Posts Tagged ‘Carpenter

28
Apr
14

Christine (1983): Cars, Kids, Parents and Shitters

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“Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats.” -Arnie Cunningham, Christine (1983)

a Primal Root written review

It’s all true, the legends are real, and we all must face it at one time or another: Growing up sucks.  When we’re children this is the last thing on our minds as we explore, grow and challenge the world around us. But then there’s those teenage years when the world of adulthood begins to rear it’s ugly head. The prospects of responsibility, paying bills, squelching all aspects of your individuality and creativity in order to fold neatly and unobtrusively into the 9 to 5 rat race world of ass kissing and corporate scumbaggery. The trick is not to fall into that trap so many of us find ourselves in where we become disillusioned, cynical, turning our backs on our dreams, our aspirations and that child of our youth that deserved so much better than us rolling over and letting the world at large stick the societal cock up our ass without lube and ride us the rest of our days. This is the true horror of life, the unspoken tragedy of adulthood.

Enter John Carpenter’s “Christine,” his 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s BEST SELLING novel. Let me start by saying, yes, I have read the book and I do realize the movie isn’t exactly the book. Let me clarify, this is a completely different artistic medium than literature, this is film, and in the process of adaptation some events and characters must be changed in order to fit this new format.  I think Carpenter delivered a lean, mean, intelligent and heartfelt big screen version of King’s tale of adolescent yearning, the pain of being an outcast, the horrors of high school, and the often disheartening and nasty business of transitioning to adulthood.

 Christine is the story two childhood friends,  Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell) who is living the teen dream as the popular, well built and lusted after captain of the varsity football team who has laid back parents and his own car, and Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, in a brilliant performance) a stereotypical nerd with greased over hair, thick, black glasses, parents who completely smother him and control his every move and lives a life of constant torment at the hands of the school bully, Buddy Rupperton, who looks to be about 38 years old and seems to live to hurt others along with his squad of goonish  teenage sidekicks. Dennis and Arnie grew up together, and as children, they were equals. But as time went on they both grew into their roles and dropped into their place in high school, teenage pecking order. Despite all this, the two maintain a close friendship, a brother like bond.

Buying-Christine

Arnie is obviously the outsider, ignored by his peers and brutally bullied and picked on by goons like the teenage asshole prototype Buddy Repperton who looks like he’s been held back about ten years and refers to Arnie Cunningham and “Cuntingham.”  Get it?   Repperton and his buddies live to inflict pain and be absolute jerks to anyone who crosses their paths, focusing the thrust of their efforts and ganging up on those who are the weakest and can’t fight back. Arnie does his best to stand up for himself through this humiliating torment, but he often has to rely on his friend Dennis for help. Shit, when it’s four or five blood thirsty teenage cavemen, we could all use a little assistance.  In one intense standoff where Buddy is brandishing a switchblade against the defenseless Arnie, the whole ordeal ends with Arnie getting his glasses stomped upon, Dennis getting his balls squeezed into lemonade and Buddy ending up expelled and lowering death threats at Arnie. Yep, sounds like a typical day in high school to me.

But soon Arnie finds solace and peace of mind in the form of an old, rusted out, Plymouth Fury he spots on the way home with Dennis. “Her name’s Christine.”  Bearded, smelly looking, back brace wearing, old timer George Lebay (Roberts Blossom) informs them as Arnie and Dennis check the death trap of a car out. Lebay reflects on the day his recently deceased brother brought Christine home fresh off the assembly line.  “My asshole brother bought her back in September ’57. That’s when you got your new model year, in September. Brand-new, she was. She had the smell of a brand-new car. That’s just about the finest smell in the world, ‘cept maybe for pussy.” Ah, George Lebay, you are a delight! Best character in the film and he’s got about 5 minutes of screen time.

Of course, Arnie buys the car and drives it home only to find his controlling to the point of it being borderline psychotic Mother refuses to allow him to park it in their drive way and goes total ape shit over the fact that Arnie bought something without consulting her and his Father (mostly her) first.  Dad’s a total pussy and just goes along with what his wife dictates to poor, unfortunate, Arnie who has done everything she’s told him to do his entire life. He defends himself admirably before stomping out of the house, slamming the door and driving his moveable beast over to a local garage owned by seedy businessman Will Darnell (Robert Prosky), another adult who decides to give Arnie a nice little helping of shit, hassling the kid and calling the poor guy a creep before Dennis gives Arnie a ride home where Arnie’s parents are locked and loaded, ready to pulverize Arnie with more verbal abuse. It’s been one Hell of a day for poor, sad, Arnie Cunningham.

Soon, Arnie isn’t around as much. Every spare moment he has he’s at Darnell’s garage working on Christine. The car’s mileage is running backwards, her paint job is restored despite the fact that style of paint isn’t manufactured anymore, and the cracks in her windshield seem to be shrinking. Arnie seems to be changing to, he is cold, distant, loses his glasses and is soon dating the hot new girl in school whom all the boys lust for, Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul), which still baffles me when there’s the voluptuous, gorgeous head cheerleader Roseanne (Kelly Preston) around who looks to be up for getting down and dirty. Anyhoo, Dennis ends up getting severely injured and nearly paralyzed during a football game and ends up int he hospital for several months.  This gives him a perfect vantage point to witness Arnie’s strange behavior and disturbing changes in character as Arnie drops by sporadically to visit and his spirit becomes darker, meaner.

Arnie

Before long Christine is in tip=top shape and is the envy of everyone at school. Even Leigh becomes jealous of all the attention Arnie lavishes on Christine. This would be really stupid if it weren’t for the fact Christine is actually full of evil and tries to kill Leigh at the Drive-In by making her choke on a delicious hamburger in a creepy yet somewhat hysterical scene. Sorry, I know I shouldn’t laugh, but Leigh’s chocking face is kind of comical. I know, I’m going to Hell.  Thankfully, a nearby Drive-In patron is there to save Leigh in time while Arnie fumbles with Christine’s door handle.

Christine also catches the eye of Buddy Repperton, the local asshole, and his crew of violent idiots. The decide to break into Darnell’s garage after hours and totally destroy Christine in a scene that’s tantamount to a gang rape.  The teens bash Christine to pieces with led pipes, sledgehammers, and knives. One even pauses to drop his trousers and drop a Cleveland steamer right on Christine’s dash. This scene is a testament to all those horrible human beings int her world who crave pleasure by hurting others. Watching these complete scumbags work over Christine is infuriating and makes you crave vengeance. When Arnie and Leigh walk into Darnell’s garage and find his beloved Christine in pieces, Arnie’s reaction is completely understandable if  not a bit savage. When Leigh goes to comfort Arnie he lashes out at her, screaming at her, calling her a “shitter.”

Suddenly, Christine has become a rape revenge film. Christine reforms herself in a matter f seconds with the coaxing of her teenage lover, Arnie and it’s off to the races as Christine begins killing off each of her rapists one by one. Arnie, in the midst of he and Christine’s nightly killing sprees, visits Dennis and is creepily unhinged, making jokes about the recent death of a fellow classmate who took part in trying to demolish the unkillable Christine.  When interrogated about the incident by Detective Rudolph Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton, never anything less than outstanding), the detective mentions how the murdered young man had to be scraped of the ground with a shovel to which Arnie replies “Isn’t that what you do with shit? Scrap it off the ground with a shovel?” Way to maintain your innocence, Arnie. Please, next time, go grab your attorney.

Everyone knows Arnie and Christine are to blame for this rash of killings and all those who love and care for Arnie the most are those who are in danger, the ones Christine has manipulated Arnie into believing are “The Shitters” of the world. Those who want to keep Arnie from being with Christine,  the one thing that is his, the one thing that gave him unconditional love in return.  It will all lead to a final confrontation at Darnell’s Garage, but who’s motor will be left running when all is said and done?

FlamingChristine

At the end of the day, cars aren’t very scary. They are inanimate objects that require human interaction for them to work. They are tools to be utilized.  However, John Carpenter makes it work by relying one very trick in his film making vocabulary. He focuses more on the human aspects of the story and concentrates on making all the moments between the human players feeling almost painfully genuine. As a film goer, I’ve seen few movies, horror or otherwise, that portray high school and the experience of being a teenager with such bleak, gritty, unfiltered honesty. This time in your life can really suck, and I am sure many of us can relate, even if it is only a little bit, with Arnie Cunningham, the kid who has tried so hard to please everyone and put up with all the bullshit constantly shoved in his face, that when he finally finds that one thing that he falls in love with and loves him back, in this case, cherry red evil on wheels that speaks to him through hand picked oldies radio selections, he loses himself totally to this seduction, this perceived love.

 Christine can be interpreted many different ways. At face value, it’s simply a story of possession at the hands of an evil monster car, which is one fantastic B-Movie concept. But here, in the hands of John Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Phillips, Christine offers up so much more than that.  I’ve heard a lot of folks compare Christine to a fable about drug addiction, and I can certainly see the what they mean.  Arnie finds the one thing in life that brightens his life, gives it some kind of meaning outside of the expectations of others and he follows that road of self destruction to it’s sad, tragic ending.  It totally makes sense and I think that interpretation is entirely valid.

I’ve always seen the film as a horrible tale of growing up and away from the kid you once were. Being shaped by those around you and letting their behavior and treatment of you shape you into something you never wanted to be. Bullied, beaten down, mistreated and an outcast, Christine represents Arnie’s out, but also, as the model of the care suggests, the embracing of Arnie’s internal fury, the cynical side, the  insecure, self deprecated side which has been nurtured by those around him his the gasoline and Christine is the spark that begins Arnie’s transformation into adulthood, and into a man those around him hardly recognize. A cold, uncaring, mean spirited loner who murders those he, and Christine, perceive as a threat.  Christine is most assuredly a form of evil on wheels, but she unlocks something that already existed in Arnie. A teenager who was a really good guy, but always taken advantage of, picked on and made to feel inferior.  At one point int he story Arnie says a chilling line to Dennis while visiting him at the hospital;  ” Has it ever occurred to you that part of being a parent is trying to kill your kids?”  It’s a perfect,  if dramatic summation of the child vs. parent in a strict, repressive household. Where individuality is squelched rather than cultivated and the goals and standards of the parent are enforced rather than ever taking into account what their child wants or is passionate about.  So is the world of adults, and once Arnie crosses that threshold, there’s no turning back. He can bully just like those who bullied him and he can attack with the same amount of verbal venom as his overbearing mother.  His parents took for granted the sweet, subservient son they had and now he’s gone forever.

Sorry to go off on a tangent there, if you’ve read my reviews before, I’m sure you used to it. Christine isn’t all teenage horror melodrama, the film actually boasts a wicked, intelligent sense of humor that helps keep the energy level up and the proceedings a pleasure to watch. One of my favorite aspects of the film is Christine’s ability to play the most appropriate oldies possible in any given situation . someone tries breaking into her? “Keep A-Knockin’, but you can’t come in!” Little Richard begins wailing.  Someone tries to destroy Christine? “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” by Danny and The Juniors starts blasting from the stereo system. It’s a clever and cool way to give Christine her own unique voice.

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Also, Christine features one of John Carpenter’s great, sparse synth scores and it’s used to great effect. The theme begins with a wind blowing, giving way to a high pitched whistle where one is immediately filled with a feeling of dread, growing anticipation and given the impression that there’s something truly sinister at work here. This whistling slowly gives way to a sweeter, more charming melody, but it’s played in dwindling, soft, somber tones. It’s the sound of childhood innocence dying away, a void opening up, where an adolescent is susceptible and easily corrupted. It’s a slow, yet blazingly brilliant score that’s both sad and frightening and fits Carpenter’s vision of Christine perfectly.

My biggest disappointment with Carpenter’s Christine is that Arnie’s parents vanish in the final third of the film.  After playing such a pivotal part in the majority of the film it’s a real disappointment that we never get to see them grieve or react to what happens to Arnie in the climax. It’s a real let down that these characters are built up through the film only to be completely removed in the final act and given no pay-off, no closure. Also, the death of Buddy Reperton seems a little anticlimactic. That guy got off easy, if you ask me.

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I know Christine was never really embraced by either John Carpenter or Stephen King fans,  but I’ve always felt this is one of the better King adaptations and among Carpenter’s most underrated films.  The visual of Christine barreling down the highway engulfed in flames is the stuff of nightmares, but the moments where Arnie is confronted by the onslaught of human cruelty is a deeply troubling depiction of the nightmare of reality. It’s a beautifully shot film with a flawless score, some astoundingly cool practical effects and a cast that all deliver performances above and beyond the call of duty. However,  Christine belongs to Keith Gordon. His performance at Arnie Cunningham is excellent and witnessing the character’s transformation is haunting and heart breaking.  Christine, the drop dead gorgeous, cherry red, Plymouth Fury is certainly the eye candy of the piece, but it’s all the human talent in front of and behind the camera that really make hitching a ride with Christine a trip though teenage Hell worth taking.

I give this sucker Four and a Half out of Five Dumpster Nuggets

Stay Trashy!

-Root

27
Feb
13

In the Mouth of Madness (1995): Licked by the Tongue of Terror

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a Primal Root review

“I think, therefore you are.” -Sutter Cain, In the Mouth of Madness

Few movie openings get me as pumped as that of “In the Mouth of Madness”. The opening synth licks, drums kick in, and the guitar commences to wailing as Sutter Cain’s latest book is being shot through the presses by whirring machines that could draw and quarter you faster than you can say “owee”.  Never has book publishing seemed this incredibly badass. If you can imagine Metallica’s Enter Sandman but without James Hatfield’s goofy vocals and composed by cinematic renaissance man, John Carpenter, you’re halfway there. It’s a fucking spectacular start to a movie that’s basically the dark, evil, alarmist version of Reading Rainbow. Who would have ever guessed reading could be so goddamn cool and menacing? In my own head, I like to imagine that if this film had reached a wider audience, we would have seen cool, greaser types with their slicked-back hair, bad boy shades, a Marlboro dangling from chapped lips, leaning against a support beam in their favorite dive bar and flipping through a well worn-collection of Edgar Allen Poe.

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So, who is this Sutter Cane fellow? Well, in the fictional 1995 realm of “In the Mouth of Madness” he is the most widley read author in history. His stories have been translated into several dozen languages, outsell every other book on the market, and have even begun to lead to riots in book stores (remember? People used to go to stores that sold books!) when they can’t supply enough to meet the demands of the author’s work.   Did I mention this guy does horror? So it stands to reason that the man is also getting the blame for a recent “plague of violence” that has swept the nation with folks brutally attacking one another seemingly at random. Are they getting a little inspired by their page-turner?

As we all know, that’s absolute garbage. Entertainment has as much influence over real life violence as soft serve ice cream consumption has over the migration of gopher turtles.

But, I digress. As it turns out Sutter Cane has gone missing, and his publishing company has hired a cynical, crude, disillusioned insurance fraud investigator named John Trent (Sam Neil) to find out if Cain is alive and if he ever finished his final book, In the Mouth of Madness. Sent along with him is Cain’s editor, the  more open minded and vulnerable Styles (Julie Carmen). After some rather impressive investigating along with some trippy and disturbing nightmares, Trent puts together a map which will lead them to Cane who seems to be stationed in a small New England town. And not just any small New England town, but one named after Old Scratch, himself, and which seems to be the inspiration for one of Cane’s books, “The Hobb’s End Horror”.

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On their drive to the mysteriously elusive Hobb’s End Trent & Styles get to know one another while chit-chatting about Trent’s love of busting people and justifying his stone-cold cynicism with sharing his view that “the sooner mankind is off the planet, the better.” Styles speaks to her lust for horror, and that if reality as we know it should happen to shift how terrifying it would be to be the last sane one left…hmmm, foreshadowing, me thinks. There’s also an impromptu clown horn awakening that leads to a fun-sized Ruffles Potato Chip beat down that adds a little levity but really just makes me want some potato chips. Great product placement, though! I want to put those chips in my OWN personal mouth of madness where they can settle in my belly of batshit… ew.

Along their journey, Trent sleeps in the passenger seat snoring one of those irritating half snores as Styles gets a nice ripe slice of Hell. She catches a glimpse of bicycle reflectors up the road, but as she gets closer it seems to be a young man in his twenties peddling furiously in the same direction on the deserted highway in the pitch black night. As she drives past. he fades into the red of her tail lights and then disappears into the darkness. This is not a thing uncommon to humans. We pass people riding bikes, yeah, pretty much all the time. But there’s just something freakishly unsettling about this one. Something that speaks to us solely in the language of nightmares. Then, of course, there’s the next moment in which we see this soul, and he’s kind of, let’s say, changed a bit.

Several nightmare scenarios later, our dynamic duo find themselves in Hobb’s End, where the main street is lined with lovely little antique shops filled with what Trent eloquently calls “old shit”. The town looks pretty empty with the exception of a tribe of kids who can’t not run in slow motion after their dog. The two check into a quant little inn that seems to be run by Viggo the Carpathian and Mrs. Pickam (the incomparable Francis Bay). OH! and oI guess it bears mentioning that Cane’s there abducting children and transforming them into his own special brood of creatures bent on spreading his signature brand of mayhem and mutation throughout the town. And where else would HQ be but the comfy confines of THE BLACK CHURCH! A creepy, evil, place whereabouts dobermans attack en mass, the doors have a malfunctioning automatic open feature, and where Cane does all of his writing and evil plottin these days.

in the mouth sutter

Still, despite every gruesome event in “The Hobb’s End Horror” playing out around them, Trent still refuses to believe his own eyes and chocks it up to a ridiculously well-staged Disney World level publicity stunt put on just for him in hopes that he’ll high-tail it back to the big city, and talk up Cain’s “haunted little town.” In this one moment, I agree with Trent when he boldly declares, “Well, FUCK THAT!”

Now, you can begin to imagine Trent getting genuinely freaked out at this point, but the man just won’t give up on trying to find the logical explanation. But it seems to become more blazingly apparent that he’s driven himself right into a hotbed of slimy monsters and crazy shit ground zero. Portraits shift and change to creep the fuck out of city folk, grannies handcuff their naked hubbies to their ankles, and giant reptilians sporting a veritable mess of tentacles occupy the outdoor patio. Yeah. Sure, guy, this is all being staged JUST FOR YOU… I’m hopping on the next non demon-riddled Greyhound and heading to Chi-town as you brush chunks of brain and gore off your shoulder from the ‘actor’ who just unloaded a shotgun into his noggin.

As a mob of mutated town folk slowly inch towards Trent and a now totally whacked-out Styles (oh, yeah, she’s been lustily possessed by her demon-crazed client), the two exchange punches to the face in a Three Stooges of Domestic Battery kind of way. It gets a good laugh in (at least from me), and they head to their car to make a quick getaway. Styles gets all emotional and attention-starved, and commences to eating the car keys.  “JEEEEEESUS!” cries our hero and goes fishing down her throat, which, I gotta say, just feels a little gross & sketchy despite the necessity. Trent takes it to that further step, bashing in Styles’s mug, hot-wiring the car, and blazing the fuck out of this podunk Hell hole.

Only Trent can’t get out. No one gets out. He’s stuck in the demonic Groundhog’s Day of road trips as he repeatedly drives down the highway, finds the road lines glow a freakish neon orange, and being transported right back to Main Street USA where a posse of Basket Case 2 rejects await him hungrily. Oh, and by this point Styles is trying to smut it up with Trent, contorted her entire body into a creeping,  crackly-boned, monstrosity. The beauty of this moment? These days  all this would be done in sad, ineffective CGI, but cinematic treasures like this prove that unnerving realness of scenes such as this are actually pulled off by *real* effects such as the sideshow contortionist who rocked even the creepiest of moments.

in-the-mouth-of-madness church

After several tedious attempts to escape Trent tries a more direct approach flooring his jalopy right into the crowd! They clear a path which leads right to Styles who just stands there grinning like she just drank all the sherry.  Trent jerks his steering wheel to the right and directly into a nasty collision which leaves him unconscious as the minions of mutations laugh and talk amongst themselves in the distance.

Trent then wakes up to have a one on one with the man, himself, Sutter Cain. Okay, this is it. Here is Trent’s chance to defend humanity! And what does he do? Too preoccupied with trying to light his last cigarette, Trent settles on insulting Cain by telling him his books suck. Eh, I hardly think that’s going to bruise the man’s ego, Trent.  And then he drops the bomb. Trent, himself, is Sutter’s creation. A character in a book he is writes and controls. Nothing more. Understandably, Trent’s more than a little unsettled by all this, even more so when Sutter rips into his own face with is bare hands to reveal a dark pit framed by torn shreds of a novels pages.  Yeah, this is looking less and less like a promotional stunt…

We’re led through a fantastic sequence wherein Trent peers into the darkness while Styles reads from Sutter’s new “bible”.  This, of course, plays as narration as he is living the story she reads. It’s a wonderfully creepy piece of cinema where Trent sees creatures rising from the abyss beyond description and we, the audience, are never given a good clear shot. We are only allowed to see Trent’s face as he reacts to what he sees. Styles presents the manuscript to Trent,  and Trent makes his way back into “his world”. The creatures gain, Trent trips, and all is lost…or so it seems.

In-the-Mouth-of-Madness-Screenshot-in-the-mouth-of-madness- story

Trent screams in primal terror only to open his eyes and find himself on a dirt road, back in what looks to be classical reality. Birds chirp, kids deliver the newspaper, and there are no creatures beyond description chilling out at the truck stops. Yes, things seem normal, but Trent has seen some pretty heavy shit and can’t so easily shake it. First order of business is to destroy the manuscript, which keeps mysteriously finding it’s way back into his hands. Eventually Trent heads back to the publishing company that hired him in the first place only to find out Styles never existed and that he delivered the In the Mouth of Madness manuscript months ago and that it’s been at the top of the Best Seller list for seven weeks! Trent, having no recollection of this at all, is driven even closer to the edge. He pleads with the publishers to recall the book because what’s in it will drive people insane. Trent is then gently pushed off the edge as it’s revealed that the movie adaptation of the book comes out in a week.

The epidemic of violence continues, no one can put down Sutter’s latest work, our “hero” has gone homicidal as well, bashing in skulls with an axe outside book stores., which is why he has been telling this story from within a padded sell all along. By film’s end we find Trent in a deserted city after the dark power made manifest through Sutter’s work has infected everyone, making them lash out violently and mutate, as he goes into a fully lit theater. What’s playing? In the Mouth of Madness.

in mouth madness trent

Trent sits in an empty theater, popcorn bucket in hand and watches scenes fro the film we have just watched. He begins to laugh a pained, horrified laughter of sad realization. Of being broken. Tears swell up in his eyes as he tits his head back, his laughter becoming desperate and pleading as we cut to black. It”s a cold, dark, deeply unsettling ending because it brings up so many questions about who we are and reality in general.  Trent, obviously was born, grew up, has gone through life and made memories, how devastating would it be to find out it were all false. That, in effect, you aren’t real. That you are simply a means to entertain someone else.

It’s a cold concept to think about, that we might be nothing more than the figment of something’s imagination who can change the rules whenever they like and wipe our slates clean in the process. It takes a pretty active imagination to contemplate such an existence, but what a sad and empty way for our world to end. With the realization that we were never, ever, anything to begin with…

Stay Trashy!

-Root




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