Christine (1983)

JOHN CARPENTER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

USA, 1983. , , . Screenplay by , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by John Carpenter, . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Another Stephen King chiller makes its way to the big screen and, like Carrie before it, concerns itself with teenage resentment building to a supernatural explosion of retribution.

A Plymouth Fury built in the late fifties seems to have been created with a malevolent spirit trapped inside it that the film subtly infers is the manifestation of fifties car culture and post-war sexual hypocrisy reaching its bitter consequence: in a time when an antiseptic, morally upstanding suburban lifestyle was being promoted in movies and in commercial advertisements, cars presented young people with separate, mobile spaces in which to partake in the sexuality that was barred by public discourse, particularly handy for exploration when you recall how big they made the vehicles back then and how generous those bench seats were for maneuvering. The chrome finish and gorgeous colours of vehicles of the time almost directly advertised them as sexual power for the driver, but with that power came a lot of anxiety and responsibility, for teenage boys usually the societal pressure to collect notches on the dashboard, for young women the pressure to avoid a bad reputation or, worse, being assaulted.

All this energy, and more, makes the red car that stars in this film come very much to life of its own will, its dashboard shining bright and radio playing classic tunes of yesteryear when getting ready to take revenge upon those who disrespect her. When high school teenager finds the automobile that he will name Christine, however, it is two decades after she was manufactured, and she is broken down and rusted in a field where an old man sells it to him for a low price, inspiring in Gordon an obsession to soup her up to her former glory.

So determined is he in this project that he alienates his best friend the football jock () and angers his parents, but once Christine is shining like new again, Gordon does as well: his glasses are gone, his nerdiness is no longer a turnoff to the ladies and despite having been easily bullied at the beginning of the film, he now carries a swagger that is actually starting to put his loved ones off.

He stores Christine in a garage run by , who takes a liking to the kid and lets him use stuff from his junk pile to fix the car in exchange for some work around the place, which is also where Christine goes to recover whenever she gets into an altercation with a human being or a villain, miraculously punching herself back to fine form thanks to the powerful connection she has with her human driver (the visual effects of these sequences still look magnificent).

Gordon, meanwhile, has lost himself in his obsessive love for Christine even after she almost kills his gorgeous girlfriend (), so she teams up with Stockwell to finally put an end to the madness and possibly save their dear friend from his worst self.

Director John Carpenter works with a big studio budget without sacrificing the grindhouse joy of his more underground earlier hits, though he’s not as natural a fit for King’s source material as Brian De Palma was. Carpenter doesn’t hate young people, this film works as sort of a male counterpart to Halloween in that the teenagers are never separated by the tribes that film logic usually dictates (the nerd is best friends with the jock and it’s never an issue), and the revenge enacted on the bad guys is because of how they behave, not because of who they are.

As a male counterpart to Carrie, the story ends up being a softer take on exorcising demonic teenage fears than the misanthropic (and I say that with affection) De Palma had delivered, and this film could (in an unusual twist for the always too brief Carpenter) use a bit of a trim in its last third. The steady development of character detail and plot information, however, envelope you in thanks to terrific performances and great style, so that when it comes time to really let the main human character go wild, the metallic protagonist has taken on the characteristics of a full-blown personality and her destiny is emotionally involving.

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