close. Some might argue Steven Spielberg. But I would argue that Spielberg’s career did a nosedive after the release of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), and the latter’s films were more successful commercially, Carpenter’s were certainly the more interesting of that time. He is actually considered the best “genre” director of all time. Tackling more genres than just about any other filmmaker I can think. In fact his contribution to film during this period is so great, there are college courses in film popping up all over the country that explore this peak period of films Carpenter was putting out during this decade, again from 1978-1988. First came his seminal film in which he’s most known for “Halloween” (1978), which made a then almost unknown independent filmmaker an overnight success and is regarded as one of the best horror films of all time. Then came 1980’s “The Fog”, another horror film, his follow-up to “Halloween” (though the two share almost nothing alike other than that they showcase Carpenter’s trademark style and sensibilities) but which like that film, starred Jamie Leigh Curtis, who also happens to be the daughter of the famous Janet Leigh, who became a film icon in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960). Only moderately successful at the box office, “The Fog” is still highly regarded by many Carpenter”ites” as “top 5” Carpenter. Then the next 2 years (Carpenter was churning out a film a year during this decade) came Carpenter’s 1-2 punch of 2 of his greatest films of all time — 1981’s “Escape From New York” — Carpenter’s apocalyptic Science Fiction film — starring a then young up-and-coming 30-year old actor named Kurt Russell. Which has become Carpenter’s independent precursor to the much bigger and much more expensive Science Fiction film that came out that next year – Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982). Following on the foot heels of “Escape From New York” Carpenter released what is still regarded in most film circles as his best film to date – the remake of the 1951 — “The Thing From Another World” — which Carpenter trimmed down the title to just “The Thing” (1982) — a brilliant, seminal work that captured Carpenter’s trademark style and excellent synth film scores that he composed for his own films (his original film compositions in and of themselves would go on to influence electronic musicians around the world even to this day). “The Thing” was the perfect blend of horror, science fiction, action, and thriller, and again was a vehicle for a star turning performance by Kurt Russell. Carpenter would go on to make a plethora of other great films during this time period – films like “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986 – his 3rd collaboration with Kurt Russell), 1987’s “Prince of Darkness”, and “They Live” (1988). But which is still the most well-“remembered” Carpenter film, at least to me as a kid, was the film that followed “The Thing”, 1983’s “Christine”.
“Christine” was adapted from a Stephen King novel (probably the second best King adaptation outside of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980) ). Word has it that King and Carpenter, like many other artists during the early to mid eighties, were doing a lot of cocaine, which subsequently resulted in King coming up with a story about a “killer car”, which Carpenter attached on to direct in the same year in which it was published. The King/Carpenter collaboration, which seemed somewhat inevitable giving both of their taste for horror and the macabre, was a welcome treat for many moviegoers of this time. And when I was a kid I probably saw “Christine” over 10 times. It now being 20 years later since my last viewing, I jumped at the opportunity to get the chance to catch it on the big screen in its original 35mm print.
Carpenter’s retelling of King’s classic, even now 33 years later, is just as great as it was, if not better, of my remembrance of it as a kid. What’s so amazing to me, even now 20 years later since the last time I’ve seen it, is how believable of a film someone could make out of such a simple premise – “a possessed car that loves its owners and demands that kind of love back”, even if it winds up killing them and those others around them in order to do so. It’s King and Carpenter’s horror story ode to vintage car lovers. And presents a rather compelling and realistic film about the town’s nerd (played by Keith Gordon), who takes a leap of faith one day at a junkyard and buys a beat up old Cadillac. Only to have the car reinvent itself into pristine condition, and possesses its owner to wreak havoc and revenge on all of the people who have either done him wrong or whom he loves (his best friend and girlfriend play pivotal roles). But the best parts about Christine, is how believable he makes this “killer car love story” so fascinating. When its main character gets beat up by a group of thugs in the beginning, the film becomes a sort of vigilante piece as the car hunts down and kills each of the thugs one by one (in expertly choreographed scenes might I add). Add to it a killer soundtrack (no pun intended) of oldies from the likes of Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Richie Valens with more contemporary music (well, for its time — remember this is 1983) by George Thorogood (the scene’s opening sequence set to Thorogood’s “Bad To The Bone” is epic), Bonnie Raitt, and the Rolling Stones, with another great original Carpenter synth score, and an impeccable use of framing and cinematography, makes this one of Carpenter’s lesser known, but all time greatest gems (“Christine” would make my own Carpenter top 5). It’s a film that was etched into me from my childhood, that I can now see why, almost 2 decades later, why it still holds such a special place in my heart.