Christine (1983) – October Horrors 2022

Christine, 1983.

Directed John Carpenter.
Starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky and Harry Dean Stanton.


An awkward and unpopular teenager finds himself in possession of a car that seems to have a mind of its own.

It’s time for another appearance from October Horrors regular Stephen King and one of the many, many film adaptations of his many, many spine-tingling books. This time we have what is arguably his best-known “what if otherwise normal thing was alive and evil?” story; Christine.

While the concept of an evil car might sound a tad silly, when placed in the hands of cinematic horror master John Carpenter, King’s novel is turned into a hugely fun, petrol-soaked treat that is one of the directors more underrated efforts and one of the more unfairly overlooked King adaptations.

Perhaps the best part of Christine is how it approaches adapting King’s novel. The novel deals with a nerdy teenager Arnie Cunningham coming into possession of a car that once belonged to a notorious criminal. As the story progresses, Arnie appears to be slowly turning into the dead man, almost as if he and the car have been taken over by the criminal’s evil spirit.

There is also lots of mumbo jumbo about spirits and possession, which honestly feels like overkill for a story about a killer car. The film, on the other hand, ditches all of that, strips the novel down to its barest essentials and simply makes the car the root of all evil. And in my favourite aspect of the story, no explanation is given for why the car is evil. It’s just evil because it is.

By ditching the cumbersome sounding and overly explained approach (the novel clocks in at 526 pages which also sounds excessive for a story about an evil car), Carpenter can focus the story on its best aspect; a simple coming of age/twisted romance tale of a boy and his car.

The character of Arnie Cunningham is a great one, beginning as a sympathetic, meek nerd, picked on by bullies and dominated by his overly protective parents. However, once he lays eyes on Christine, we begin to see Arnie gradually grow more confident and assertive, eventually becoming an arrogant, paranoid bully who pushes away all those who care for him, leaving him even more of an outcast than he was before.

The brilliance of the character is largely thanks to Keith Gordon, whose outstanding performance makes Arnie come alive, playing him with a softer voice and awkward body language in the early scenes, allowing us to easily sympathise with him as he endures his dreary life. However, as Arnie grows more assertive and forceful, Gordon’s voice grows deeper as his eyes take on a manic, almost deranged look, the actor brilliantly conveying the dark and tragic fall of this once sympathetic character.

Gordon is simply fantastic, always managing to retain a semblance of sympathy for Arnie even as he becomes ever more twisted by Christine’s influence. I particularly love Gordon’s speech about love and how it “has a ferocious appetite”, his quiet and menacing delivery expertly revealing just how far Arnie has fallen into madness.

Sporting great flowing cinematography, creative staging, and a litany of exciting set pieces, Carpenter’s direction is superb and shows him at his very best. And the direction is all the more impressive given that Carpenter admits he only took on the film as a “director for hire” and didn’t care too much for the novel.

The chase scenes, in particular, are the film’s best moment, as we see Christine’s victims desperately fleeing from her down alleyways, her headlights illuminating her prey like a set of glowing demonic eyes. Credit also has to be given to stunt coordinator/driver Terry Leonard whose skilful and dangerous driving stunts give the titular car a ferocious personality and a sense of menace that makes her genuinely seem alive. I especially love the shot of Christine, covered in flames, very slowly driving after a fleeing victim, almost as if she’s toying with him before brutally running him down.

The musical score composed by Carpenter and regular collaborator Alan Howarth might not be among the director/composers’ most memorable, but it works well enough, featuring many of the classic synth staples of pulsing beats and spooky stinging crescendos. The true brilliance in the music comes from the soundtrack of various old 1950s rock’n’roll/love ballads that Christine plays on her radio, the creatively chosen songs acting as her “voice” to express her feelings towards others.

The use of the slightly sappy/slightly sinister 1950s love song “Pledging My Love” is a particularly inspired choice, the track acting as the car’s declaration of love for Arnie. I particularly love its use in the climax, with it taking on a surprisingly and unnervingly moving quality as Arnie and the car share a tender moment.

The pacing is superb throughout, spending a good deal of time delving into the character of Artie and his growing obsession with Christine. Although, it perhaps takes a tad too long to get into the horror elements, with it taking over an hour before Christine begins to truly show her dark and evil ways. I also think at nearly two hours, the film maybe runs a little bit too long and could have used a slight trim to tighten the pacing up further. However, I admit that these are just my own minor nitpicks, and they don’t detract too much from the film as a whole.

With a strong story that reduces the novel to its barest and best qualities, a terrific central performance from Keith Gordon and superb direction from John Carpenter, Christine stands as one of the better and, in my view, more underrated Stephen King adaptations and one of the most underrated of John Carpenter’s filmography. 

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Graeme Robertson


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