Christine (1983)

7 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

John Carpenter’s “Christine” is a nicely-crafted horror film about a teenage boy and his car. The boy is a high school nerd named Arnie who wears thick glasses, is very insecure, and is constantly picked on by the school thugs. The car is a ‘50s Plymouth dubbed “Christine” that Arnie finds rusting in a junkyard. He doesn’t care that its original owner killed himself in the car or that some folks around it have died tragically back in the day—he’s just entranced by the car. He buys it, rebuilds it, and develops a certain bond with it.

Of course, teenagers develop a bond with their first car. It becomes a part of them—they look out for their cars, they make sure not one part of it is scratched, and they even talk to their cars at times. But in Arnie’s case, it’s different. Not only does having this new car affect his social life (in that he actually develops one, finally) and boost his self-esteem (like talking back to people, including his overbearing parents), but it also turns out that Christine—the car—has a mind of its own. It moves on its own and even repairs itself after the bullies trash it to junk.

And so, Christine uses its willpower, without a driver, to chase after Arnie’s enemies and run them down—there’s a great scene in which it forces its way through a narrow alley to get to one of the bullies, and another in which another bully is desperately running down the street trying to outrun the car (set ablaze this time—the guy doesn’t have a prayer). But there’s a bigger issue in its “mind,” I should say—Arnie is dating the prettiest girl in school, which makes Christine so jealous that it takes many measures to try and run her down as well. Arnie himself develops into a real scuzzy personality, letting Christine’s power over him take what’s left of his meekness and replace it with a blend of super-coolness and madness.

It’s a nice work of fantasy and horror—the idea of a guy getting his first car that turns out to be alive is an exciting one. That it goes after its owner’s girlfriend may make the movie sound ridiculous, and it is. But I enjoyed it because with John Carpenter’s direction, the movie wants to play how it would occur if it were plausible. Carpenter also does a good job with the three central young actors—Keith Gordon as Arnie, Alexandra Paul as Arnie’s girlfriend, and John Stockwell as Arnie’s best friend, a likable jock that tries to pull Arnie out of Christine’s spell.

I also liked the use of old songs in the score. When someone tries to break into the garage where Christine is kept, its radio plays “Keep-a Knockin’ But You Can’t Come In” as a warning. And whenever Arnie is alone in the car, the radio plays old love songs. See, the radio only plays songs from the 1950s, since that’s when it was created and uses these songs to speak its mind. That’s a clever idea.

“Christine” is an ambitious, well-acted, well-executed horror movie that takes teenage fantasy as a deal with the devil. Yeah, the story is out there, and there are some things that don’t work (see NOTE), but there are many other moments that had me grinning and invested, right down to the final climax where it’s the ‘50s Plymouth Fury “Christine” versus a bulldozer.

NOTE: I’ve read a few posts on “Christine’s” IMDb message board and one of which, not caring much for the movie, said that there could be a remake that was closer to the original Stephen King novel it was based on. I’ve never read the novel, so I don’t know how close this movie adapts it. However, there are certain clichés that can be found in Stephen King stories and they are found here. One main clichéd element—everyone except for the main characters is a one-dimensional jackass. The bullies are the knife-wielding bores, the parents don’t listen (the mother, in particular, is over the top in authority), and the man who runs the body shop (played by Robert Prosky) is a suspicious old fart (though to his credit, he has a good reason to be suspicious of Arnie and his car). So I don’t know—maybe certain parts of the story were left out of the movie.

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