Christine (1983)

(Second viewing, Crackle Streaming, May 2017) I’m not sure anyone else will make the analogy, but having re-watched the original The Karate Kid shortly before Christine has put me in a frame of mind to call this John Carpenter horror movie the dark pendant of the kind of high-school comedy exemplified by The Karate Kid. At their heart, they are both teenage power fantasies about fitting in and gaining some kind of power over one’s social environment. The Karate Kid goes light in showing the way discipline, training and kindness can win over the worst bullies. But Christine … oh boy. Here, the path to power is destructive, based on an unholy romance with dark forces as exemplified by an evil car. Bullies are not gently beaten in submission as they are run over, dismembered or set aflame by a malevolent supernatural entity. It’s strong stuff (tying into deep American associations between cars and teenage rites of passage into adulthood), and it’s significant that Christine is focused not on the teenage nerd who falls in love with an automotive demon, but his best friend watching the consequent carnage. I remember liking the original Stephen King novel quite a bit, but director John Carpenter truly nails the filmed execution. From the self-assured prologue showing the origins of evil to the “Bad to the Bone” echoing stinger, Christine is a thrill ride. As befitting such an extreme premise (evil car?!?), it never settles for subtlety when over-the-top will do: Why not hit viewers over the head with a great on-the-nose soundtrack? Why settle for running over a bully when the car can escape from an exploding gas station and set its teenage target ablaze? Why settle for keying a car when the group of antagonists can smash it to pieces with sledgehammers? And why soft-play the disturbingly aggressive final sequence of a masculine bulldozer climbing atop a car strongly gendered as female? Christine doesn’t mess around when it comes to shocking the viewer, and it’s exactly that kind of go-for-broke audacity that sets apart ordinary B-grade horror movies from the great ones. My memories of seeing Christine in the mid-nineties weren’t spectacular, but this second look reveals a much better movie than I remembered. It’s playfully aggressive, well-crafted and has a few hidden depths once you start poking at it. After a steady diet of upbeat depictions of high-school life, Christine is just dark and just good enough to be a welcome antidote.

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