“Some things are just born evil, or in this case made evil. Christine is the seventh feature film from the great John Carpenter, who was coming off of two big horror successes with Halloween and The Fog and the undeserved commercial failure of The Thing. Carpenter has said that he took the job only because it was all that was offered him at the time, but don’t let that seeming lack of enthusiasm fool you. Christine is still an atmospheric and convincing horror film that, despite being fairly tame, fits well into Carpenter’s oeuvre.
Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Christine tells the story of Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon), a lonely high school nerd whose life changes after the chance discovery of a run down 1958 Plymouth Fury named ‘Christine’. Neither his best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) nor his overbearing parents can understand his obsession and their concern only pushes him away further. He spends all of his time repairing Christine at ‘Darnell’s Do It Yourself Garage’ and it’s not long before Arnie himself starts changing. Soon, Arnie and Christine are unrecognizable as they both have a shinier appearance and a new aggressive attitude.
The driving force (pardon the pun) of the film is the sheer bizarreness of the situation. In some regard it’s relatable because we’ve all known someone who loves or has obsessed over their car, but here that is taken to a whole new level. Arnie is not just obsessed with his car, he is enamored with it. Roger Ebert said it best: “I’ve seen a lot of movies where the teenage guy parks in a car with the girl he loves. This is the first one where he parks with a girl in the car he loves.” Even after his newfound confidence scores him Leigh (Alexandra Paul), the prettiest girl in school, he can’t bring himself to put her or anything else before his beloved Christine.
This is where things start to go downhill and where the fun really begins. Christine isn’t just a pretty car, she has a personality all her own. Driven by jealousy (I promise that’s the last one), Christine locks Leigh in the car at the drive-in and nearly chokes her to death. Then, in the most violent scene in the film, Christine is beaten and crushed by the school bullies in an attempt to hit Arnie where it hurts. It does the trick until Christine shows us that one of her many talents is the ability to repair herself, a scene that is as remarkable today as it was 25 years ago. The rejuvenated Christine tracks down the bullies one by one creatively dispatching them and giving the audience some good old fashioned car carnage. There may not be any gore, but the filmmakers compensate by smashing, burning, and bulldozing the hell out of that poor car. Poor car, you ask? Just wait and see who you’re pulling for by the end of the film.
The best thing about Christine is that it’s completely absurd and yet it’s still believable. There’s definitely a sense of humor there, but thankfully it never dips into silliness. If it were to get silly, the story would lose all credibility. The standard Carpenter elements are all here: the atmosphere, the music, and the ingenious effects, but I can’t help but feel like he was holding back a little bit with this film. Maybe it was the studio or maybe he was still reeling from the failure of the The Thing, a distinctly gorier and more ambitious film. Still, there is a lot to like here and I dare you to watch this without a smirk on your face.