"Probably the only thing my brother ever loved in his whole rotten life was that car. No shitter ever came between him and Christine, if they did... watch out! He had a five-year-old daughter choke to death in her... he wouldn't get rid of her. He just rode around with the radio blaring, not a care in the world except for Christine". - George Lebay.
Christine has always elicited mixed feelings as far as I’m concerned. I loved the book, and my copy is still that same paperback copy bought in 1983 at the then princely sum of £2.50. Cover’s a bit faded from its former bright red but then it IS thirty years old. Actually, Christine always reminds me of a serious mis-step I took back then. I remember seeing an ad in Starburst the previous year where Forbidden Planet in London were offering signed copies of the book in hardback at cover price. I balked at the idea of a hardback book (I didn’t "do" hardback novels in those days and so missed my chance of getting my hands on a signed copy of a Stephen King book. Too young, too dumb. King is now one of two "holy grail" autographs that I need to get at some point - Stan Lee being the other one.)
In any event, I loved the idea of John Carpenter directing a film based on Stephen King - I was very high on Carpenter at the time. (This was before his several decade career lull). I mean, King was churning out classic book after classic book. Carpenter was at the height of his creativity, having just completed The Thing. What could possibly go wrong - right?
Well, the truth of the matter is that it didn’t exactly go wrong - we just had two versions of the story to play with. Christine is a great John Carpenter movie, and it’s a great Stephen King book. It’s just that the film isn’t a great adaptation of the source material. Again, it’s a matter of trying to compress a 600 page book into a movie that’s 106 minutes long. You might as well try and pour a pint and a half into a pint jug.
Most of the real heart and point of the story is removed, leaving us with a simpler, more expedient and economical story line that’s far easier to communicate in the time allotted. (This, again is why King’s longer works - and let’s face it that’s about ninety five percent of the man’s output are better suited to longer form adaptations like the three hour long two parters that proved so successful and satisfying with It, Salem’s Lot and actually (prepare for hostility) the Shining. (You may love the movie but the TV two parter is a lot closer to the book)
Seventeen year old Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) is a high school nerd, but luckily for him, his best friend Dennis Guilder (Dean Stockwell - and I admit that I didn’t realise until I checked his IMDb credits just now that he had directed Into The Blue) is a popular jock and star player for the school’s football team.
Arnie is one of life’s punching bags. Victim of Buddy Repperton the school bully and his gang, marginalised by generally, the whole student body and basically under the thumb of his domineering harpy of a mother. On his way from school, he sees a broken down, battered, faded rust bucket of a fifties car, a Plymouth Fury, which he impulsively buys.
The car is named Christine and is being sold by George LeBay whose brother died in it. In fact, the car is bad news. She’s been bad since the day in 1957 when she rolled off the line in Detroit. That day, she managed to crush the hand of a careless inspector and a shift supervisor later died in mysterious circumstances that same day.
Somehow the car calls to Arnie, who resolves to restore her to her former glory, but he really needn’t bother because Christine can regenerate. She can repair herself and make herself as good as new. (Judging by how much parts for my car cost, I could sure as hell do with something like Christine). But it’s not just herself that Christine revitalises, it’s Arnie as well. On the day he makes his entrance with his now mint condition classic vintage, he ditches his large dorky glasses, becomes more confident, and gets the stunning new girl in school Leigh Cabot ( a pre Baywatch Alexandra Paul). As Arnie’s luck improves, Dennis’s luck flushes itself down the toilet because at the school football game where Christine makes her debut, Dennis is struck low in a brutal tackle that ends his promising football career. But things aren’t going to go Arnie’s way for long because Repperton’s gang are out for revenge because their earlier bullying of Arnie got Buddy expelled and his two cohorts on probation. (High school thug logic - go figure). They know where Christine is kept overnight.
Now, in the film it seems that it’s Christine that’s possessive. She’s jealous of Arnie’s girlfriend, causing her (somehow) to almost choke on a piece of burger at a drive-in movie while the interior of the car is filled with a blinding light which nobody apart from Leigh herself seems to notice or comment on. Nobody seems to notice that the car’s radio plays only fifties rock and roll (which isn’t a bad thing. I’m partial to that myself) or that the odometer runs backwards - which I really wish mine would. In the book, I seem to recall that Christine was haunted but was more a vessel for LeBay’s dead brother who did the haunting. Here, it seems that Christine is actually the evil one doing the possessing.
When Repperton’s gang absolutely, totally trash Christine beyond all hope of repair, in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, she repairs herself and is again (with apologies to KISS) Pristine Christine. Back in smooth running order, she is out for revenge, crushing one gang member against a wall in a narrow alley ( I’ve never understood why he didn’t just jump on the hood, roll over the roof and run away while the murderous mobile is busy wedging itself in the tight space). Buddy himself is chased by Christine in flames having destroyed his car and the rest of the gang in a filling station. The scenes of the flaming car which seems to have some straight from hell, backed with Carpenter’s eerie score are definitely the highlight of the film for me.
As Arnie’s obsession with his car becomes deeper, it’s up to Dennis and Leigh to take matters into their own hands and intervene. They lure Arnie and his car to the now empty garage where Christine used to be kept and set a trap - but Christine is there already. Never before has the simple sight of headlights being switched on in the background of a shot made me jump or given me a sensation of dread. It’s motorised mayhem as Christine fights to the death against Dennis in a bulldozer intent pulping the car into a solid block, but sadly costing their friend his life at the same time - though somehow, this isn’t questioned. The last scene in a scrap yard where the psychotic Plymouth has been compressed into a cube and one little bit of trim starts to repair itself isn’t half as disturbing as the realisation in the book that....
Oh, but that would be telling. I recommend you read it for yourself and can buy it here.
Or you can get your eager hands on the DVD here.
Next time: "It’s Father’s day and I want my cake!!!"
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