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Christine (1983)

Directed by John Carpenter Novel by Stephen King Screenplay by Bill Phillips

  If it’s true that love can make you do crazy things I suppose jealousy would be it’s crazy step-sister that can push you entirely too far to the edge. Coming off of The Thing, which at the time didn’t get a lot of good reviews, Carpenter had come across Christine. After getting the green-light and receiving 8 million to do the picture, there were some choices that had to be made. Right away they knew they wanted to make the movie all about the car and showcase it for what it really was. So in order to do that they were constrained on exactly what actors they could hire, going with people who weren’t as well-recognized. Cutting out quite a bit from King’s novel in order to have the story seem fitting for the screen. The studio had pushed for a “hard R” meaning that Phillips had to go back and add a majority of the cursing that you hear throughout. Whether it actually hurt the film or not, I did enjoy the route they decided to go with. It’s one thing to make a car scary in pages you’ve read, quite another to make a car terrify people on the big screen as a stone-cold killer.

  The movie opens up showing the “birth” of Christine with a great choice of music to coincide; Bad to the Bone. It begins showing its true colors right away by using her hood to smash the first fingers that attempt to get under her. Yet another unsuspecting victim gets inside as everyone breaks for lunch and he doesn’t have a second thought about ashing his cigar in the front seat. Soon meeting his demise as he’s found slumped down in the front seat by another factory worker.

  We then flash forward 20 years to 1978 where we see Dennis (John Stockwell) driving up to Arnie’s (Keith Gordon) house, as an already annoyed mother freely expresses her thoughts for all to hear. While in a rush to leave and taking out the trash, results in the bag opening up and falling out everywhere. Leaving everything to an even more distraught mother, discussing her combativeness starting the previous night in a game of Scrabble. Once at school we see the two fall into their stereotypical groups as you might expect. Later during lunch Dennis is forced down to the garage where they had Shop. But able to step in between Arnie getting cornered by a group of “cool cats” and their leader, Buddy (William Ostrander). While they destroy his lunch and flash a switch blade, a teacher intervenes and has the group of punks walk straight to his office. Because a stern talking to was clearly all that was needed. 

  After school Arnie takes notice of a “Cherry,” sitting in front of a seemingly abandoned house. Gaining an immediate attraction to the car and refusing to leave without her. Handed keys from George LeBay (Roberts Blossom) and sold for a mere $250; told by Dennis that he would be able to get a decent enough car from anybody else for that price. (Those were the days huh) Refusing to be persuaded by any other argument and returning to a mother who had become enraged at the fact her son would dare buy his own car. Which she was silly for even admitting to. Tired of being mistreated by those surrounding him, Arnie finally speaks up to his mother and reveals whether she liked it or not, it was his. Left with the final statement of not being able to keep the car at the house. But finding a loophole and storing the care at Darnell’s (Robert Prosky) Garage. Hearing mostly what he couldn’t do around the place than that of what he could. Satisfied either way, he’s taken home by Dennis who asks what it was about the vehicle. Getting the answer of finally having found something uglier than him.

  Arnie is able to work out a deal with Mr. Darnell. If he did chores around the garage for him, he’d be able to use some of the parts throughout the junkyard. Able to fix up the ’57 Plymouth pretty nice for what was once junk. The two of which share their first moment as Arnie sits in the car as it begins playing, Pledging My Love by Johnny Ace; a great choice for the scene. Back at the school’s library a new student catches the attention of the jocks as they gawk from a distance, convincing Dennis to go up and talk to her. Finally mustering the courage to ask Leigh (Alexandra Paul) if she’d like to go out with him after his game Friday. Told of already having a date set-up for the same time. Continued curiosity at Arnie’s suspicious behavior warrants Dennis going to visit Christine, having learned information concerning the car’s past and having bigger concerns. At that Friday night’s game, Arnie shows up a new man with a new car and new girl. Proving to be too distracting for Dennis whose taken to the hospital after taking a nasty hit from the backer when missing a catch.

  One night while at the drive-in things begin to get hot and heavy as Leigh runs off explaining not being able to do anything in “that” car. Insinuated of caring more about the car, which he doesn’t dispute entirely, he momentarily leaves her alone in the car. Of which Christine uses the time to rig the windshield to stop the pouring rain from showing any struggle. Locking her inside and somehow managing to get her to choke on her burger. While Arnie helplessly watches from outside, someone else rushes to pull Leigh out the window and help her spit out her food.

  After dropping her off, Arnie returns the vehicle to the garage as we see Buddy and his friends appearing from a distance, waiting for him to leave. Thoroughly having their way with the car as Arnie returns the next day immediately distraught and unable to fathom the actually sight of what had happened. Pushing away Leigh and his parents, who were just as responsible for the events having taken place in his eyes. He returns to the car with the plea of knowing what she could actually do; so that they could show everyone just how wrong they were. More or less, with seductive tones Carpenter added for the score, leading to a “strip-tease” of sorts as Christine pulls herself together; for all to see.

  It doesn’t take long to set forth in what they believe had to be done; show how strong their love was. The next day Arnie decides to skip study hall when Detective Rudolph Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton) finds him in the parking lot and begins questioning him. Giving the Detective some lip and showing no interest of what his theories happened to be. That night Christine takes out the rest of the cool cats but saves Buddy’s death for last, returning to the garage burnt to a crisp, nevertheless driving to its spot and claiming one last victim for the night. Poor Mr. Darnell.

  The next day at the garage Arnie’s met by the detective once again as the body had been found. The car maintained as though not a thing had happened the night before. After picking up Dennis to head towards a New Years Party, the two discuss the importance of the car:                                                                                                                       “Let me tell you something about love Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything–friendship, family. It kills me, how much it eats. But I’ll tell you something else. Feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing…and that’s what we have.”

  Dennis leaves a message on Arnie’s hood the next morning at school to be at Darnell’s later that night. Of which Leigh and Dennis later head out to arrive first and prepare for Christine’s arrival. On Leigh’s way back to wait at the office it seems Christine had been waiting and starts catching up, causing her to head instead straight for another car. Tearing away to reveal her new-found grill, equipped with jagged tears resembling teeth. A final showdown occurs as the car is smashed to a preferred size; the cubed and unusable type. But could Christine really be done for? All that power leads to a close up of the much damaged Christine as we see her begin to sprout slowly once again.

Final Thoughts: What was great about Carpenter’s work was that he never had to be so outright. I mean, the killings don’t even start until a bit after the hour mark but there was never a rush into just getting to the “gory” parts. So they focused just on the story and the way it was perceived. The people behind this wanted to make it all about the car and I really thought they did just that. It’s a progression story rather for both Arnie and Christine. He firsts buys her after claiming to relate to its “ugliness,” The more he puts into the car, the more they both seem to progress. The story didn’t offer much as a means of gore or any obvious way in scaring but it didn’t so much call for it either. The fact that a car could completely revoke the damage done without so much as a scratch was convincing enough to myself. I also was fond of the music they choose throughout the film as it was used in a particular manner for the songs to speak to whoever had been near the vehicle.

  Carpenter’s usually pretty good at getting straight to the point with his films while providing a great subtle terror that builds nicely as the film unfolds. There was, technically, a whole other sub-plot going on through the movie that didn’t even get attention but because it didn’t need to be furthered looked into. Kelly Preston’s character (Roseanne) seemed to have a bit of an infatuation with Dennis, all the while he went around trying to bide for Leigh’s. Even at the football game when Dennis goes down, you can see her on the side of everything happening inching forward a bit at a time to see if he had been okay. I did as well hear that Kevin Bacon had been seen and that they loved him for the part. But Footloose come up instead and wrote to the people behind Christine saying that it would be better for his career to go with the other. Although I’m not sure if they said which role in particular he was up, though my first assumption would be for Dennis, I could see Bacon back in the day being a viable option for either role. Though the three other leads were fine choices in themselves. Keith Gordon may have had the look but being able to make such a transformation in a movie while still letting the car shine as the main character granted for a great performance. Gordon was also able to display a certain tension with the car throughout showing how much of himself he saw in the vehicle. Yet how it was perceived by others. Those who wanted to take that away from him were only jealous of what he had become since getting the car. King’s story and Carpenter’s vision made for quite the duo in a different type of love story about a kid and his car…oh yeah, and the deaths they embark on together.