We are all fans of a particular director or writer, so I was blown away when I heard in 1983 that John Carpenter was coming out with a movie adapting Stephen King‘s novel Christine.
I had already read the novel, yet it was exciting nonetheless to relive on the big screen the sad adventure of Arnie Cunningham, a California boy oppressed by classmates at school and also an intrusive family when at home.
Fortunately, Arnie has at least one great true friend, Dennis, a handsome hunk loved by the girls and the best football player on the team, who tries to help his friend come out of the shell of his loneliness and shyness.
However, their friendship is doomed to change forever when, on a day they’re wandering around on their way home from school, Arnie notices a half-destroyed wreck of a car parked in the driveway of a weird older man’s house.
Immediately thrilled, he buys and parks it in the workshop of the cranky Will Darnell, hoping to unearth the jewel hidden beneath those ruined sheets of metal and broken glass.
Incredibly, Arnie succeeds in restoring this blazing red Plymouth Fury, but at the same time, Dennis is worried by his friend’s dramatic temperament change.
He is now gross and often angry with his parents or the beautiful girlfriend Leigh, whom he had won to everyone’s amazement, loving infinitely more the car he calls Christine in a perverse, unbreakable relationship.
Everything finally came to a head when a small group of bullies, outraged by Arnie during school time, sneak into the garage at night and demolish the car piece by piece.
At that point, all of Arnie’s anger explodes into utter madness, and we discover the true demonic power of this hellish and unstoppable car.
When King’s tales dominated in theaters
As said, I was extremely glad to see Christine become a movie in 1983, although in those years, there were undoubtedly plenty of famous directors bringing to screen the stories of the great best-sellers creator from Maine.
Indeed, how can we not recall masterpieces such as Rob Reiner‘s Stand by Me, Brian De Palma‘s Carrie, or Stanley Kubrick‘s immeasurable The Shining, the latter despite King himself expressing strong criticism about the many changes in the plot and characters.
However, Christine is a novel that struck many chords particularly dear to me, from bullying in schools to beautiful vintage cars, uncertain growth of introverted teenagers, and finally, classic-style horror with a director who was modern and cutting edge at the time.
John Carpenter relies on Bill Phillips‘ excellent screenplay, which successfully packs all the essential events and characters into just over 100 minutes of pure cinematic pleasure.
Sometimes, when I see today’s movies, I don’t understand how they can no longer recreate that kind of atmosphere, such as Donald M. Morgan‘s beautifully plain yet somewhat surreal photography.
Equally perfect, as usual, is the haunting music Carpenter composed along with Alan Howarth‘s help: a somber but elegant melody that complements the many rock tunes coming out of the car radio all the time and is virtually Christine’s very “voice”.
What’s not to love about this car? It is the great avenger of bully victims of all times, crushing its enemies alive in an alley or chasing them down the street while on fire.
Yet there is always a price to pay, and in this case, unfortunately, all this hatred and resentment will turn poor Arnie into a supernatural bully who torments his friends and family terribly.
Actors and actresses between highs and lows
For as many compliments I paid to Carpenter’s direction and King’s original novel, I cannot feel the same for the cast, at least in its lead roles.
Indeed, among the main characters, the only one who truly delivers an extraordinary performance is Keith Gordon, an actor who does not have many movies on his resume, but here he undoubtedly finds the iconic role of his life.
His metamorphosis through the various stages of the story is exceptional, going from a goofy, quiet kid with whom many teenagers can identify to becoming a sociopath with James Dean‘s glimpses and the harsh, uncompromising attitude of the rock and roll philosophy.
Instead, it is the opposite as far to John Stockwell, certainly perfect in the appearance of the sound, handsome boy who fits in well at school and among his friends; yet he gave me very little emotion as an actor and, even more, seems to me to have almost the same facial expression no matter what happens in every scene.
As pretty and lovely as she is, the same happens for Alexandra Paul as the newcomer girl at school, Leigh Cabot; the beauty that everyone would like to win over who, however, as an actress, fails to make me so passionate or interested in her character.
I have nothing to say against the supporting cast, consisting of solid screen veterans such as Harry Dean Stanton, who plays the nosy cop who nevertheless survives here, whereas, in the book, we learn how he dies because something (probably Christine) devastates his home.
Equally charming is Robert Prosky, playing the obnoxious Will Darnell, owner of the garage, where he will die during one of the most shocking scenes among the many car-killer murders.