Film Review: Christine (1983)

Rating: 18
Length: 1hr 50
Release: 2.3.1984
Dir: John Carpenter
About: Arnie restores an old car and names her Christine, but he is unaware that she has an evil presence within her. When anyone tries to come between her owner and her, they are not spared.

The Good

  • Visually, the opening is awesome. The birth of Christine is something quite unexpected. While there’s no real explanation as to why its that car in particular, it still hooks you in.
  • Christine riding around on fire looks absolutely amazing. I also do really like that those who are singled out by Christine are those who ‘attack’ her and also have issues with Arnie; allowing you to question how involved Arnie actually is.
  • I really liked the hints to Dennis being gay. They were subtle and, had that thread been followed through, could have added a layer to the plot and given us a better insight into the character.
  • Harry Dean Stanton as the detective. I don’t know what it is about Stanton, but I really like having him appear in films. He has that ‘granddad’ stature, almost. The scene in which we’re introduced to him is quite possibly my favourite in the whole film. Not for the dialogue, or for him being involved, but for how the cars are in the frame.

The Bad

  • Totally not the film’s fault, but the song ‘Bad to the Bone’ by George Thorogood and The Destroyers for me is synonymous with Al Bundy and Married … With Children. In fact, I’ve just gone to google the connection hoping to find a clip to illustrate my point and it promptly informed me that it’s considered almost as Al’s theme song. For those who aren’t familiar with Al Bundy or the tv show he inhabits; it’s a comedy show that ran for 11 seasons over 10 years. By having this association, it throws off the tone of the film for me, right from the get go.
  • Keeping with this song as the opening number, there is another clash. This time between the song and the era that is presented on the screen. The film opens in September 1957, however the song is from 1982. Yes, some songs are timeless. Bad to the Bone is not one of those. It’s a very 80s number, and for a film that is firmly set in 1978, it just doesn’t fit for me.

The Ugly

  • I don’t get the character of Arnie. I don’t like him and find him a bit of a dick, even before his involvement with Christine. His negative interactions with anyone other than Dennis means what is meant to be a massive personality shift just doesn’t translate to the viewer. While his fate is as it should be, I don’t like that we don’t see the final moments of his relationship with Christine. This is more frustrating to me, as I feel it is his relationship with his car that’s the core of the story.
  • It’s so not scary! In fact, at times, it feels ludicrous and boring. The only thing bringing it up to the 18 rating is the use of language which feels gratuitous at times. That’s from me who has spent the last three months trying to make HanCOCK happen.
  • Why is everybody so pissed about the car?! Dennis’ apprehension could have been explained by the feelings he has for Arnie. I certainly feel it was hinted at that Dennis may have been gay and attracted to his best friend. However, its almost abandoned half way through.

Final Thoughts

A great concept that just falls short of its potential. There’s not enough horror and its a rather flawed plot to really rate highly for me.

The Dead Zone (1963)

Rating: 15
Length: 1hr 43
Release: 13.1.1984
Director: David Cronenberg
About: A man awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic ability.

The Good

  • The story is strong, making sure that elements are cleverly dropped into the narrative and actually really pay off towards the end of the movie. For instance, Johnny’s psychic abilities are triggered by Sam, his clinic doctor. It seems its just there to provide a bond between the characters and someone who believes through experience rather than belief. However, it not only does it pay off in the final act, but it gives the viewer one of the most heavily debated ethical conundrums, but Sam gives one of the best answers to the question I’ve ever heard.
  • While episodic in its delivery, it doesn’t feel disjointed. Again, this is to do with clever plotting and delivery. The introduction of senator candidate Stillson reminds me so much of how Prime Minster Saxon was developed in Doctor Who. At one point in the film, you might be forgiven for thinking that the focus of the whole film was going to be on Johnny assisting the detectives in town, but when that’s resolved you don’t feel like the rug has been pulled.
  • Speaking of Stillson, its rather chilling how much like President Orange-face he is. It’s also a little unsettling to know that Martin Sheen goes on to play a president so well received on tv that people still call for him to be real. Yes, I know he’s an actor, but its not lost on me that all politicians are not themselves either.
  • A weird thing to like, but its a really green film on the most part. Yes, I feel like it means something. No, I don’t know what it is. I suspect it’s to do with Johnny’s ability, but it draws me in rather than frustrates me.
  • Christopher Walken as Johnny. Bloody hell, I’m invested and he’s a hero. A blessed or cursed one, I’m not sure I’ve decided on that yet. It’s a testament to Walken as an actor that I went into this thinking he was going to be a bad guy and be completely creeped out for him to win me over.
  • There’s so much else that I loved about this film; the themes, the questions raised and that science versus mysticism that automatically comes with this sort of story.

The Bad

  • The only part I found a little disjointed was the parent’s watching the televised interview and what happens to the mother. It’s slightly unclear (I’m nitpicking) and I’m not sure if that’s because I was already preparing for a flash from Johnny or if it just lacked the physical words.

The Ugly

  • Stephen King can’t write women for shit! Beverly Marsh has a gang bang with all of the Loser’s Club (albeit both the tv movie and the modern remake have the sense to leave it out), Donna bangs her husband’s tennis partner and now we’ve got Sarah who during Johnny’s five-year snooze gets married and has a baby. Okay, maybe that’s okay given Johnny’s dad has already moved on 2 minutes after mama’s death, however to take the baby to johnny’s house and lay it down to sleep before offering your tits to the man you abandoned. Bull shit! No!

Final Thoughts

It’s a film I’d watch again in a heartbeat. You can’t really take you’re eyes of the screen for a minute and the questions it leaves you with will invite you to return for another viewing.

Cujo (1983)

Rating: 18
Length: 1hr 33
Release: 18.11.1963
Director: Lewis Teague
About: Donna, a suburban housewife along with her young son Tad, drives out to the home where a perturbed St Bernard is driven insane by rabies. She must now save herself and her son from a brutal attack.

The Good

  • The second half of this movie is incredible; it taps into basic fears and keeps the body count coming. While Cujo started off as a sweet Saint Bernard he quickly becomes a volatile, foaming-at-the-mouth fuzzy monster. There are two massive dog-related scares that left me petrified; the initial attack on the car and the attack on Donna.
  • There’s an incredible shot in which the camera does a number of 360 degree spins, the revolution getting faster than a teacup ride. It has a emotive and physical effect that is perfect for a horror.
  • The bats that bite Cujo are proper scary. Like the teeth and the hissing. If there was anyone I was invested in from the start, it was poor Cujo. He was having a nice time, chasing a rabbit. He gets bitten and no one cares. No one gets him to a vet. Poor Cujo. Poor, poor, Cujo.

The Bad

  • The music is rather tv-movie and a good chunk of it, doesn’t match the tone of the movie.
  • I feel as if something was missed out in regards to Donna and her views about dogs. Her reaction to Cujo when she meets him for the first time almost hints at a long standing fear or dislike. However, it’s never confirmed. Given that so much time is spent on exposition that had no value, I’m certain they could have dedicated a bit to this.
  • Donna makes some dumb-ass decisions, much like many people in horror movies.

The Ugly

  • The first half of the movie is total dog shit (excuse the pun). The film takes up over 40 minutes developing characters and I really don’t understand why. With the Camber family, the mother and son are built up to just disappear for the second act which feels a little pointless.
  • Then there’s the matter of the lead. What we learn about Donna in the first 45 minutes is that there are problems in her marriage, perhaps because of his stressful and totally BORING job. She’s ‘screwing around’ with her ex boyfriend. Yes, it gives us a final act misdirection when the husband is searching for her, but it also makes her an unlikable character who I am not invested in.
  • Tad, Tadpole, Tadders. The kid takes up a lot of the film and while research has suggested the opening scene has more significance within the book, it feels pointless. Although, I must admit I did like the way in which he prepared to launch himself into the bed once the light was turned out.

Final Thoughts

All in all, there’s way too much build up and not enough pay off. I’d have liked to have seen Donna and Tad get into their peril much earlier and perhaps one of the other deaths happening a little earlier.

Christmas Film Advent – A Christmas Story (1983)

The line waiting to see Santa Claus stretched all the way back to Terre Haute. And I was at the end of it.

Length: 1Hr 34

Rating: PG

About: Based on the humorous writings of author Jean Shepherd, this beloved holiday movie follows the wintry exploits of youngster Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), who spends most of his time dodging a bully (Zack Ward) and dreaming of his ideal Christmas gift, a “Red Ryder air rifle.” Frequently at odds with his cranky dad (Darren McGavin) but comforted by his doting mother (Melinda Dillon), Ralphie struggles to make it to Christmas Day with his glasses and his hopes intact.

First Thoughts

I did not like this movie. Not only was I not aware I was ‘missing out’ on a classic, I still don’t think I was.

This is not to say it’s a badly made film. It’s a solid effort from all involved and I would argue that I was never part of the intended target audience.

What I do admire about the festive offering is its obvious legacy. By being detached from the story, I was able to pick out what perhaps became influential techniques for film makers in the US. The sad part being, I was so detached from the film I was begging for it to be over.

The Naughty List

The ‘fault’ with the movie for me is it’s anecdotal and episodic storytelling. It relies on nostalgia and familiarity to engage the viewer and I felt there was no hook at the beginning.

I’d also say that the film relies on you liking the main character, Ralphie. I struggled to connect with the character and I suspect that is partly down to the film makers choice to have the older counter part narrate throughout the 94 minutes. In defence of the film, I have discovered that I struggle with any format that relies heavily on a narration approach. Rami Malek fronted Mr Robot should be the perfect show for me, but the format means that I’ve never gotten past the first few episodes.

I found myself uncomfortable with the desired gift that is the focus of the film; a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle.

It’s truly a personal thing and a sign that I’m far removed from the time in which the film is made, but in the current climate I struggle to find it cute or charming for the kid to want a gun so badly.

The Nice List (the Legacies)

The Wonder Years is possibly the earliest tv show that makes this style of film making successful. While The Goldberg’s is perhaps the most recent. What makes both of these nostalgic tv shows successful is that they take The Christmas Story’s concept and pace itself through a series. It allows the audience to connect with the characters and stops the story feeling rushed and bloated.

How I Met Your Mother was the show I was reminded of instantly. Perhaps it was initially the adult Ralphie’s voice that reminded me of the long standing comedy show, but it was one scene in particular that stood out for me. Upon helping his father with a tire blowout, Ralphie ends up swearing. “Oh fudge.” Recounts the narrator. “Only the word was not fudge…” which I suspect inspired the use of the word sandwich as a substitute for weed in Josh Radnor’s retelling of his life.

Final Thoughts

A film I feel is of it’s time and perhaps will have aged better stateside. I’d have liked less narration, but I appreciate the method of film making.

Christmas Film Advent- Trading Places (1983)

“You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.”

Length: 1 hr 58
Rating: 15
About: Upper-crust executive Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and down-and-out hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) are the subjects of a bet by successful brokers Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy). An employee of the Dukes, Winthorpe is framed by the brothers for a crime he didn’t commit, with the siblings then installing the street-smart Valentine in his position. When Winthorpe and Valentine uncover the scheme, they set out to turn the tables on the Dukes.

First Thoughts

I know I’ve seen this before at some point. I’m just not sure why I’ve not made it a regular watch. On the surface it checks all the boxes, so I wasn’t sure why it never made regular billing like holiday staples such as Die Hard and Home Alone.

The Naughty List

  • There’s a few too many breast on show for my liking. Not sure about anyone else, but the only breasts I’m after at Christmas are those that can be found on a turkey. The 80s was rife with the gratuitous topless scene, and Trading Places is no exception. When you’ve got ‘Scream Queen’ J-T dropping clothes not once, it becomes trite and unnecessary. Of course, there will be many who completely disagree! 
  •  Based on the current climate, I predict this film being put on society’s naughty list alongside Baby it’s Cold Outside within a few years. While I’m not one for censorship, there are a few scenes that aren’t appropriate and made me cringe. To contextualise, it was the 80s and even Mystic Meg didn’t see the revolution of political correctness coming.
  • So, where are the issues? There’s a few niggles throughout and I didn’t like the use of the N-word, even if it had been long established that the dude who said it was a knob. However, my biggest problem lies within the final act. Who on earth thought black-face Dan Akroyd was a good idea? Or funny? I’m sure it was fine at the time, but I’d very much like to edit it out.

The Nice List

  • Quite possibly one of the best life swap movies out there. Not only does it comment upon social status, elitism that money festers in the world and the dangers of power but it at least tries to explore the pitfalls of the race divide. While to today’s eyes, it only appears to be an attempt, I still can appreciate how brave it may have appeared at the time.
  • It’s funny, its clever and its wonderfully retro. From the computers to the price of money, it’s all now so far removed for this to no longer seem cutting edge, but still sharp enough to be saying something.
  •  Dan Akroyd is on top form as an Ivy Leaguer with a silver spoon in his mouth. While there’s elements of his goofiness in the later half of the proceedings, its the stiff and proper gentleman that’s a brilliant touch. It’s like seeing Chris Barrie in the role of Rimmer after watching him play Mr Brittas.
  • Brody! Wow, how was Denholm Elliot ever cast as Alfred or Q is beyond me. What I love so much about his role in Trading Places is that he gets to play the ‘stuffy’ British stereotype who gets to break the convention and have fun with it. His straight faced interaction with the downtrodden Akroyd is pure brilliance.
  • Jamie-Leigh Curtis runs laps around Julia Roberts for the prostitute with the heart of gold. She’s delightful, intelligent and the perfect partner in crime for Akroyd. Their chemistry is better than most of their modern counterparts. 

Final Thoughts

It’s a dated festive film and there are bits that I’m not entirely sold on, but while the PC police are up in arms, I will be fighting for this film to stay on everyone’s Christmas viewing list.