Stephen King Horror-Thon: Christine (1983)
She’s the Devil Incarnate. She’s Christine. Body by Plymouth. Soul by Satan. You can’t beat that tag line. I mean… come on.
Released in 1983, the John Carpenter-directed Christine follows a sentient and murderous vintage 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine. When an unpopular, awkward nerd named Arnie impulsively buys the vintage car from a junkyard, he begins experiencing changes in her personality. Before, he was timid and prone to being bullied by his high school’s jocks. But as he continues repairing Christine and developing an escalating manic affection for the car, he develops more of an arrogant confidence– with less regard for his best friend and new girlfriend.
By the time that Christine’s released rolled around, Stephen King had already developed a strong reputation for being a horror author whose work was immediately primed for cinematic adaptation. Previous adaptations had taken between two and four years to make it between the release of the book and the release of the movie. But with Christine, the book was released in April and the movie hit theaters early December.
Nevertheless, Christine doesn’t feel like it was a rushed production. John Carpenter had just finished The Thing, one year prior. And despite The Thing being adored by horror movie junkies today, it under-performed at the box office and received poor critical reception. To Carpenter, Christine was just a job. In fact, he wasn’t all that impressed with the script.
“It just wasn’t very frightening,” Carpenter told SFX magazine. “But it was something I needed to do at that time for my career.”
You probably wouldn’t have guessed that this wasn’t a project Carpenter was eager to take on, based on how the film turned out. When the “Halloween” director accepted directorial responsibilities for the adaptation, he made it his own. Columbia Pictures had a different movie in mind– with big flashy cast (Brooke Shields as Leigh; Scott Baio as Arnie). Instead, Carpenter opted for no-name actors who had limited movie acting experience.
It paid off. Keith Gordon nails the socially awkward and later overly-confident Arnie, making the character’s transformation from the stereotypical 1980s John Hughs bullied nerd to the obnoxiously confident, maniacal greaser all the more compelling. Some of the highlights of Gordon’s performance involves conversations wherein he frantically declares his burning love for Christine– the way an obsessive creep might talk about a romantic infactuation.
One of the biggest challenges that Carpenter was faced with was trying to give a vintage car a personality– without the technology and budget to do it with special effects. Somehow, Carpenter nailed it. Without saying a word, we witness a toxic, co-dependent relationship form between Arnie and Christine. We get a look into Christine’s desires and temper through headlight flashes, small little movements, and of course that iconic 1950s soundtrack:
- George Thorogood and the Destroyers – “Bad to the Bone”
- Buddy Holly & the Crickets – “Not Fade Away”
- Johnny Ace – “Pledging My Love”
- Robert & Johnny – “We Belong Together”
- Little Richard – “Keep A-Knockin'”
- Dion and The Belmonts – “I Wonder Why”
- The Viscounts – “Harlem Nocturne”
- Thurston Harris – “Little Bitty Pretty One”
- Danny & The Juniors – “Rock n’ Roll is Here to Stay”
- John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – “Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury)”
- Larry Williams – “Bony Moronie”
- ABBA – “The Name of the Game”
- Bonnie Raitt – “Runaway”
- Ritchie Valens – “Come on, Let’s Go”
- Tanya Tucker – “Not Fade Away”
- The Rolling Stones – “Beast of Burden”
Adding a layer of heart to the narrative, Arnie’s best and only friend Dennis (played by John Stockwell) tries to pry Arnie from Christine’s demonic grips– even as Arnie alienates and threatens him. Although Arnie is the owner of Christine, Dennis is really the character we watch the movie through. Dennis is the one who defends Arnie when he’s bullied at school; he’s the one who investigates Christine’s insidious past; and he’s the one who teams up with Arnie’s girlfriend to devise a plan to destroy Christine once and for all.
Like so many others on this list, Christine received mediocre reactions from movie-goers and critics at its released, but has such developed a cult following in the horror community. It remains an essential viewing for all Stephen King fans and one that might be primed for a remake.