Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blu-ray Review: CHRISTINE (1983)

Christine (1983)
The Limited Edition Series

Label: Twilight Time DVD

Region: Region FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 110 Minutes
Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Blosson
Tagline: How Do You KilL Something That Can't Possibly Be Alive? 

John Carpenter's 1983 adaptation of Stephen King's novel Christine starts off fantastically, with the revving of an engine and the razor bad ass bite of George Throrogood's "Bad to the Bone". The setting is a 50's era Detroit car production plant where '58 Plymouth Furies are rolling off the assembly line, before the scene is finished one man's hand will be mangled and another lays dead, the car's not even off the production line and already a malevolent force is out for blood, it's a great opener. 

Christine (1983) has always smacked to me a bit of Dan Curtis's film Burnt Offerings (1976) wherein a decrepit old house possesses and consumes an entire family, particularly the matriarch played by Karen Black. The evil house consumes and feeds upon the inhabitants fear, the further the family spirals out of control the more opulent the formrlydecrepit home becomes, rebuilding itself one shingle at a time, at one point literally shedding it's skin. That's very much what we have here, as the classic American nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, De Palma's Dressed to Kill), who comes complete with taped up thick-rimmed glasses,  spots the rusting carcass of a '58 Plymouth Fury for sale. The owner George LeBay (Roberts Blossom) sells the rusted deathtrap to Arnie for $250. Arnie's unlikely jocular best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) fruitlessly attempts to dissuade the transaction but Arnie is oddly drawn to the car. Dennis himself drives a sweet '68 Dodge Charger and Arnie wants a sweet car of his own, but there's something more to it, he's seduced by the car almost immediately. LeBay reveals the name of the car as Christine and tells of his departed brother's tragic devotion to her. Blossom is fantastic as the creepy coot, too. Christine has no shortage of interesting characters, from Harry Dean Stanton's Det. Rudy Junkins to Arnie's mother, portrayed sternly by 70's  TV actress Christine Belford. One of the more menacing characters is the switchblade wielding, John Travolta-esque Buddy Repperton who taunts the awkward Arnie along with his cohorts Moochie, Richie and Don, Arbie refers to this foursome as "the shitters". 

When Arnie arrives home with the wreck his mother is less than pleased with his purchase and in the ensuing argument it is decided that the car may not take up space in the family driveway, forcing Arnie to take the decrepit Christine to Darnell's Do It Yourself Garage where we meet the cantankerous proprietor Will Darnell (Robert Prosky, Gremlins 2: The New Batch), a greasy jowled curmudgeon who upon seeing the car pull into the garage trailing an oily fog tells Dennis "Kiddo, you sold him that piece of shit, you oughta be fuckin' ashamed of yourself" and when Dennis retorts that he tried to talk him out of it Darnell's response is "You shoulda' tried harder". 

Only Arnie seems to see what inner beauty the wreck might hold and sets about restoring Christine to her original beauty salvaging parts from Darnell's wrecking yard, the further along into the restoration the more Arnie is consumed by the car, running his hands over her body like the curves of a woman. His confidence grows, his eyesight mysteriously improves and  his style changes, too. He begins to the dress the part of a late-50's teen, he listens to 50's music and starts dating a pretty young girl, Leigh (Alexandra Paul, Dragnet). 

Consumed by Christine Arnie distances himself from Dennis and his relationship with the parents is strained, devolving into nightly spates of vulgarity, at one point even wrapping his hands around his father's neck. The once dweeby nerd has become something of an anti-social asshole. Concerned for his friend Dennis returns to the home of LeBay in search of answers and the creepy codger reveals that his brother Roland, his wife and even their young daughter all died in the car, apparently Christine's appetite for blood did not end at the factory.

When Arnie shows up at the highschool football game with a cherried out Christine and the cute Leigh on his arm it so distracts Dennis that he gets pummeled on the football field with a career ending injury, it also catches the attention of Buddy Repperton and his gang of toughs whom are dismayed that Arnie should have such a gorgeous hot-rod, their jealousy  sets in motion a series of events that ill lead to a lot of fatalities. 

While at the drive-in with Leigh the car reveals itself as quite a jealous bitch, after an intense make-out session in Christine Leigh chokes on her cheeseburger, the doors lock preventing Arnie from getting in to assist her, the dashboard lights up with an unearthly glow as she nearly dies, it's great stuff. That same night Repperton and the band of teen thugs visit Darnell's garage and reek some destruction upon Christine, they completely ruin her. It's the I Spit on Your Grave (1978) of car destruction, she's utterly destroyed. Windows are busted, the body is smashed, the vinyl has been slashed and adding insult to injury Moochie  leaves a steaming turd on the dashboard. 

The event traumatizes Arnie, he vents his frustration on his parents and even on poor Leigh who only tries to console him. He returning to the garage later that night in an attempt to restore Christine spoiled beauty. However, the vehicle reveals to him that it can restore itself in a fantastic series of shots. Arnie steps back from the car and says "okay, show me" to the cue of a brilliant John Carpenter synth score, the headlights flicker to life with some great lens flare and with a stroke of special effects magic the car restores itself to mint condition.

At this point we know 100% that something supernatural is happening, if we hadn't already, before this you could maybe assume the former tragedies were unfortunate coincidence, that a short in the wiring spurred the radio to switch on and off, but from here there can be little doubt, Christine and Arnie are intrinsically joined by some malevolent force and neither will sit idly by and forget about the insult perpetrated upon her by Buddy and the other shitters of the world. 

The first to go is Moochie whom is chased down an alleyway, he takes refuge in the narrow relief of a loading dock too slim for Christine to traverse but he's wrong. The car's engine roars in defiance, wheel sending up plumes of white smoke, sparks flying as she squeezes through the passageway peeling back her  side panels to crush the young man who shit upon her dashboard. 

A later sequence  features Christine giving chase to Buddy, Richie and Don in Buddy's '67 Chevy Camaro. The chase culminates  at a service station, the teens flee the car for the safety of the garage just as the vengeful car spears the camaro, crushing it, pushing it into the station crushing Richie and rupturing a fuel tank that sends the entire station up in an enormous fireball incinerating Don. Outside Buddy witnesses the inferno and against belief Christine emerges engulfed in flames and continues her pursuit. It's a haunting scene in the pitch black of night as the fiery '58 Fury runs Buddy down leaving a burning corpse as she continues on down the road like a fiery nightmare. The car returns to Darnell's where Will witnesses the charred classic return to it's bay, grabbing his shotgun to investigate the car claims yet another victim as the curmudgeon is crushed to death behind the steering wheel.

With the perpetrators of the car-rape dealt with appropriately the focus of the film now centers around the alliance of Leigh and Dennis whom are no longer willing to stand by and let Christine consume their friend Arnie. The final showdown happens at Darnell's garage and ends with Arnie being thrown through the windshield of Christine as she attempts to kill Leigh. Arnie's impaled with a shard of glass, the wound is fatal, and with his dying breath he gently caresses Christine's chrome grill one last time. Enraged by Arnie's dead, Christine, ever the jealous and bloodthirsty companion, reconstitutes herself enough to go after Leigh one last time, it's Dennis whom stops the haunted ride with the assistance a vintage bulldozer, he mounts the cursed car, crushing it beyond repair, bringing it's reign of terror to an end. 

Christine is a timeless film, this is classic piece of Americana horror from John Carpenter and perhaps the only one of his director-for-hire films that maintains his cinematic identity, it's a lean muscular film with lots of rewatch value. Other films Carpenter directed for hire include the Chevy Chase comedy vehicle Memoirs of the Invisible Man (1992) and the remake of Village of the Damned (1998) with Christopher Reeve and neither film "feels" like a Carpenter experience, a lot of that has to do with the fact that he did not compose the score for either wherein with Christine he and longtime collaborator Alan Howarth bring the magic with an understated but very Carpenter-esqu score, so effective with just the right amount of menace and trademark stingers, the film also benefits from a fantastic oldies soundtrack with hits from Johnny Ace, Little Richard, Richie Valens, The Rolling stones and Robert and Johnny. 

Blu-ray:  Twilight Time brings John Carpenter's Christine to Blu-ray for the first-time ever with an MPEG-4 AVC encode presented in it's original scope aspect ratio (2.35:1). The HD master from Columbia-Sony is sourced from a stunning print with precious few if any defects. It's a wonderful presentation with nice, deep  color saturation, particularly the reds, Christine's cherry red body just pops off the screen. The film benefits from the 1080p upgrade with nice clarity, the fine detail is amped up and the film's natural grain has never looked better, this is a magnificent video presentation. The lossless English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sounds superb, too. Not the most immersive track but the surrounds do get some effective use. It's a crystal clear presentation that's well balanced, the 50's rock n' roll soundtrack and John Carpenter's score sound great, when Christine's engine revs up it was a bit startling, great stuff and we get optional English SDH subtitles, too. 

Blu-ray Menu Screen 
We get the very same extras from Columbia's special edition DVD ported over to the Blu-ray beginning with a nice Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and star Keith Gordon whom has become a director in his own right directing Robert Downey Jr. in The Singing Detective (2003) as well multiple episodes of suspenseful TV programming such as Showtime's Dexter and A&E's The Killing. It's an entertaining track with not a dull moment. 

There are three featurettes Ignition (11:52), Fast and Furious (28:55) and Finish Line (7:17) that are sourced from the same interview with director John Carpenter, producer Richard Kobritz , screen write Bill Philips and stars Keith Gordon, Alexandra Paul and John Stockwell. each segment is peppered with clips from the film, behind-the-scenes shots. Combined at nearly 48 minutes it's a pretty comprehensive look back at the making of the film as Kobritz explains Stephen King offering manuscript of unfinished work to him to produce following Salem's Lot (1979) and what a big deal that was at the time when King was the unparalleled king of fiction at a time before the Tom Clancy and J.K. Rowlings of the world. He turned down producing Cujo (1983) to take on the very Americana Christine, also bringing John Carpenter onto the project following the poor box office The Thing (1982). Carpenter goes into the "birthing" scene at the top of the film, extolling the virtues of cinematographer Donald M. Morgan and shooting the effects insert shots to give Christine's Resurrection shots "more juice". The interviews with the cast are pretty enlightening and add to the overall enjoyment of the film particular Keith who speaks about the Carpenter's direction to sexualize his interactions with the car, flubbed takes and Carpenter keeping it lose on set. We also get 20 Deleted and Alternate Scenes (26:02) featuring an extended version of the bullies trashing Christine but it's easy to see why most of these were judiciously left on the cutting room floor. 

Exclusive to Twilight's Time's Limited Edition Blu-ray is the signature Isolated Score Track which showcases John Carpenter's sparse and sublime score. Worth noting is that Carpenter's score does not actually begin until almost the sixteen minute mark and is pretty sparsely used throughout the film Another signature item is the 8pg. Collector's Booklet with Julie Kirgo's illuminating liner notes, red-tinted screenshots and behind-the-scenes pics and the original theatrical poster. All in all a fantastic edition from Twilight Time, the only omission would be some Trailers, TV Spots or Radio Spots for the film. 

I do find it odd that Columbia did not see fit to release this on their own in greater numbers, Twilight Time's edition is a limited edition of 3,000 and is already out of print and demanding upwards of $100 on the auction sites, regardless more John Carpenter on Blu-ray is always a cause for celebration and I look forward to 1080p presentations of The Fog (1980), Prince of Darkness (1987) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers John Carpenter and Keith Gordon
- Isolated Score Track
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (26:02)
- Ignition (11:52)
- Fast and Furious (28:55)
- Finish Line (7:17)

Verdict: A classic piece of Americana and an effective slice of r-rated teen horror, Christine is an underrated John Carpenter entry, one that's taken for granted after years of cable channel reruns. I think maybe it gets lumped in with many of the more mediocre Stephen King adaptations we've seen throughout the years but one deserving of celebration. It'd been a few years since I last watched the film and it's surprising how well it's held up these past thirty years, one hell of a haunted car ride. 3.75 Outta 5