April 25, 2005
Christine (1983) is something of a curious anomaly in John Carpenter’s career. It isn’t as beloved by his fans as, say, Escape from New York (1981) or Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and it isn’t as reviled as Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). It is, however, one of the better Stephen King adaptations—which isn’t saying much when you consider how many lousy ones there are out there. A previous, bare bones DVD was released awhile ago. Now, a new special edition with Carpenter’s participation is out.
Arnie (Gordon) is a nerd. He wears a pocket protector to school, has tape on his glasses and is hopelessly uncoordinated. He can’t get a girlfriend to save his life. In short, he is terminally uncool. His best friend, Dennis (Stockwell), makes it his mission in life to get a Arnie a girlfriend. He’s a good-looking football player with the school’s most beautiful cheerleader (Preston) lusting after him. He’s not the most popular guy in school but he’s got it together enough for Arnie to look up to him.
A new girl, Leigh (Paul), comes to school. She has that fresh-faced girl-next-door thing going on and this turns both Arnie and Dennis’ heads. However, Arnie has more pressing matters as he is constantly tormented by the shop class bullies who delight in making his and Dennis’ lives a living hell. Arnie’s life changes when he falls in love…with a beat-up old ’58 Plymouth Fury. It’s in awful shape (as the local scrap yard owner says, “You can’t polish a turd!”) but Arnie doesn’t care. He spends all of his free time and money lovingly restoring the car. During this time he begins to exhibit some changes. He dresses and looks better. Arnie is more confident but he’s also become meaner. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that there is more to the car than meets the eye and it begins to exert an influence on Arnie. It begins to take matters into its own hands—wreaking vengeance on the bullies and even trying to kill Leigh in a fit of, what can only be attributed to, jealousy.
Christine exhibits Carpenter’s playful sense of humour. During the opening creation sequence, the car comes off the assembly line to the strains of “Bad to the Bone.” Its first evil act is to slam its hood on a hapless mechanic’s hand and then it kills another when he drops cigar ash on the driver’s seat. Make no mistake: this car is pure evil from the get-go.
Carpenter does a good job of setting up the characters and their world in the first 30 minutes. He establishes the relationships between them and the dilemmas that they must face. This is important as it informs what happens later on when things start to go bad for everyone. Carpenter lets the audience get to know these characters, which is unusual for a horror film as they quite often barrel through a perfunctory introduction before pouring on gallons of gore and violence. It isn’t until 48 minutes in that Carpenter shows us the car’s truly evil nature. From that point on, it exerts a more aggressive presence in the movie.
Keith Gordon is quite good as the tormented teen who becomes obsessed with a car. He does a very credible job showing Artie’s gradual transformation from innocent nerd to stone cold psycho caught in the thrall of this demonic car. He embodies many of the problems kids face in high school: bullies, the opposite sex, and being popular. He uses the car as an instrument of change—it’s Pygmalion for the horror genre. Interestingly, he and John Stockwell have gone on to become directors in their own right. Gordon has gone the art house route with Waking the Dead (2000), while Stockwell has gone the studio route with Blue Crush (2002).
A treat for Carpenter fans is the audio commentary by the director and the film’s star, Keith Gordon. It’s great to hear two directors talk about their craft. Gordon praises Carpenter and mentions that during filming he often asked him questions and learned a lot about the filmmaking process. It’s a trip down memory lane for both men who joke and remember all sorts of good anecdotes in this relaxed and entertaining track.
There are 20 deleted scenes, most of which are not very long in length and, in most cases, were rightly cut. They flesh out the characters a bit more and show the demise of minor characters.
“Christine: Fast and Furious” examines the themes and story of the movie with new interviews with Carpenter, Gordon, John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul. Carpenter’s comments are a bit repetitive if you’ve listened to the commentary but there are still plenty of interesting insights and observations from everyone else.
“Christine: Finish Line” examines the use of music in the movie. King’s novel had a song for every chapter so the movie features a healthy dose of songs with original source music by Carpenter, who traditionally scores all of his movies. Also included in this featurette is how the cast and crew view the film now that twenty years has passed.
“Christine: Ignition” features the film’s screenwriter, Bill Phillips, talking about how he adapted King’s novel. Carpenter chimes in with how he got involved in the project. Originally, he and Phillips were going to do Firestarter (1984) but that fell through and they did Christine instead. Both men talk about the changes that they made from King’s novel to make it more cinematic.
Christine is good film, not a great one, but definitely one of the better King adaptations because it was made by a director with a distinctive style and vision. In many respects it is not a conventional horror film. There is very little gore or traditional scares. It’s more of a mood or an unsettling feeling. Fans of Carpenter will enjoy this DVD for Carpenter’s excellent commentary track. This new special edition is a definite improvement over the older one and well worth picking up.