In 1983, John Carpenter directed Christine, a movie based on the novel of the same name written by Stephen King (the book was published a few days before the film hit theaters). The rights to bring Christine to the big screen were actually sold even before the book came out, and the honor of directing it only went to John Carpenter because he was having troubles with his Firestarter project (based on another King’s book!), and then it sadly never saw the light. Actually, John Carpenter thought of the job as a burden rather than an honor: after the incredible criticism received for The Thing (1982), the Maestro had been branded as persona non grata in Hollywood and needed to work on something to keep him from getting out of business. That turned out to be Christine, a film that Carpenter has always claimed he didn’t feel as a personal project.
I’ll say it right away: whatever Carpenter says, this is an amazing movie, one of those few adaptations that has nothing to envy to the original material from which it takes inspiration. The plot of the film diverges from that of the book in some places (especially on the origin of Christine’s evil nature), but it captures its essence perfectly and brings to the screen a story of terror that is grounded on the love of American people for cars and unbridled consumerism of the post-world war economic boom. What could be more terrifying, then, than a killer car? And can obsessive love for an inanimate object be a positive thing? And yes, these are rhetorical questions…
Briefly, the plot is the following. Late seventies. Arnie (Keith Gordon), a classic bespectacled nerd, and Dennis (John Stockwell), a jock, are two great friends. As usual in King’s stories where the protagonists go to high school, some cruel bullies (led by Buddy, William Ostrander) persecute poor Arnie to pass the time. Add to the picture the beautiful Leigh (Alexandra Paul) who would normally end up in the arms of the handsome Dennis.
But when Arnie buys an old ’57 Plymouth Fury in disastrous conditions from old George LeBay (Robert Blossom), everything changes. Arnie distances himself from his best friend, the relationship with his parents worsens, he develops an obsession for his Plymouth, and he even starts dating Leigh. The car, named Christine (as revealed by the old LeBay), only plays 1950s’ rock music and its odometer goes backwards. And she also seems to have a real personality of her own, since she seems to be jealous of Leigh and is capable of killing people! She actually killed a person on the assembly line, we know this thanks to the initial scene of the film which is accompanied by Bad to the Bone, and this was the first movie ever to use this song in its soundtrack! When Buddy and his buddies decide to destroy Christine to teach Arnie a lesson things go very wrong…
This movie takes its time to build tension. First, the relationships between the protagonists of the story are all perfectly introduced. Then, Christine’s entry on the scene changes everything, and then there’s a terrifying rollercoaster towards the inevitable final showdown in which Dennis unwillingly finds himself against his great friend Arnie by now completely changed by the influence of the hellish car.
This movie has one of the best soundtracks ever composed by John Carpenter (it’s no coincidence that he closes his concerts with the theme of this film, as I wrote here). Moreover, it has a lot of great scenes which make a car that kills people somehow credible and scary. Not only it deals with the members of Buddy’s gang one by one, but it even faces a bulldozer! There are so many unforgettable scenes… The car engulfed in flames advancing towards the camera is a haunting image, and it’s just as scary as the scene in which Christine enters a narrow alley to carry out a murder, just to name a couple.
Roy Arbogast did a great job with special effects (think about the car regeneration shots after Arnie tells Christine “Show me“… so creepy!), and Carpenter’s mastery behind the camera is demonstrated in each single frame. The director used his beloved Panaglide extensively and filled the film with dolly shots to emphasize the unstoppable movement of the killing car. The ten million dollar budget was used to its full potential, with as many as 23 different vehicles used to portray Christine (two of them still exist), and the box office result was twenty million dollars, allowing Carpenter to continue working for a while (the final nail in the coffin for him working for big Studios inexplicably came after the amazing Big Trouble in Little China, 1986).
Let me suggest you to watch the recent music video directed by John Carpenter with the Christine theme recorded for his recent movie themes album: it’s the only way to see something new shot by the Maestro as his last movie came out in 2010. And how can I forget to mention that the late Harry Dean Stanton also has a part in the film? To conclude, I highly recommend to watch and rewatch this movie, every time I do that I notice new details! It truly is one of the best adaptations from a Stephen King book ever made. Ciao!