Updated: Oct 26, 2021
After The Thing flopped in 1982, John Carpenter lost his next gig which was meant to be Firestarter, but instead he picked up a director-for-hire job on another King book, the killer car tale, Christine. But this film is no middling effort from a slumming director. At this point in his career, Carpenter arguably couldn’t have made a bad film if he tried, and something about the match between material and filmmaker just works perfectly.
Californian teen Arnie Cunningham (a fantastic Keith Gordon) is a slightly nerdy kid who spies an old car in a lot and decides to make it his first car, against the advice of everyone around him. He strikes a deal with the cantankerous mechanic to do some odd jobs in exchange for tools & parts. Before long (as in, no time at all) Christine is somehow returned to her former glory and soon after the killing starts, from the school bullies (an even nastier bunch than those in Carrie and featuring a 30-year-old Travolta lookalike playing a 17-year-old) to poor old Darnell the mechanic.
Despite taking the job for a pay-check, Christine ended up being one of Carpenter’s most heartfelt films—with the downward spiral of teen Arnie Cunningham from friendly nerd to selfish leather jacket-wearing greaser feeling tragically plausible. It’s also his most beautiful looking film, with Donald M Morgan’s stunning cinematography painting the screen in soft light and pitch-black shadows. Then there is the marvel that is Christine herself, a gorgeous red 1958 Plymouth Fury. The titular car is so beautifully and lovingly rendered on film, it’s easy to see why Arnie falls in love with her over his actual girlfriend Leigh and shuts out his best friend Dennis.
Carpenter was also an inspired choice for making the car an actual character. Through her radio song choices to headlights and later, when she is on fire chasing the head bully down, the car is a fully-fledged character, both jealous of Archie’s friends and vengeful against his enemies. I can’t imagine many directors being able to pull off such a feat without it looking silly, but it works fantastically well here and helps elevate Christine to the top tier of King adaptations.
4.5 exploding gas stations out of 5.