Christine: Original Motion Picture Score Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Varèse Sarabande
Composed by John Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth
Released on September 29th, 2017
By the time he made his 1983 movie, Christine, John Carpenter had already proven himself as a proficient filmmaker. He had been at work behind the camera for over a decade and he built a loyal following of fans. But Christine, fell short of his earlier accomplishments. Based on a Stephen King novel, the movie follows an evil car that run down and kills innocent people. It doesn't go much deeper than that. It is a film that suffers for its dialogue, pacing, and overall plot. Christine is Carpenter riding on cruise control.
This carries over to the music. Carpenter, in association with frequent collaborator Alan Howarth, laid down a solid but uninspired score. Tracks are effectively moody. Synths spread or bellow or shriek as needed. But they feel like shallow, one-dimensional retellings of songs that Carpenter has done before.
(It should be noted that this is review is for the film score, not the soundtrack. For those looking for the various artist compilation of the old-time rock n' roll used in the movie, check out the Motown Records Christine soundtrack, released the same year as the movie.)
As a point of comparison, consider Carpenter's earlier masterpiece, "Halloween Theme Main Title." There is a reason why that song, which debuted in the director's 1978 film, Halloween, has gone on to become one of the most iconic tracks in horror movie history. The creepy piano sound which drives the tune is infectious. But "Halloween Theme Main Title" is deeper than this simple top melody. Every few measures, additional synths, thick and weighty, push down on the track, suffocating it. The song is further pinned by the unfolding movement of menacing lower notes. Together, these sounds build a heavy, intense atmosphere. The songs on Christine don't do this.
Yet, even if this is a no-frills version of John Carpenter, it's still John Carpenter. He still ranks among the upper echelon of horror synth composers. And even when Carpenter is not at his best, he is still worth listening to.
"Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury)" is a standout track. A 4/4 beat accompanied by a thumping bassline and a parallel key sequence opens the song. Synths build and fade underneath while additional notes wash through the track's midsection. It's a melody that reprises throughout different tracks on the score, serving as a signal of death. "Show Me" is another song of note. The track starts at a creeping tempo. Skinny keys shuffle atop a bed of synths, resting then repeating. It's a scant melody of essentially three notes. The emptiness of the first half of the song makes the second half more dramatic. At the midway point, the instrumentation congeals and the tempo increases. The song teases a climax and doesn't deliver. Instead, it ends with bubbling tension. "Football Run - Kill Your Kids," meanwhile, is an example of a song set to startle. A soft procession of notes is interrupted by a shrill noise, quickly turning the sound to something more sinister. The quiet / loud - quiet / loud formula is repeated throughout the album. It's an effect that serves its purpose every time.
The original poster from 1983 movie had an ominous tone. A backlit Plymouth blazed its headlights through the dark. The layout and colorization reflected the concept of the film; the vehicle gave off an evil, demonic essence. For this release, Artist Gary Pullin brings the car much closer. The Plymouth Fury logo, a pronounced V, is front and center and splashed with blood. Aside from the gore, the design for the cover of Christine shares similarities with the design for the cover of Disney's Cars 2 Blu-Ray/DVD. It's a regrettable coincidence. Lightning McQueen is much less intimidating than Christine. While these Disney resemblances lessen the conceptual impact, the Christine art still works from a design standpoint. The V is locked in place by the horizontal lines of a car's grill. A phantasmal blue glows behind the logo, making it pop. The red and white title font, which sits beneath the Plymouth Fury logo has a classic horror feel.
The back cover lists the song titles. Listeners should beware that the tracks from Christine are named after the movie scenes they correspond to. This is a common soundtracking procedure. Titles like "Obsessed With The Car" or "Talk On The Couch," are innocuous enough. But other song names explicitly call-out character deaths. This may spoil scenes for those who decide to explore the album before watching the movie.
If one were to make a list ranking the best John Carpenter films, it is likely that Christine would not be on top. The movie would sit somewhere in the middle. The same is true of its score. Those unacquainted with John Carpenter's music would do better to start with Assault on Precent 13 or Halloween or Halloween III:Season of the Witch or The Fog or one of his non-soundtrack albums; Lost Themes or Lost Themes II. But those who already have a few John Carpenter records in their collection and want to add another, may want to turn the ignition and rev this one up.