I never understood why this film never really found an audience. It’s classic Stephen King directed by classic John Carpenter. King’s narrative of the teen nerd no one likes supernaturally striking back against his bullies is straight out of “Carrie.” John Carpenter’s style of pure evil without rhyme or reason is straight out of “Halloween.”
Somehow, it didn’t mix. Slasher films made Carrie and Halloween tame by 1983, and for an R-rated horror movie, this isn’t very extreme.
I love “Christine”.
I love the Steadicam shots. I love the lighting. I love how Keith Gordon’s “Arnie” goes from a geek to a menace with hair, makeup and dashboard lights. I don’t thing first choice Scott Baio would’ve been convincing.
This is also one of those movies that really changes the book in major ways, not just by the usual cutting of subplots. The main thrust of the book was that the car’s owner controlled the car and possessed Arnie. It was extremely violent and closer to “The Exorcist” than anything else.
Carpenter’s Christine stripped all of that out. Carpenter got major backlash from how extreme “The Thing” was and this film was his penance. So, Carpenter went back to his minimalist routes with a great soundtrack, nifty cinematography and an unknown cast.
Kevin Bacon, fresh off “Friday the 13th”, chose “Footloose” instead. Brooke Shields was considered, but she was soon off to college after bombing in “Sahara” (no, don’t give that movie a single take).
Carpenter actually made the Christine the focus of “Christine” – the car was the villain, from the opening scene until the last frame. There’s no demonic possession here, but a great story about a bullied teen nerd who is seduced by the power of a car he loves and seems to love him back. A violently jealous car, but a car nonetheless. That’s a better cinematic story than a ghost possessing a teen. This is a teen and a car that feed each other’s worst impulses.
It’s a horror film that isn’t scary, but it’s powerful. Arnie’s family arguments seem like typical fare, until Arnie takes them to a higher level. The bulling is more like teasing, but when Arnie wants payback, it’s payback ten times over.
Despite the justifications for Arnie’s responses, we never side with him. We sometimes sympathize, but Gordon transforms him into such a jerk, we never cheer for him.
For Gordon’s character transformation and Carpenter’s artistic vision, “Christine” is worth another take.
Nothing is better than Arnie’s late night drive with Dennis near the end of the film as a maniacal Arnie explains Christine and shows the old Arnie is completely gone.