Christine was not a film John Carpenter had planned on directing, as most of his films were personal projects, not just jobs. But after the poor reception that The Thing received, he needed a project that would jump-start his career. It may not be frightening. But sometimes, you need to make money to live on.
Richard Kobritz, who produced Salem’s Lot, was given some two unpublished manuscripts from King to consider for their next film adaptation. He chose this one over Cujo, as he felt that story was silly. One was “Christine” and the other was “Cujo.” Korbitz chose Christine because he thought Cujo was too silly.
This film was already in production as the book was being published. In its original prose form, it’s made clear that the original owner of the car, Roland D. LeBay, is the one possessing it. But in the film, from day one, there’s an evil force that powers this 1958 Plymouth Fury (a ’57 and two other Plymouth models, the Belvedere and the Savoy, were also used to create the car).
That malevolent spirit shows up on the assembly line, when Christine cuts a man’s hand off and then kills another worker who dares to ash his cigar on her upholstery.
Fast-forward 21 years and Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, Dressed to Kill) has only one friend — Dennis (John Stockwell, who became a director and helmed Blue Crush, Turistas and Crazy/Beautiful, amongst others). His life gets better when he buys Christine for $250, an action that no one understands.
Arnie not only restores the car, he restores himself. Tossing his glasses, he begins to become more arrogant and dresses like a 1950’s greaser. That allows him to hook up with the new girl in town, Leigh.
Dennis worries about Arnie, so he begins to study the dark past of his car — like how it killed its previous owner and his family. It tries to do the same to Leigh, jealous of anyone who gets close to its owner.
After a fight with Arnie leads to him being expelled, Buddy Repperton and his gang completely destroy Christine. As Arnie watches, it comes back to life, repairing itself and hunts the gang down, one by one. There’s an incredibly directed scene here where a flaming Christine (obviously this scene influenced the close of The Strangers: Prey at Night) chases Buddy to his death.
The murders don’t stop there, as Christine even kills Darnell (Robert Protsky, Grandpa Fred from Gremlins 2), the owner of the garage where Arnie fixed up the car. This leads state policeman Rudolph Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton, always a welcome face) to investigate Arnie.
Dennis and Leigh try to save Arnie by luring Christine to Darnell’s. They think it’s just the car coming to battle them, but Arnie is behind the wheel as it crashes, sending him flying through the windshield to his death. They finally get the car into a crusher, but even as it’s deposited into a junkyard as a cube, it’s already reforming to the tune of “Bad to the Bone.” If you look close enough, the singer of that song, George Thorogood, is working in the junkyard.
There’s a lot more that was jettisoned from the book, like how crooked Darnell was, the romance between Leigh and Dennis, Junkins getting killed by Christine and her coming back and hunting down the rest of the gang after she’s crushed.
There’s just enough Carpenter (and a great score alongside frequent collaborator Alan Howarth) to make this movie worthwhile. It’s not the best of his films. Nor the best King film. But it’s an enjoyable enough way to pass ninesome someodd minutes.