Day 10: Popcorn

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 10: Popcorn (1991).  popcornposter

Although it was released theatrically in 1991, Popcorn feels more like one of the last ’80s horror films than one of the first horror films of the ’90s. In fact, Popcorn could be seen as the movie that bridges the gap between dark ’80s slasher flicks and the sleek, meta, ironic-commentary horror shockers of the ’90s and beyond, as Popcorn works as both a serious slasher film and as a loving parody/homage to the history of horror cinema. As a slasher film about film students being stalked during an all-night horror movie marathon in a musty, dusty, old-timey theater from the William Castle days of yore, Popcorn is clearly a precursor to Scream’s wink-at-the-audience style of horror as a commentary on horror cinema as entertainment.

Subjectively, I much prefer this movie to the Scream movies. No offense to the Scream fans out there. I get it. Those movies certainly have their moments (thanks entirely to the direction of Wes Craven), but I just find them a little too cutesy, a little too pandering, a little too insular, and not nearly as clever as they clearly are trying to appear. Popcorn, however, knows exactly what it is: a fun, low-budget, unabashedly unpretentious B-movie slash-a-thon totally devoid of any delusions of grandeur. Popcorn is a movie that knows it’s not great, and that lack of self-consciousness provides the requisite creative freedom for it to at least be really good. I won’t bother unpacking the ebbs and flows of the storyline, and I wouldn’t dare reveal any spoilers. I will say that, with a few notable exceptions, slasher movies and I haven’t enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. I find the stories totally lacking in originality and the characters so lazily drawn that I stop caring what happens to them within seconds of their introduction. And yet, I really do enjoy watching this movie. And while Popcorn is admittedly not one of the great slashers, like Halloween or Black Christmas, it is a great entertainment and a great movie to kick back late at night and watch with a cold drink and a salty, buttery bowl of … well, you know.

Day 9: The Haunted Palace

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 9: The Haunted Palace (1963). the-haunted-palace

Vincent Price, Roger Corman, Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft—sounds like Halloween to me. Creepy houses, fog-shrouded streets, death curses, a burning at the stake—so far, so good. Satanic allegiances, cloaked figures scampering in the dark, paranoid townspeople, an unknowably horrific creature awaiting release on an unsuspecting populace—it can only be The Haunted Palace!

This is one of those movies in which the sins of the past come back to wreak full-blown panic on the present. Vincent Price stars as Joseph Curwen, an evil warlock who is put to death by a handful of God-fearing townspeople who’ve had enough of the ominous goings-on regularly occurring behind the formidable walls of Curwen’s supremely Gothic mansion. While being burned at the stake, Curwen vows revenge from the beyond the grave and curses those who’ve had a hand in his death. Cut to 100 years later, when Charles Dexter Ward (also played by Price), a descendant of Curwen’s, arrives in town to take possession of the mansion. Soon the spirit of Curwen tries to possess the body of Ward and begin his season of resurrection and comeuppance. Of course, this all plays out within a series of creepy secret corridors, cobwebbed basement laboratories, and densely shadowed cobblestone streets where flickering gas lamps dance to a soundtrack of bone-rattling thunderclaps and otherworldly howling winds.

Movies like The Haunted Palace always come complete with their fair share of plot holes and unexplainable behavior. (For example, if the descendants of the men cursed by Curwen are so fearful of the curse actually coming true, why do they all still live in the same town generations later?) At the same time, the movie is delightfully creepy and absolutely dripping with atmosphere. So what if Roger Corman goes a bit too heavy on the fog machine? Who really cares if all of the thunderclaps sound exactly the same? Granted, those looking for excessive gore or heaping piles of naked young bodies (in other words, those who believe Nurse is a modern masterpiece) should probably seek their gooseflesh elsewhere. Even for true horror aficionados, The Haunted Palace might not be the scariest, most mind-blowingly terrifying place to spend an evening, but, luckily, you can rent by the hour.

Day 10: Popcorn

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 10: Popcorn (1991).  popcornposter

Although it was released theatrically in 1991, Popcorn feels more like one of the last ’80s horror films than one of the first horror films of the ’90s. In fact, Popcorn could be seen as the movie that bridges the gap between dark ’80s slasher flicks and the sleek, meta, ironic-commentary horror shockers of the ’90s and beyond, as Popcorn works as both a serious slasher film and as a loving parody/homage to the history of horror cinema. As a slasher film about film students being stalked during an all-night horror movie marathon in a musty, dusty, old-timey theater from the William Castle days of yore, Popcorn is clearly a precursor to Scream’s wink-at-the-audience style of horror as a commentary on horror cinema as entertainment.

Subjectively, I much prefer this movie to the Scream movies. No offense to the Scream fans out there. I get it. Those movies certainly have their moments (thanks entirely to the direction of Wes Craven), but I just find them a little too cutesy, a little too pandering, a little too insular, and not nearly as clever as they clearly are trying to appear. Popcorn, however, knows exactly what it is: a fun, low-budget, unabashedly unpretentious B-movie slash-a-thon totally devoid of any delusions of grandeur. Popcorn is a movie that knows it’s not great, and that lack of self-consciousness provides the requisite creative freedom for it to at least be really good. I won’t bother unpacking the ebbs and flows of the storyline, and I wouldn’t dare reveal any spoilers. I will say that, with a few notable exceptions, slasher movies and I haven’t enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. I find the stories totally lacking in originality and the characters so lazily drawn that I stop caring what happens to them within seconds of their introduction. And yet, I really do enjoy watching this movie. And while Popcorn is admittedly not one of the great slashers, like Halloween or Black Christmas, it is a great entertainment and a great movie to kick back late at night and watch with a cold drink and a salty, buttery bowl of … well, you know.

Day 11: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 11: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).     elm street

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m not crazy about slasher films. To my way of thinking, there are two types of horror movies: horror movies that tell horror stories and horror movies that depict horrific events and actions—that’s it. Slashers almost always fit securely into that second category. There are, however, exceptions to every rule. Movies such as Halloween and Black Christmas are well-regarded slashers because they take the subject matter seriously and their characters are realistic and believable and not archetypal caricatures whose worth can be measured only in surface values such as breast size or ab definition. Here’s a simple metric for determining the quality of any slasher movie: If at any time you find yourself rooting for the killer to eliminate all of the characters, you’re probably watching a bad slasher movie. However, there are plenty of bad slasher movies that are still lots of fun … but I digress.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most iconic, universally lauded slasher films ever, and rightly so. The story is original and conceptually terrifying. The characters are likable and likely to remind viewers of people they actually know (or knew in high school). These are not one-note characters that exist solely to whet the appetite of the audience for upcoming death scenes. No, in this movie, the bad boy rebel is also a loyal friend, and the mousey “good girl” finds the requisite courage to perform some pretty outrageously violent acts (as illustrated in a prolonged booby-trap sequence) when she needs it most. Like The Haunted Palace (the movie I watched on night number nine), A Nightmare on Elm Street is a multigenerational ghost story in which the sins of one generation will be remunerated with the innocent blood of the next generation. These characters were damned even before they were born, and right from the beginning their situation has an ominous sacrificial-lamb aura of inescapability about it. Unlike so many slasher victims, whose fates are decided by the inexplicable need for a late-night swim or the overwhelming desire to have sex in a forest where an infamous slaughter occurred, the characters in Nightmare are fully aware of their predicament and fight their seemingly unavoidable fate with every ounce of their strength. As a result, A Nightmare on Elm Street feels somehow more grounded in reality than most non-supernatural (or realistic) slasher flicks. In fact, I don’t really consider A Nightmare on Elm Street a slasher film at all but rather a ghost story that trains a white-hot spotlight on copious amounts of slashing. After all, Freddy Krueger is a malignant spirit, not a living, breathing masked lunatic with a machete and an ornery disposition.

It should also be noted that Nightmare is a fantastic piece of filmmaking. This is a tightly paced, thrilling tale that seamlessly blends horrific nightmare imagery with mundane, everyday suburban iconography. Consider the bleak dreamlike quality of one character’s (Tina) corpse in a body bag being dragged away by an unseen force, leaving a grisly trail of smeared blood behind. Now contrast that with the banal, well-worn imagery of the stereotypical suburban classroom from which another character (Nancy) is beckoned by that very corpse. Masterful moments like this (and there are many) more than make up for the ridiculous ending, particularly the instant when the blow-up sex-doll version of Ronee Blakley gets yanked through the miniscule window in her front door.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic and an American original that will be remembered forever by horror fans the world over. Unfortunately, we recently lost Wes Craven, the writer and director of this gem. But he, too, was an American original who will never be forgotten. Rest peacefully, big guy. You earned it.

Day 12: Horror of Dracula

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil ColeHorOfDrac

Day 12: Horror of Dracula (1958).

In previous posts I’ve mentioned that, with a few notable exceptions, I am not a fan of slasher films. Well … the same could be said for vampires. I don’t know … I just never really understood the fascination with these creatures—at least as far as movies, novels, and TV are concerned. I can certainly understand the allure of living forever, being beautiful, and having power over lowly human beings; but fictional incarnations of the vampire way of life (or undeath, I suppose) have mostly, to my way of thinking, been little more than simplistic retellings (and often shameless rip-offs) of what Bram Stoker created more than a century ago (and, to a lesser extent, what John William Polidori created almost two centuries ago with his short story “The Vampyre”). And yet, as with slasher films, there are notable exceptions. Movies like Near Dark, Martin, Fright Night (1985), Let the Right One In, and both the silent F. W. Murnau 1921 version and the full-audio 1979 Werner Herzog version of Nosferatu have become all-time favorites of mine. But for me, when I hear the word vampire, I think of Count Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing, and I when I think of Count Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing, I think of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and when I think Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I think of the Hammer Films series of Dracula pictures. And then I smile like big slobbering baby.

Horror of Dracula, the first and arguably the best in Hammer’s Dracula series, is, to me, required viewing, an absolute necessity come each October. It should be noted that this Dracula has almost nothing in common with what Stoker produced; in fact, writer Jimmy Sangster and director Terrence Fisher seem to revel in completely reinventing Stoker’s narrative to suit their considerably limited resources and miniscule budget. And they make it work, effectively retooling Stoker’s overtly sexual narrative metaphor into a pure seek-and-destroy-the-monster tale … with overt sexual overtones still in play, of course.

Horror of Dracula proudly bears its blood-stained fangs, squeezing every ounce of moody atmosphere out of its Gothic setting through in-your-face art decoration and costuming, the not-so-realistic background matte paintings of looming mountains, the liberal use of blood the color of candied apples, and a surfeit of scenes set in ancestral graveyards, chilly crypts, and dank cellars. But perhaps the most fun to be had lies in the performances. This film provides the horror fan the rare opportunity to see iconic characters played by iconic actors at the height of their abilities. Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, Christopher Lee as Dracula, Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood—no room for teen scream queens here. Isn’t that a novel concept?

Day 13: The Ruins

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

 

Day 13: The Ruins (2008).       Ruins

If The Ruins had not been based on a novel by Scott B. Smith, I probably would not have bothered to watch it. Luckily, I’ve been a fan of Smith’s prose ever since reading his novel A Simple Plan (which was later successfully translated to the big screen by Sam Raimi), so my curiosity eventually got the better of me, and I gave the film version of The Ruins a shot. I remembered that I enjoyed the novel, but I also remembered how grisly and ghastly much of that book was and worried that the film version of such a story may attempt to appeal to a specific blood-loving demographic by focusing on the gory rather than the story. Much of the movie is truly cringe-inducing, and yet, to my great relief, never at the expense of the narrative. The gore actually feels completely organic while simultaneously nauseating—which, in itself, is a pretty neat trick.

While the novel is much more comprehensive and—believe it or not—gorier than the movie, the movie is still quite satisfying. Much of the film’s success is due to the way Smith’s characters completely subvert the lackluster expectations created by the film’s college-friends-on-vacation- find-horror narrative template. Normally, a film about young people partying in an exotic locale inevitably disintegrates into a goopy, drippy series of cheap, gruesome thrills and obvious genre tropes, but Smith’s story quickly detours away from this well-trod horror territory by placing smart, capable, relatable characters in an horrific situation that actually forces the viewer to question the way in which he or she might react if it were happening to them.

Since supernatural stories only really work when characters react believably to unbelievable situations, the acting in a movie like this needs to be superb or the whole affair will devolve into a subpar cinematic version of cheese-ball Grand Guignol. Luckily, when horrible things happen to these characters (as played by Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey, Shawn Ashmore, and Joe Anderson) you feel it in your gut. Their performances elevate every single scene and transform the movie from a potential gross-out popcorn feature to something memorable and even somewhat haunting.

The Ruins plays like a road trip over rocky terrain in a car without shock absorbers. You will feel every bump in the road as it inexorably plows ahead toward its conclusion. I’m not sure that I would describe The Ruins as scary, at least not in the traditional “boogeyman” sense of the word, but I would definitely call it horror. (For the record, the ending to the novel is much more satisfying.)

Day 14: The Exorcist

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

ExorcistPoster

Day 14: The Exorcist (1973).

In recent years The Exorcist has become that rare movie that actually suffers from an iconic reputation. Younger horror fans find the movie boring and predictable. The reason for this is simple: The Exorcist, when it was released at the end of 1973, was so startlingly original, so shocking, so daring, and ultimately so profitable that it has become one of the most routinely and shamelessly) ripped-off films in the history of cinema. Over the last few years alone, it seems that nearly every horror movie that wasn’t a slasher film ended with an exorcism scene. Even supposedly true stories that don’t contain exorcisms were suddenly being adapted into mainstream movies with climactic exorcism sequences. Two of the most obvious (and egregious) examples of this trend are The Conjuring and The Possession. The Conjuring is the story of the Perron family’s battle with supernatural forces in their Rhode Island home. In actuality, there was never an exorcism performed on the family’s matriarch; however, the film spends its entire last hour setting the scene for a final confrontation between good and evil in the form of—you guessed it—a good old-fashioned exorcism. This is where The Conjuring stops being a compelling ghost story and becomes just another attempt to cash in on the popularity of exorcism movies created by The Exorcist. But that’s nothing compared to the ridiculous lengths taken by the makers of The Possession to avoid creating an original film. The true story that inspired The Possession concerns a haunted wine box and the many strange happenings and possibly supernatural coincidences experienced by the box’s numerous owners. However, the story the makers of The Possession decided to tell concerns a family dealing with divorce, an estate sale, and the purchase of a cursed wine box by the family’s youngest daughter, which, of course, leads to her possession, which, of course, leads to a final exorcism sequence replete with otherworldly winds, demonic voices, levitations, and lights that incessantly flicker for absolutely no reason. In the end, The Possession is clearly much more of a cheap retelling of The Exorcist than it is a first-telling of a story about a haunted wine box in which no one—not one single person—is ever possessed or exorcised. So I actually understand why younger viewers are often unimpressed by The Exorcist. By the time they finally get around to seeing the film, they’ve already experienced the story hundreds of times in scores of inferior film and television productions. Such is the fate of numerous iconic stories throughout history, such as Romeo and Juliet and A Christmas Carol.

Unfortunately for The Exorcist, few people remember that, in 1973, the word exorcism wasn’t really all that well known and almost never used in casual conversation. It was also not at all normal to see a film in which one of the main characters was a priest who’d lost his faith, although this, too, would become a well-worn genre trope in years to come. Most importantly, audiences need to be reminded that The Exorcist is about much more than possession and exorcism; it’s a film that actually depicts the debate between fact and faith, science and superstition, hard data and religious dogma. The Exorcist works as horror, philosophical drama, existential mystery, and, perhaps most importantly, pure entertainment, and you can’t say that about any of the rip-offs Hollywood has churned out in the film’s rightfully iconic wake.

Day 15: The Fly

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

                                                                   The Fly

Day 15: The Fly (1986).

Between 1978 and 1988 four legendary science fiction/horror films were remade, and it is arguable that in each instance the remake topped the original. It all began with Philip Kaufman’s much more urban 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Next, in 1982, came John Carpenter’s now-legendary take on paranoia and xenophobia with The Thing. Then in 1986 David Cronenberg completely overhauled the overtly campy 1958 B-movie silliness of The Fly. And finally, Chuck Russell injected contemporary gore F/X and monster-movie mayhem into his 1988 retelling of The Blob. While John Carpenter’s The Thing is viewed by many of my generation (myself included) as the most entertaining film of this bunch (and maybe the greatest monster movie ever), it is David Cronenberg’s The Fly that is easily the most prophetic, intellectually curious, psychologically damaging, and intimately human film of any of the remakes and one of the best sci-fi/horror ever films ever created.

To say that the film is intimate is to state the obvious, but it would be easy for the casual fan to overlook just how intimate the film really is. There are, for example, only a handful of speaking parts and only a small collection of locations, each of which is, not coincidentally, extremely intimate. There are a few apartments, including one that doubles as a laboratory. There are a couple of offices. There is a bar (very casual, yes, even intimate). There is also a rooftop setting that becomes increasingly important to the story. But that’s about it. All of the film’s drama, tragedy, and horror plays out among a very few characters in only a few different locations. But the intimacy theme doesn’t stop there.

The Fly is, strangely enough, a very human story. It can be viewed as a metaphor for the life and death of romantic relationships or as yet another powerful example of a Frankenstein-style tragedy, in which the birth of a scientific discovery inevitably leads to calamitous horror and death. (Interestingly, The Fly even manages to inject great intimacy into the Frankenstein metaphor, allowing Dr. Seth Brundle to physically experience what he has wrought by casting him as both the creator of the monster and the monster itself.) The film also provides a refreshing take on overused story devices and narrative clichés. The idea of two obsessed workaholics trying to make a relationship work is explored without including the usual banal sitcom patter. When these two fight, they really fight. There is also a great performance by John Getz as the ex-boyfriend. This character begins the film as a weaselly, jealous letch and possible stalker. Slowly he becomes more and more sympathetic, and, before you realize it, you find yourself kinda liking the poor bastard; and then, by the time we reach the film’s dazzling conclusion, this character transforms into a fully realized heroic figure, willing to sacrifice his own safety to protect the woman he loves. This specific character arc provides the perfect counterpoint to the journey taken by the main character: The sleazy ex-boyfriend who resembles an insect ultimately finds his humanity after acting selflessly and courageously, while the noble, upstanding scientist (played to techno-geek perfection by Jeff Goldblum) loses his humanity in the hubristic pursuit of personal glory and literally transforms into an insect. That kind of commitment to character and theme is not something you see in most films, let alone horror films. But then again, The Fly is vastly superior to most films, regardless of genre.

Day 16: Paranormal Activity

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Paranormal Activity (2007).     ParanormalPoster

Over the last few years I have heard a number of filmmakers and fans say that they prefer realistic horror to supernatural horror. Their argument—and it’s a pretty good one—is that they are only truly afraid of things that they believe could actually happen in the real world. However, the real question should be: What do you find scarier, things known or things unknown? To me, the world of the unknown provides considerably more potential for gooseflesh and nightmares. After all, which is scarier, daylight or darkness? The explainable or the illogical? Hungry Hungry Hippos or a Ouija board? If, for example, a masked madman with an axe were chasing me, I would certainly be terrified, but I would at least be able to wrap my mind around what was happening. I would know that the man behind the mask is still just a man—a psychotic, horrifying monstrosity of a man, but just a man, nonetheless. Despite the approaching danger, I could diagnose my situation and logically attempt to extricate myself from that situation. On the other hand, if a demon were stalking me, I would have no logical means of recourse at my disposal. The laws of science and reason would be suddenly mutable. Logic would be a liability. I would be entirely at the mercy of an invisible, indefinable foe, whose motives are unknowable and whose methods are unfathomable.

Now that’s scary!

Movies like Paranormal Activity are most effective when exploring the inherent, genetically coded fear of the unknown shared by virtually all human beings who aren’t total sociopaths. The movie wisely and expertly eliminates the possibility of any safe haven for Katie and Micah, a young couple being tormented by a demon. For example, most people feel safe in their homes. Well, in this movie, literally all of the terror takes place within the boundaries of the tormented couple’s private property; in fact, only a very few shots occur outside of the house. Another example: Many people have been known to combat the late-night creeps by climbing into bed and pulling the covers up tightly around them. Well, in this movie, the bedroom serves as a focal point of the demon’s wrath, with much of the action taking place while our woebegone couple rest comfy-cozy in their big warm bed. This demon means business, and the film smartly allows its otherworldly villain to completely deny our besieged heroes any quarter … not anywhere … not ever.

Paranormal Activity also succeeds at making the illogical seem terrifying. So many movies destroy a perfectly creepy story by over-explaining the source of something that is intrinsically unexplainable, effectively sapping the scare-power from a tale by training a spotlight directly on what should clearly remain in the shadows. But Paranormal Activity cleverly suggests that this particular haunting isn’t the result of a voodoo curse or a Ouija board experiment gone horribly wrong or an ill-conceived night of dancing on graves at the local cemetery. No, this haunting is no one’s fault. This demon has been terrorizing Katie since childhood because … well, that’s what demons do. Making the Katie character a random victim implies that this could happen to anyone, even to movie fans who revel in Katie’s torment. Unfortunately, the sequels attempt to create an expository mythology for the demon’s presence, including a ludicrously weak narrative construct complete with satanic grannies striking Faustian deals. But the original film is still worthy of the occasional after-midnight viewing for those of us who prefer our horror treats served up with a dash of the supernatural and the illogical.

Day 17: Christine

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 17: Christine (1983).           Christine

John Carpenter and Stephen King are unquestionably two of the all-time great names in horror. And yet, when I think of Carpenter, although I enjoy and/or admire almost all of his movies, I tend to think of Halloween, The Thing, and Escape from New York. Not Christine. The same can be said for King. The mere mention of his name conjures indelible images from countless books and movies, particularly, Carrie, The Shining, and The Dead Zone ... But not Christine. I find this an odd phenomenon, since I really enjoy much of what Christine has to offer.

Adapting King’s story of a 1958 Plymouth Fury that more than lives up to its name could not have been an easy task. The book, which runs north of 600 pages, is a much more complex, comprehensive story than it would appear at first blush. Carpenter and company decided, out of necessity, to streamline the story by adding an introductory scene that takes place on an auto assembly line in late-’50s Detroit. The scene not-so-subtly suggests that Christine was evil right from the moment of her creation. This is a significant departure from the novel, in which the car’s owner, not the car itself, was the primary source of supernatural evil. With this one seemingly simple alteration the rules of adaptation are firmly established, producing a definitive roadmap for the journey from novel to film. Approaching the story from the evil-car-only angle means that some of the best scenes from the novel will inevitably be cut because they no longer make sense. At the same time, this approach creates the opportunity to innovate and create new scenes that further the filmic story while maintaining the spirit of the novel. To this end, we lose a scene in which Christine crashes into a house and chases an intended victim all the way up a flight of stairs; but we gain a beautifully shot sequence in which Christine emerges, almost fully engulfed in roiling flames, from a gas station explosion and tears down an adjacent street in pursuit of a potential victim, glowing bright orange and blood red against the surrounding darkness, her hungry flames licking at the heels of the poor bastard she’s about run over.

Perhaps the necessity of so many dramatic adaptations and narrative reinterpretations is to blame for the film’s strangely inconsistent tone. Moments of phenomenally striking cinematography and flawless technical execution are regularly subverted by hackneyed teen-movie characters whose teen-movie actions push the narrative into familiar, even predictable terrain. We have the lovable nerd whose best friend is the protective jock. We have the generic pretty girl who attracts the attention of both the nerd and the jock, which leads—predictably—to a friendship-testing love triangle. Then we have the school bully and his band of idiot followers who might as well wear red Star Trek shirts with big black bull’s-eyes spray-painted across their chests. And yet, strangely enough, there is still much to be admired in these characters. These people actually feel loss and pain. They have acne and suffer at the hands of bullies and are embarrassed when the pretty girl doesn’t like them back. So many horror films featuring teen characters simply skip the grief when something terrible happens, or only acknowledge it with a cursory “I should’ve been there!” before quickly refocusing emotionlessly on the demands of an idiotic, pot-boiled plot driven primarily by a body count. In Christine, actions have consequences and life-and-death decisions actually result in life or death. However, these moments of heartbreaking realism, as welcome and as well executed as they may be, act as a frustrating reminder of what could have been, had so much of the film not been so contrived; therefore, the film’s most haunting, powerful moments really do little more than further contribute to its inconsistent tone.

It should also be mentioned that, like a lot of Stephen King’s stories, Christine is actually a horror/tragedy. We know that this isn’t going to end well for these characters. The unavoidably tragic nature of this tale creates a sense of melancholy and fate which anchors the story in an emotional depth that most teen horror films actively avoid in order to sell popcorn to the target demographic and accommodate the potential for sequels. (By the way, the horror/tragedy is something that King has come to master over the years. Consider the doomed characters he has created in novels such as Carrie, Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone, and Cujo [the book ends quite differently than the film], just to name a few.)

     Christine isn’t a perfect film, but its visual style and tragiohorrific (that’s right, I said it) atmosphere make it a film well worth remembering and revisiting when considering the legendary careers of John Carpenter and Stephen King.