Tag Archives: Christine

Rocks In The Attic #707: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Big Trouble In Little China (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#707.jpgAcross the space of four years in the late ‘70s / early ‘80s, John Carpenter directed three of the strongest genre films ever to hit cinema screens. The mainstream success of low-budget horror Halloween (1978) awarded him with bigger budgets, which he used to depict dystopian cityscapes in Escape From New York (1981) and sci-fi paranoia in The Thing (1982). Over the same period he also directed 1980’s The Fog and produced the first two Halloween sequels. This was very much Carpenter’s golden period.

Success always attracts attention, and Carpenter was courted by the major studios. As a result, his films of the mid-1980s – Christine (1983), Starman (1984) and Big Trouble In Little China (1986) – all feel like they’re missing something. All of the ingredients are there, but the end results just aren’t as satisfying as his earlier work.

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I’ve written about Christine before, and I’ve always been a big fan of Starman (despite it feeling like the least Carpenteresque of Carpenter’s films). But the real disappointment was Big Touble In Little China. After its commercial failure, Carpenter continually struggled to get films financed, and the rest of his work is patchy. Only 1988’s They Live could be considered as strong as his breakthrough successes.

Big Trouble In Little China should be great. It has a tried and tested Carpenter leading man in Kurt Russell, awesome optical effects, and a terrifically grimy underworld feel. But the plotting is loose, the script is poor, and the performances of the principal actors leave a lot to be desired. Only the soundtrack music – always one of the stronger elements of Carpenter’s work – is up to standard, even if it’s nowhere near his best.

RITA#707cI first saw the film far too young (which is becoming a common theme of this blog). I can vividly recall the first showdown in the alley between Kurt Russell’s character and the Three Storms. This was scary enough, but the appearance of James Hong’s villain – and particularly the light emitted from his mouth and eyes – proved too much and the film was swiftly turned off.

In retrospect, it’s the best part of the film, and one of the great cinematic showdowns of the 1980s. It’s just a shame the rest of the film couldn’t live up to its promise.

Hit: Pork Chop Express (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Tenement / White Tiger

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Rocks In The Attic #665: Fastway – ‘Trick Or Treat’ (1986)

RITA#665Watching this film the other night, I was reminded of the decision I made somewhere in my teens that heavy metal was in a really bad place in the mid- to late-1980s.  At school, I was very much like the protagonist of this film – I’d wear double-denim, scrawl things like the AC/DC logo on my schoolbooks, and spend more time laughing than studying. Who knows where that might have ended in a parallel universe?

Thankfully, the appeal of heavy metal stopped where hair metal / glam metal started. I have no interest in listening to music played by musicians who have better hair than the girl next door. I can just about handle Def Leppard and early Ozzy Osbourne, but I avoid pretty everything else from that period. It’s generally very weak-sounding rock and roll, played by men wearing eyeliner and rouge.

When I see people on Facebook posting photos of Mötley Crüe or Poison records, I simply can’t understand the appeal. The cover image of Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In should be enough to deter anybody, yet is bandied around as a classic of the period.

I used to work with a guy who liked that sort of music. He was an old-school metalhead, and used to go to Donington’s Monsters Of Rock festival every year in the late ‘80s. I was speaking to him once and the conversation turned to the subject of Nirvana. He couldn’t hide his hatred for the band, seeing them as the reason why hair metal / glam metal had died. I just couldn’t understand this. The logic was that he felt that like he was onto a really good thing with that type of music, and when grunge kicked off, it killed all those bands.

Good riddance.

RITA#665bAs a film, Trick Or Treat owes more than a little to the plots of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and Christine. The highlight is the appearance of Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons in small cameos, but even this novelty doesn’t save what is ultimately a wishful revenge fantasy with poor dialogue and a weak storyline. Backmasking should never be a plot-device.

The soundtrack features a bunch of dated heavy metal songs from the period by the band Fastway, formed by ex-Motörhead guitarist, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. As with anything from the period, it’s very much hard-rock-by-numbers, and probably does sound better played backwards.

Hit: Trick Or Treat

Hidden Gem: After Midnight

Rocks In The Attic #639: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Christine’ (1983)

RITA#639Christine wins the award for the worst John Carpenter film with the best John Carpenter score. Well, it’s not a bad film – it just isn’t anything special, especially when it follows the John Carpenter high-water mark of Escape From New York and The Thing.

Perhaps it’s the source material – choosing to adapt a slice of Stephen King Americana, rather than focusing on an original screenplay. King adaptations can be a hard thing to get right – he’s the master at writing characters, which doesn’t always translate very well to the screen. The old saying goes that a picture paints a thousand words; this doesn’t apply when the words are coming from Stephen King’s typewriter.

The film is a little confused as to who the lead protagonist is. First we start with the varsity jacket-wearing jock, Dennis (John Stockwell) who is – inexplicably – best friends with Arnie (Keith Gordon, typecast as the same hopeless character as he portrayed in 1978’s Jaws 2). The two, despite Dennis’ jock status, are relentlessly bullied by the tough kids at school – a bunch of reprobates (including the naive gum-chewing subject of Venkman’s ESP test in 1984’s Ghostbusters) led by Buddy (William Ostrander), who appears to have been kept back at school for about 25 years, and looks like he’s just escaped from the local prison.

RITA#639aOnce Arnie buys a beat-up old car, the titular Christine, we then experience the film through his eyes, as he uses Christine’s unexplained magical powers to hunt down and seek revenge on his tormentors. The film then abandons Arnie – positioning him as the antagonist, under the influence of his car – and switches back to the viewpoint of Dennis, who defeats Christine and saves the film’s only lead female (this film does not pass the Bechdel test), Leigh (Alexandra Paul, who would later play the virgin Connie Swails in 1987’s Dragnet, before finding fame on TV’s Baywatch), from the murderous car.

Where Escape From New York and The Thing were high on concept, but followed through spectacularly on their respective promises, Christine stalls as soon as the key is turned. Its saving grace, of course, is the soundtrack; a slow-burning synth score by Carpenter and his composing partner Alan Howarth.

Hit: The Rape

Hidden Gem: Moochie’s Death

Rocks In The Attic #633: Ramin Djawadi – ‘Westworld (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

RITA#633It’s a hard life being a soundtrack nut. Last week, I was waiting online to order a copy of the score to Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter [spoiler alert – as the fourth instalment of eleven films, it was far from being the final chapter] from the always excellent Waxwork Records. At 2am, when I found out that the record was going on sale in the USA at the equivalent of 5am NZ-time, I went to sleep for three short hours before waking up to place my order (a double LP in Tommy Jarvis blue & white swirl with green splatter), and then going back to sleep.

Last week I also received Waxwork’s repressing of John Harrison’s 1985 Day Of The Dead score in a lovely blood-smear double LP set; and earlier this morning, the postman brought me a trans-Pacific package from Newbury Comics, featuring John Carpenter and Allan Howarth’s score to Christine (1983), in a blue and gold split red splatter, and this, the soundtrack to HBO’s Westworld TV series, in blood red vinyl.

I have to admit, I was a little cautious when I heard that they were remaking Westworld into a television show. The 1973 sci-fi western is an old favourite of mine from when I would tape films off the TV in the middle of the night, and although a recent rewatch showed that it has dated quite a bit, you still don’t want TV companies from ruining something you hold in high regard.

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But it’s HBO we’re talking about – the company behind The Sopranos and The Wire, arguably the two best TV shows of the 21st century – so the subject matter would surely be in safe hands. Ultimately those hands belong to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, as creators of the show. Jonathan Nolan has been an integral part of his brother Christopher’s work, co-writing Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige and Interstellar, so I was sold on his involvement alone.

Supported by an intriguing all-star cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright), the show was very good, although structurally it felt a little too unbalanced with its numerous narrative twists all taking place in the last couple of episodes. Nolan and Joy have suggested that the show will run to five seasons, so if anything, the groundwork has been laid for some more cerebral television.

My favourite aspect of the show however, was the music. Not only does Ramin Djawadi’s score give us a lovely bit of cello in the ominous title theme, but the real aural treat is the show’s diagetic music. Played on a pianola, the anachronistic soundtrack features honky-tonk piano renditions of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, the Stones’ Paint It Black, the Animals’ arrangement of House Of The Rising Sun, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, the Cure’s A Forest, and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees, No Surprises and Exit Music (For A Film).

Hit: Main Title Theme – Westworld

Hidden Gem: Black Hole Sun

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