Composer: John Carpenter
Label: Varese Sarabande
Running time: 34 minutes
There are just as many bad Stephen King adaptations littering the cinematic landscape as there are books from the author filling the shelves at Waterstones. For every Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption, we have to endure a miserable The Tommyknockers or Needful Things.
One adaptation that falls squarely in the middle is horror maestro John Carpenter’s 1983 take on the author’s Christine, a movie that has a hard time tackling one of King’s most outlandish concepts. Ostensibly the story of the connection between one man and his prized 1958 cherry red Plymouth Fury, really it’s just the basis for a lot of grisly automotive destruction beneath the wheels of a possessed car.
As is normal for the director he also takes over composing duties on the movie, conjuring another sleek, pulsating electronic nightmare that, although far from compositionally sophisticated, works wonders in depicting the faceless terror of Christine herself. Carpenter’s celebrated Halloween theme with its undulating keyboards and electronics was by this point firmly lodged in audiences heads as the embodiment of unstoppable killer Michael Myers and Christine falls very much into the same groove.
The score is now back in the consciousness due to Carpenter’s new anthology album, ‘Anthology: Movie Themes 1974 – 1998’. As part of the release Carpenter has reworked his Christine theme in a moody new music video that he dubs ‘Electronics for a Killer Car’. If there was ever proof of the enduring power of Carpenter’s own film music, which continually enjoys resurgence and re-appraisal, this is it.
Working around 1950s rock and roll staples like George Thorogood’s growling ‘Bad to the Bone’, the score’s percussion ostinatos and doom-laden synths fashion a relentless forward march into unstoppable doom. The score’s intentionally repetitive nature is what makes it work: Christine won’t stop coming and neither will the music.
When heard in context, fused with Carpenter’s intuitive knack for visual terror (the shot of the flame-stricken Plymouth emerging from the wreckage of a petrol station is unforgettable), its highly effective. Little wonder Carpenter’s work has seen a resurgent influence in the likes of Stranger Things and It Follows: this is score music stripped back to the bones, hardly high art but fused very effectively with the narrative.
Interestingly just a year before, Ennio Morricone had run into creative problems over his score for Carpenter’s The Thing (arguably the director’s masterpiece). Seemingly overthinking the assignment with a host of advanced orchestral techniques, Morricone found his more complex material replaced with the dread-fuelled electronic pulses that mirrored Carpenter’s own work. Painful as it is to admit, the filmmaker was right – and although Carpenter will never be hailed as a great film composer, his dramatic intuition in films like Christine bears him out.
Christine: Original Motion Picture Score is available on remastered LP from Varese Sarabande from Friday 29th September.