FIVE FILMS FROM...1983
(Directed by John Carpenter)
By now (and seemingly forevermore) studios had realised that adaptations of Stephen King bestsellers could mean big bucks at the box office. But many fans were looking forward to this particular project, being as it married the Maine Man with a Master of Horror. “Christine” (which shouldn’t be confused with the 2016 bio-drama about Christine Chubbuck) actually went into production before the book was even published, which acted as a barometer for just how hot King’s material was in the early 80s. The story celebrated (and demonised) America’s obsession with automobiles, and he picked the model of car (a vintage red '58 Plymouth Fury) for its sleek feminine looks and the fact that it was a ‘forgotten’ classic. Carpenter himself was licking his wounds after the so-called financial ‘failure’ of “The Thing” at the time, and took the film as ‘a job’ rather than a project he was passionate about. Nevertheless it grew into an interesting melding of the two genre maestro’s styles, even if it only gained a cult reputation after strong home video rentals (a common occurrence for plenty of horror titles at this time). At one point the movie could have had Kevin Bacon (who did “Footloose” instead), Scott Baio, and Brooke Shields (!) in the cast, but it eventually fell to Keith Gordon (as tragic anti-hero Arnie Cunningham), John Stockwell, and Alexandra Paul to portray the leads. Character actor Harry Dean Stanton also appears as a troubled Detective. In essence the story is about a love-triangle… it’s just that one of the party is a sentient car called “Christine”, who will kill to protect her owner and has Wolverine-like healing abilities.
It has to be said that other ‘vehicular-horror’ movies (such as Spielberg’s “Duel”) are more accomplished than “Christine”, and whilst the material is effortlessly entertaining, it’s not the most haunting work that King has written. But this is still a mostly underrated film with some superb moments, which contains an enjoyable bit of method acting from Gordon (who goes from nerd-to-cool-to-psychotic in the space of 110 minutes). Apart from Gordon, it’s all about the visuals, the soundtrack… and the car… which it nails. The other lead characters are a bit too wholesome to get behind, but when Christine is trashed and disrespected and goes on the hunt for victims, it really picks up the pace. The 50s call-backs are fun and allow for a groovy soundtrack including Little Richard and Buddy Holly, as well as Arnie gradually adopting the fashion sense as he becomes ‘possessed’ by the car. But the standout scenes show the car relentlessly driving down victims in typically dynamic Carpenter fashion, along with his trademark electronic music themes. The best moment shows Christine bathed in flames, zooming along to run over a character as the soundtrack pounds. There are also neat shots of the car repairing itself, and a memorable climax where its hood is ripped off leaving something resembling a spiky-toothed maw in its absence. The plot is changed a little from King’s (where Christine is possessed by the spirit of a previous owner), and simply has the car evil and apparently sentient from ‘birth’. Perhaps there are plot-holes and “Prometheus”-straight-line-running-away-from-trouble moments to mock. But overall, it still manages to hold up after all these years and provide some quality enjoyment. This is mostly due to the fact that Carpenter manages to actually give the car some personality, which still leads many fans to consider ‘her’ the main character. Good four wheeled fun.