Christine is Stephen King’s eighth novel and was published in 1983. Later that same year, a film adaptation was released. It was directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, The Fog) and written by Bill Phillips.
She was born in Detroit… on an automobile assembly line. But she is no ordinary automobile. Deep within her chassis lurks the devil incarnate. She is ‘Christine’ – a red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury whose unique ‘standard’ equipment includes a chilling, insatiable vengeance that will destroy anyone in her path. She seduces 17 year old Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) who becomes consumed with passion for her sleek, rounded, chrome-laden body. She demands his absolute and unquestionable devotion and when outsiders seek to interfere, they become victims of Christine’s uncontrollable wrath.
Someone must have really been impressed with the source material, because the film version was released mere months after the book. It’s a surprise then, that almost no aspect of the film comes across as being rushed. Screenwriter Bill Phillips (who curiously has no other notable writing credits) has crafted a slow burning thriller that effectively portrays an ordinary boys decline into madness due to obsession. He could have easily gone down the route of focusing on the car and its killing habits, but by delving into the character that drives it (literally and metaphorically), Phillips has added more originality and depth to a story that didn’t necessarily require it.
A large part of its success is due to the lead stars: Keith Gordon as the nerdy and unpopular Arnie Cunningham, John Stockwell as his unlikely but loyal best friend Dennis and the beautiful new girl in town Leigh Cabot who gets dragged into the mix when Arnie’s new found confidence gives him the courage to ask her out. Seeing Arnie’s decline is both a joy to watch and, in my opinion, the scariest thing about the film. Gordon plays both the outcast and confident Cunningham superbly; the first half of the film is him being the bullied, but the car changes his persona completely and he becomes the bully.
What really caught my attention throughout is how well the film has stood the test of time; it’s nearly 30 years old, yet the costumes or scenery never look dated. Sure, there’s the occasional dodgy hairstyle, but the wardrobe choices are simple grey sweaters and black jackets and with a lot of the scenes taking place outside or in the repair garage, there are only a few props that look out of place.
The deaths that the car causes aren’t particularly violent, and I failed to see how the film obtained an 18 rating even with 1983’s strict guidelines. There is absolute minimal blood and, from what I remember, not that much bad language. If it were to be re-released I can guarantee that it would be reconsidered and get slapped with a 15 age certificate. In all honesty, I was rather disappointed that it wasn’t bloody or violent. I know that sounds sadistic, but my hopes were raised by seeing the blood red 18 certificate on the DVD cover. It doesn’t take anything away from the film itself, but if you’ve not seen it before, you should lower your expectations of graphic content.
The visual effects are impeccable, especially for the budget and year of release. When the car is ‘regenerating’ after being attacked multiple times, it genuinely looks as if the car is bending back into shape, and at no point could I tell that it was VFX. My biggest problem with the film however, was the end of the third act. Remember when I said that ‘almost’ no aspect of the film seemed rushed? The climax is what causes that ‘almost’. It’s a wholly unsatisfying conclusion and the events that preceded it demanded a better ending.
Christine is a solid addition to the adaptation collection. It’s not as memorable as, say, The Shawshank Redemption or The Shining, but it’s a cut above the majority. A killer car, cute girls and a disgruntled mechanic – what more could you ask for?