CHRISTINE **** USA 1983 Dir: John Carpenter. 110 mins
Carpenter followed the critical and commercial failure of THE THING with the safer option of a Stephen King adaptation in a prolific period for big budget King movies. Its strongest asset is Keith Gordon’s interpretation of one of King’s outcast teens: his Arnie Cunningham is an archetypal nerd with a bad haircut and gangly physique that get him frequently bullied by a gang of peers who nickname him “Cuntingham”. His transformation – via the 1950’s Plymouth Fury of the title – into an arrogant, womanising bastard and, ultimately, a cackling psychopath, turns Arnie into one of the most complex male characters of 80’s horror.
The first hour, however, is the most affecting, highlighted by Arnie’s painful self-reflection as he laments his place in the high school food chain: discovering the dilapidated Christine for the first time he notes how, at last, he has “found something that’s uglier than me”. Carpenter’s eerily evocative electronic score for the first time takes a backseat to 50’s rock n roll (a holdover from the book, in which each chapter opens with a rock quote). In contrast to THE THING, it is also remarkably muted in its physical horrors: the most gruesome aspects of the novel – notably an AMERICAN WEREWOLF-style chatty corpse – were excised and the most visceral on-screen moments involve the bullies’ physical assault on Christine herself.
The car’s self-restoration is a highpoint of early 80’s mechanical FX, while Carpenter’s use of the widescreen frame and Steadicam give it a distinctive sense of style – particularly the exhilarating sequence of a fiery Christine pursuing the chief bully from an exploding gas station. Although the intimate scenes between Arnie, his peers and his parents take priority over the potentially campy concept of a “killer car”, the finale is still fun, as Christine inventively turns into a toothy shark-like monster before being amusingly sodomised by a bulldozer. Outstanding supporting cast of great American character actors, including a grouchy Robert Prosky, Roberts Blossom – equating the new car smell to “pussy” – and Harry Dean Stanton.
Review by Steven West