Friday, October 17, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 17: Friday Flashback ~ Christine (1983): She's Bad To The Bone

I remember very well reading Stephen King's Christine when I was a teenager.   I was enamored with the lyrics to all those oldies opening the chapters, enjoyed the high school setting (since I was at that oh-so-annoying time in my life as well),  and of course I was pretty damn psyched that my favorite author had named a novel after me.  Ok, that last part isn't true..

Regardless, I was even more excited when I heard they were making it into a movie.  Christine is the type of book that begs to be scripted and put to the big screen. All that teenaged angst!  The diabolical car! Those oldies!!  Reminisce with me now, as I take a step back over thirty years ago....

We learn right off the bat that this car is absolutely nothing to mess around with.  Still on the assembly line,  it slams its hood on a guy's hand and then chokes another to death.  It means business.  We don't learn the car's moniker until after we meet Arnie (Keith Gordon), a nerdy high school senior with no guts, no girlfriend, and no glory. The tough-kid crowd at school is constantly bullying him, and his only friend is Dennis (John Stockwell), a rising football star who keeps the others at bay when it comes to picking on Arnie. 

One day coming home from school they pass by an old rusty car sitting in a backyard.  Arnie is immediately swept off his feet by the vehicle, and despite Dennis's many urgings to the contrary, purchases the 1958 Plymouth Fury.  The seller claims his brother died in the car but doesn't elaborate, only telling Arnie that "her name is Christine".  Arnie gets into a major battle with his mother at home when she learns he spent some of the money for his college education on this piece of shit car.  She tells him he is not allowed to park it in the driveway and so Arnie is able to work out a deal with the owner of a local garage to store Christine there.

Soon Dennis becomes aware that Arnie's infatuation with Christine has become an obsession.  He devotes all his free time to the car, and within a short time has it fixed up in showroom condition.  It's not just the car that goes through changes though.  Arnie has been changing as well.  His attitude becomes coarse and arrogant. He stands up to the bullies at school. He also ends up getting a date with the hottest girl in the school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul), a girl Dennis himself had eyes for. 

When bad-boy Buddy Reperton (William Ostrander) and his gang of bullies break into the garage one night and trash Christine beyond all repair, they soon start dying off one by one. It mysteriously seems as though Christine was always in the vicinity at the time, so local law enforcement (Harry Dean Stanton) begins to investigate Arnie. 

Meanwhile, Arnie and Leigh have an argument after she nearly chokes to death at the drive-in while Arnie stands outside the car, unable to get in.  She tells him she won't go in the car anymore, and Arnie flips out, telling her how much Christine means to him.

At this point, it becomes obvious Arnie and Christine are inseparable.  Dennis and Leigh devise a plan to put an end to the evil vehicle....but it won't be easy.

Christine is a fun horror movie.  I say this because you have to put all sense aside and assume that a car can take on a life of its own.  It's happened before in horror (best case in point: the James Brolin vehicle, The Car, 1977) and I'm sure it will happen again.  Possessed or evil items are always a huge hit with the genre crowd, and this movie fits in quite well.

It's not all about the car, though. You have to look a little deeper to get Stephen King's meaning in this one.  It isn't what Arnie did to (save and restore) Christine. It's what Christine did to Arnie. She changed him. The obsession that grows throughout the film, all with a backdrop of great oldies, is unnerving to watch.  Keith Gordon does such an admirable acting job, going from complete and utter nerd to the self-assured cool guy who just might be more dangerous than we think.  Christine makes Arnie her own, and she shows her jealousy by nearly killing "the other woman", dispatching of all the bullies in Arnie's life, and by having a hand in an injury that all but ruins Dennis's football future.  She's dangerous.  Evil. 

I would be remiss if I didn't again mention how great it is to hear all the old songs used in this film. They are perfectly matched to the actions of the film, like when Leigh is choking Robert and Johnny were crooning the 1958 classic, We Belong Together.  Better yet, when Christine is "fixing" all her injuries, the perfect placement of the Viscounts Harlem Nocturne still gives me chills (see below). Equally as impressive is the opening credits song, Bad to the Bone.  While George Thorogood didn't record that song until 1982, a year before the film's release, it's still a wildly appropriate song to introduce us to the malicious automobile. Also used to great effect was the Little Richard classic Keep-a-knockin'.  Christine was very picky about who she let inside her little world, and that song conveyed it perfectly.

The film, directed by John Carpenter, has become a favorite in horror circles, and I'll be the first to admit when it comes on TV I find it impossible to turn off.  One of the key scenes, when Christine is on fire and rolling down the dark streets, is a sublime scene of pure malevolence.  If you haven't seen it in a while, it's time to revisit.  This Christine won't steer you wrong.


Rachel said...

I love this movie! My dad and I used to watch it all the time :). I think it's one of the few SK stories that translates really well to the screen. What I wouldn't give for a self-restoring car (even if it slowly ate my soul)!

Christine Hadden said...

I always thought it would be simply amazing to find a '58 Fury and detail it exactly like the film. Of course I'd add a vanity plate on the front with CHRISTINE on it - and it would be appropriate because it is my own name as well...!

Party Slashers said...

Awesome review. This movie was also the 1st and only time I heard someone refer to another as "dickface" as when the bully squeezes the hell out of Arnie's junk, causing him to collapse and says, "That's what you get, dickface!"

Christine Hadden said...

Haha, yes. This flick had a lot of that teenage bullying and angst. Part of the reason it's one of my faves from that era.