Mike’s Review: Christine (1983)

★★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by John Carpenter.

On the edge of the 40th anniversary of the seminal John Carpenter-Stephen King mashup it’s high time we pay proper due to a legitimate horror classic. Coupled with the fact that Blumhouse is in the works of producing a questionable remake — due in 2022/2023 — and the fact that this 1983 joint is now streaming on Netflix in UHD, it makes it the perfect time to consider where this fits in to the pantheon of horror greats. 

For the deeply uninitiated, Christine, by the Stephen King book of the same name, is the 1983 auto horror classic that follows a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury. Interestingly, because King was the hot property in 1983 the book was released the same year as the film. The book was released in April and the film was released in December 1983. Barely seven months from start to finish. 

While the book and film do diverge on a number of important plot points — most importantly Christine “dies” in the film (maybe), but potentially lives on in the book (also maybe). What the book and film both hold is an exceptionally real and raw friendship between the nebbish nerd, Arnie (Keith Gordon, Jaws 2) and the hunky quarterback Dennis (John Stockwell). In both cases the dialog and interchange between the lifelong friends is incredibly authentic. King and Carpenter have always had a great eye for teen talent and it comes through in resounding fashion. 

Looking back at Christine nearly 40 years later it’s easy to get caught up in a jaundiced view of this horror classic. It’s mostly, save for a well timed bit at the end of the film, void of jump scares and instead relies on the transformational and maniacal shift in uber-nerd Arnie. In much the same way that Dr. Frankenstein concocts his monster and also goes through a significant life change, so does Arnie. The difference of course is that Arnie takes on the coolest of the cool persona, whereas Dr. Frankenstein just goes stark raving mad. But the idea is the same — obsessing over the idea of bringing the inanimate back to life. We’re not saying King ripped-off Shelley, but the fundamental underpinnings are awfully similar. 

ATMOSfx! Woo!
John Carpenter sharing a non-horrifying moment with Keith Gordon.

By all accounts, Christine was a big budget Hollywood production. Carpenter was at the top of his game. Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing. All back-to-back-to-back. And all leading to auto terror — Christine. Producer Richard Korbitz, involved with the made-for-TV miniseries Salem’s Lot, was hot on the idea of Carpenter helming something King-related, but as the early 1980s hotness, he was unavailable. When Christine became available as a property, Carpenter was intrigued, but ultimately didn’t think there were many scares to be had. 

Arguably, Carpenter was right. The scares, like many of Kings books and projects, don’t come from chainsaws, ghosts, and gore, they come from an uneasy look at one’s own psychological constitution and the defects that we all face. Carpenter, thanks to an unassailable cast, is able to connect audiences with a credible and convincing teenage experience. 

Parental clashes, uncertainty about the feminine character from the male perspective (including an early performance by Kelly Preston) bullies, and the need for status all play out in a harmonious way. Sadly, while both Keith Gordon and John Stockwell stuck with the film industry, neither stuck too closely to the horror genre. 

In addition to the exceptional casting, dialogue, and acting is another mind-blowing John Carpenter soundtrack. Carpenter’s Tangerine Dream-like synth-opus is punctuated by a series of well known and well timed 1950s rock classics. The soundtrack is not overbearing. It sits perfectly in the background and is very additive and selective. Coming around at the perfect time, Carpenter and partner Alan Howarth hit all the spooky beats. 

In 1983, thanks to Spokane’s “Best Rock” (KEZE 106 FM), I was able to take in a free showing at the local IMAX theater with hundreds of Stephen King-addled stoners. In 2022, on the eve of Christine’s 40th anniversary, I was blessed to join my cat on the couch to take in one of Neflix’s better horror offerings. In both cases, I was duly impressed, but for entirely different reasons.

While the details of the Blumhouse reboot are largely unavailable, here’s to hoping they’re able to keep the same authenticity of the book and this 1983 spookshow. Gas up the rig, or plug in your EV, and scoot out to your local video store. You won’t be disappointed!

Christine is Rated R and currently streaming on Netflix.

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