I've seen a slew of Stephen King films in the past year, despite having outgrown his writing some years ago. The titles of most of his books and many of his stories are ingrained for me, like with many other people in the modern world. A theoretical understanding of the value or quality of his works–and comparative lack thereof when it comes to adaptations–is also seemingly omnipresent, though one that I go against the grain on–not because I can, but because I simply feel that way. I tend to like more of the adaptations than I am "supposed" to, and fewer of the books than I am expected to. I bought this movie for two simple and possibly ridiculous reasons: first, I wanted a ticket to see 30 Days of Night (looking at the date of this review should tell you just how long it then takes me to get around to watching the movies I buy), and second, I wanted to up the John Carpenter content of my DVD collection. I have faith in the man to make an entertaining flick even when faced with monstrous scripts or incompetent actors (see: Ghosts of Mars). I ignored the middling to negative response to the film and simply made my own go of it on my own time, which is my preferred way of seeing movies (private home viewings can be helpful with this attitude as well, preventing the knowing sniggers of those familiar and the attempts to seem "cool" and deride many films by the unfamiliar also absent).
Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) is a nerd. Pretty much your standard movie nerd: picked on by the bullies, wears unhip clothing, glasses, has controlling parents and no luck with women, which leads to an overactive libido. Somewhat unusually, his best friend is Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell), who is a pretty good looking kid, and a football player. Nothing is made of this, and I was pleased with the movie for that much of it this characterization. He and Dennis are driving home after a particularly nasty bullying by Buddy Repperton (William Ostrander–nice 'chops, Bill), they happen to drive past a rusting, dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury, which Arnie cannot resist. He quickly buys it from the previous owner, George LeBay (Roberts Blossom–yes, Deranged's "Ezra Cobb") and begins rebuilding it in the garage of one Will Darnell (Robert Prosky, who is Gremlins 2's "Grandpa Fred" to me, forever and ever). He seemingly disappears from sight, beginning to rebel more and more against his parents, dressing differently and becoming more aggressive, even winning the hand of Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul). Surprised by this at the wrong time, Dennis is nearly crippled in a football game, and watches from his bed as the occasionally-visiting Arnie slowly becomes more and more obsessed with his new car, named Christine. He confronts LeBay, only to find that LeBay's brother, the real previous owner, died seemingly at the very hands of his car. It's rather too late though, as the conflict with Buddy Repperton reaches greater proportions, his gang* managing to completely destroy and deface Christine, leading the car and Arnie to take murderous revenge, leading to a race to save him from the car's influence.
I've never read Christine (does that sound familiar, to those of you who have read, well, many of my reviews–but especially the Stephen King variety?) so I cannot compare the two, nor do I particularly want to. This is a horror film from my favourite decade for horror films (well, film in general, but especially horror). There's a wonderful feeling of studios being behind horror films in the 80s, of giving them budget enough to do whatever they want, or close enough to it. John Carpenter knows how to shoot, knows how to film, how to light and how to score, and these things congeal into a very entertaining, if unspectacular, horror film. As I've said before, the sharp drop between the number of comedy films in the world to the number of horror films, let alone the percentage of decent ones, tends to make me easy to please in some capacity when it comes to these films. I don't know that I necessarily lower my expectations, but they seem more smoothly in line with my desires for a viewing experience, and this is no exception. It's not amazing or great, but it does it's job and does it well.
And hey, Harry Dean Stanton plays the cop nemesis to Arnie. That's enough by itself.
*If anyone else sees Buddy's gang, especially Trelawney (Steven Tash), and thinks, "I'll tell you what the effect is, IT'S PISSING ME OFF!"–you win brownie points with me for totally random associations and memory.