Posted March 30, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

John Carpenter’s Christine

After the financial disaster of The Thing John Carpenter moved on to adapt Stephen King’s book about a demonic car. This was a return to the teenage horror genre of his previous classic Halloween. Set in 1978, the film focuses on high school geek Arnie Cunningham who becomes strangely obsessed with a Plymouth Fury called Christine. Slowly he begins to change as he dedicates all his spare time to fixing his new car. Initially he becomes more confident and gets the gorgeous new girl at school to be his date. But as time goes on he becomes blinded by his love for the car as it takes over his entire existence.

Having exploited teenagers in Halloween Carpenter now returns to the halls of the American high school. Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) is a typical dweeb with no chance of getting laid who spends his life being picked on by bullies once his friend Dennis isn’t around. His parents dominate his entire existence allowing him no life of his own.  Driving home after school one day he spots a car for sale that he simply has to have. The car is sold to him by the frightening George LeBay (who resembles a crack addled Willie Nelson), who sweetens the deal with the information that his brother and his family died in the car.

The Stephen King book which the film is based on makes it entirely clear that the car is possessed and is simply evil. The film adaptation allows the audience to think that Arnie chose to kill his tormentors, working with Christine for revenge. Either way what you have here is arguably the greatest car horror film ever made. The design of the car is nothing short of superb as the Plymouth Fury looks fantastic tearing down streets at night on fire looking to kill someone. The effects of the car reconstructing itself after being vandalised are also superbly done, moving the narrative into the supernatural fully for the first time.

The cast is a little bit of a mixed bag, with the adult performers far outshining the teenagers. Roberts Blossom as George LeBay, Harry Dean Stanton as Detective Junkins and Robert Prosky as Will Darnell are all superb. Special praise must also go to Christine Belford and Robert Darnell as Arnie’s parents. The teenagers on the other hand are less than stellar with the atrocious Alexandra Paul, of future Baywatch fame, leading the charge. Keith Gordon, as Arnie, has little subtlety to bring the part as he overdoes both sides of the performance. His geeky first half is as overcooked as his bad boy ending. The geeky part of his character is essentially the exact same as he played in Dressed to Kill in which he was far more convincing.  He would later move behind the camera himself which probably makes a great deal more sense.

Christine is not an absolute horror classic but it’s highly enjoyable when at its best. The photography, locations and soundtrack all allow for a spine tingling feel of horror. There can be no doubt that in terms of the film’s horror ambitions the star is undoubtedly the car. Had the performances of the teenage leads matched the car then it would have been a much better film. but, all complaining aside Christine is still a fantastic horror film that is a pleasure to return to.

Aled Jones