I recently saw two adaptations of Stephen King books by two classic horror directors, and had very different reactions to them: Tobe Hooper‘s ‘Salem’s Lot, and John Carpenter‘s Christine. I haven’t read either book in more than a decade. The post about ‘Salem’s Lot ran long, so I split them; it is the last post. This post is about Christine.
My reaction to Christine was nearly the opposite to that of ‘Salem’s Lot; if anything, its 110 minutes could have been expanded to 3 hours. The acting was on the whole engaging and believable, the cinematography and pacing even, the script solid. The film followed the novel well, hitting all the major plot points. I did get the feeling that all good adaptations give me, where occasionally they have to skip over time a little too quick and I want to know what happened in the jump. Overall, John Carpenter is great at creating an atmosphere of normal teenage life infiltrated by some relentless obsessed horror, as was on display in Halloween. Like that film, Carpenter’s score is vital – I’d buy a cd of his compositions, but it would give me nightmares.
I especially found the friendship between the two male leads touching and effective. At first I questioned why Dennis (played by John Stockwell) would be friend with Arnie (played by Keith Gordon) due to their different high school social strata. After a few key scenes it seemed to make sense though, and I still remember how there were those people who would reinforce social groups in some settings and transgress them in others at my high school. Dennis and Arnie’s scenes in Dennis’ car feel like real friendship, and at times even an honest exploration of how boys can be made uncomfortable with their own affection for each other. Other important keys to their friendship are the scenes with Dennis’ other friends; they are classic “knuckleheads”, and pressure him in ways Arnie never would. The scene with Arnie making fun of a girl who is flirting with and obviously annoying Dennis is key too.
Overall, this film is scary less of the time than ‘Salem’s Lot, but engaging throughout – scared and interested is always better than scared and waiting for something to happen for an hour.