John Carpenter was the first filmmaker to grasp the basis of Stephen King’s appeal—that he wasn’t really a horror writer, but a Walt Disney-like spinner of psychological fables centered on adolescent sexual anxiety. But Carpenter’s thematic self-consciousness—even backed by his supple visual style and an excellent performance by Keith Gordon as the high school nerd in love with his ’58 Plymouth Fury—can’t entirely overcome a shaky dramatic structure that sacrifices character logic to increasingly meaningless thrills. This 1983 feature was Carpenter’s best film since Halloween but still couldn’t recapture the perfect balance of visceral shock and narrative integrity that defined his first success. With John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, and Harry Dean Stanton.