Christine (1983) USA / R / 110 min / 6.5 IMDB / IMDB rank 1,889
By Roger Malcolm / Feb 14th 2013
This is an unusual coming-of-age story about a teen that falls in love with a possessed car. Based on the novel by Stephen King, adapted to screen by Bill Phillips and directed by John Carpenter, this is the one and only time that Masters of Horror Stephen King and John Carpenter ever merged together on a project. Producer Richard Kobritz, responsible for producing Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979) and John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) for television, had earned Stephen King’s approval and was given the chance to adapt King’s newest novel Cujo. Kobritz passed, not knowing what to do with it, but was given a manuscript of Christine which he liked and took to Carpenter.
When his current release (1982’s John Carpenter’s The Thing) bombed in the box office Carpenter was fired from his next project leaving him without a job. Carpenter has said he took it basically because he needed work – “Why not? I needed a job. Why not?” Ironically enough the project John had been fired from was Stephen King’s Firestarter (1984), which had a screenplay already written by Bill Lancaster (who had previously written the screenplay for The Thing). Also, had Carpenter directed, Darwin Joston (who had starred in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 as Napoleon Wilson) would have starred as John Rainbird – instead the role went to George C. Scott.
The film starts in 1957 Detroit at a factory assembly line for the Plymouth Fury. An inspector opens the hood on one particular red and white Fury only to have the hood come crashing down on his hand. This beautiful 1958 red and white Plymouth Fury with the soul of evil is Christine. Moments later another inspector enters the same red and white Fury. He turns the radio on with success and relaxes back, carelessly dropping ash from his cigar onto the plastic-covered bench seats. The lunch whistle sounds causing the workers to empty the confines of the factory. Another worker, noticing the time, hears the music still playing from the red Fury. He curiously walks over, opening the driver’s door only to have a body come tumbling out – the careless inspector, dead with cigar in mouth and rock-n-roll blaring. Director John Carpenter has mentioned Alfred Hitchcock as the inspiration for the addition to Stephen King’s original novel of a factory assembling a vehicle that when it reached the end would open up dropping a body out.
The story then jumps to California September 12, 1978 where we are introduced to Dennis, played by John Stockwell, a jock that plays high school football and drives a blue 1968 Dodge Charger. He’s picking his friend Arnie up, a real nerdy, geeky, dorky kind of goofball played to perfection by Keith Gordon. First Arnie is late changing his shirt which we are told by Arnie’s mother as she exits the house carrying a small brown paper bag. She then shouts to Dennis about the noise pollution his music is causing which, when viewed from her side of things, she quickly realizes is a lost cause. Arnie comes galloping out the house for his first appearance with a heavy garbage bag, which ends up splitting open and spilling in the middle of the driveway at his mother’s feet where water has pooled. Obviously annoyed – but as if she expected it – she tells Arnie it’s okay. But as he stomps away, splashing water everywhere, she then must call him back for his lunch in the small brown paper bag. Arnie runs back, carelessly splashing more, grabbing the bag only to be warned to keep it cold for there is yogurt in the small brown paper bag. Finally Arnie is in the Charger and Dennis is backing out and squealing rubber as Arnie’s mom shouts “SLOW DOWN!”
Dennis questions if Arnie is at war with his mom. Arnie replies his parents are upset because he is taking shop like it embarrasses them. More importantly Arnie turns the car’s radio off, saying they were playing Scrabble last night and he was like neck-and-neck with his mom when right at the end he could play “ratio” for 5 lousy points or “fellatio” on a triple word score for 24 points to win the game. Only she claimed no obscenities allowed in Scrabble, thus he lost by 7 points instead. Nonplussed, Dennis diverts the conversation to Arnie now being a senior and his obvious need to get laid! Arnie replies “you need a girl to get laid”, making it loud and clear Arnie is not good with the girls. He won’t even consider the recommendations made by Dennis, refusing because one has a mustache and the other is a sophomore. Dennis can’t believe his ears, exclaiming that the sophomore is a “walking sperm bank” and he knows this first-hand. Having none of it, Arnie chooses to just, as he says, “beat off”, with a goofy smile and a hint of sadness.
At school it is clear Dennis is Mr. Cool Football Jock, smooth with the pretty ladies, whereas Arnie is teased, tormented or ignored by everyone it seems, besides Dennis. Waiting again for a late Arnie, Dennis learns Buddy Repperton, a real bad-looking mother (especially for high school) has his lunch in shop class. Dennis arrives to find a room full of dirty gear-heads surrounding a frightened and helpless Arnie. Buddy Repperton pulls a switch-blade, creating tension that is cut when Buddy stabs the small brown paper bag, causing yogurt to pour out and making a mess of the concrete floor. Two guys shove Dennis, tripping him to the floor, as another shoves Arnie forward, causing him to step in the yogurt with the messy outcome of landing in a pile of it. Dennis recovers, knocking the knife from Buddy’s hand and then throwing a right punch, knocking him down. One of Buddy’s friends (more than likely destined to be a homosexual when he grows up, or at least a repressed one), reaches around from behind Dennis, grabbing his crotch and squeezing hard, bringing Dennis down to his knees. At last a teacher shows up to restore order to the classroom.
The story builds perfectly, establishing our characters for who they are when Arnie discovers the decrepit Christine rusting in the back of some strange fella’s yard. And I mean strange, the part being played by Roberts Blossom, who was Old Man Marley in Home Alone that ends up saving Kevin in the end. Arnie sees past all the dirt, rust and damage, falling in love immediately. Arnie gently touches parts of the junkyard-worthy Christine as he circles her, admiring the beauty in her that only he can see. Actor Keith Gordon imagined Christine like a woman he has fallen in love with, so that with each touch he would imagine what part of a woman it represented on the car, leading him to express himself with a sensuality that becomes essential to his character’s love and commitment to Christine.
A Dr.-Jekyll-into-Mr.-Hyde transformation starts to take place with Arnie as he romances Christine. As the romance builds Arnie rebuilds Christine from the junkyard where he parks her at a DIY garage. Arnie slowly starts changing everything we have come to know of him so far as he becomes one with the evil inside Christine, giving one of the finest on-screen character transformations as he goes from innocent nerd to an evil James Dean. His language, look and even stance change throughout the film as his friends and family struggle to maintain a connection to him. Eventually his metamorphosis into a wild rebellious maniac escalates as he struggles to deal with Christine’s possessive jealousy and “the shitters of the world”.
Both actors John Stockwell and Keith Gordon became directors after working with John Carpenter. Gordon even cited Carpenter as a major influence on his directing and complimented his relaxed attitude for a director on a rather tight budget. As per usual John Carpenter masterfully directs, utilizing his preferred cinematographic process (anamorphic format) with beautiful jaw-dropping pans and dollies that all students of film should study. Scenes of hauntingly lovely lighting handled by director of photography Donald M. Morgan (who had previously worked with Carpenter on his made-for-tv-movie Elvis (1979) starring Kurt Russell). The soundtrack of old rock-n-roll hits used with humour clash ironically against the original killer-stalking score of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth.
John Carpenter’s Christine is a classic horror film that utilizes traditional film techniques that create a suspense and drama that towers over the modern-day uses of gore and CGI that filmmakers tend to rely on perhaps to drown out the weak story of the horror films of today.
Best death: Stalking her prey, Christine chases one of the “shitters” through dark streets in a game of cat and mouse, toying with him and driving him down a narrow alley, until finally cornering him in a loading dock with nowhere to go. Christine, being too wide to enter, starts increasing acceleration as her fenders flex, bending and scraping against the concrete, forcing her way into the tight space and crumpling her own body in the process of squeezing herself in in order to capture her prey.
Best Scene: Buddy and his gang, in an act of destruction, take sledgehammers and knives to Christine, leaving her trashed for Arnie to find. Alone with Christine, Arnie turns his back only to hear a noise, causing him to turn around to see Christine has mysteriously repaired herself to some degree. In the same way a woman might do a strip tease for a man, Arnie steps back, standing in front of Christine, and says “Show me”. Her headlights immediately shine bright, accompanied by a shrill score that sends chills up your spine. Using a reverse process in filmmaking, Christine was fitted with hydraulic pumps by special effects supervisor Roy Arbogast to look as if she is repairing herself in what is still an amazing sequence in film history.