It’s October people, and that means this will be a Horror Movie of the Day…
The Film: Christine (1983)
Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) and Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell) are unlikely high school friends. Arnie is a typically bespectacled dork, Dennis is a popular jock. Yet they are best friends nonetheless. That is until Arnie meets Christine, a junked out 1958 Plymouth Fury. Though she is falling apart and barely running, Arnie is immediately taken with the Christine, overpaying for the car and buying her on the spot. Arnie proves to be a real gear head though, and transforms the car back to health. Dennis can’t help but notice that the car also seems to be transforming Arnie. At first the changes seem good. Arnie dresses better, drops the clunky glasses, acts more confident. He even snags the hand of the most desired girl at school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul). But it quickly becomes clear that Christine is Arnie’s real love. And Christine is a jealous lover. The car has a mind of its own. And a sinister blood lust too. This is The Love Bug gone very, very wrong.
Is It Good: Fuck yeah. This is John Carpenter kicking ass at the height of his game. From purely a filmmaking perspective, I’m tempted to say this is actually his second best film (behind The Thing). Though the film sags a little bit right towards the end (the inevitable problem with any film that switches up who the protagonist is late in the game), Carpenter just crushes the rest of the film. His use of music (of which he does the score here) has never better than it is in Christine. He makes the oldies songs that pump from Christine’s radio into an ominous death knell – you’d never think Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin'” could be so creepy – and the way he intercuts these oldies with his own Western-esque score (often with intentionally jarring transitions), works far more fluidly than it sounds conceptually. It gives the film a strange out-of-time feel.
Gordon is a lot of fun as Arnie, getting into savory scenery chewing as he becomes Evil Arnie (giving Emo Peter Parker a run for his money in unfortunate style choices and hand gestures). Robert Prosky owns every moment he’s on screen as Darnell, the surly garage owner where Arnie stores Christine. And some young, pre-Travolta Kelly Preston is always welcome.
Of course, the real star here is Christine, played by an army of Plymouth Furies and lookalikes (the IMDb states that between 13 to 16 of the rebuilt cars were totaled for the film). Carpenter does a fantastic job of fetishizing the Fury – caressing its curves and fins with the camera – only to flip things on us and equally demonize the car; staring at the car’s grill, it eventually starts to look incredibly evil. This is helped by small but good choices, like giving Christine’s radio a goblin green glow, and positioning the camera at a distance from the car, letting Christine lurk creepily.
The FX in the film (all practical of course) are phenomenal. Probably the film’s most iconic moment is when Christine rebuilds herself for Arnie for the first time, after some assholes from school vandalize her. Narratively it is when Arnie officially goes over to the darkside, realizing Christine is alive and embracing it. “Show me,” he says, prompting Christine to rebuild. The rebuilding scene is just amazing, simple and cool (I expect this scene to be obnoxiously CG in Platinum Dunes inevitable remake).
Is It Worth A Look: It’s October, baby. Do a double feature with this and The Car. I wish you could’ve seen the brand spankin’ new 35mm print I just saw last night at Cinefamily. After a childhood of TBS Super Station viewings, and a VHS revisit in college, seeing such a crisp and gorgeous print up on the big screen, and with an audience, really helped sell what Carpenter achieved here. In particular the sequence when Christine becomes a flaming ball of doom… man did that shit look good.
Random Anecdote: The film’s two stars, Keith Gordon and John Stockwell, both have become directors themselves. Gordon did the lackluster RDJ remake of The Singing Detective and a couple other indies before finding a good home on television, where he directs episodes of Dexter and Rubicon. Stockwell seemed to be trying to cut out a path for himself in the 00’s with sun and surf films like Blue Crush, Turistas, and the Walker/Alba joint, Into the Blue.