We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, and Harry Dean Stanton
When I first really discovered and started really digging the work of John Carpenter, I was hooked. I loved the cohesiveness he gave his movies. The darkness, the pacing, the music, the loneliness of his world. It felt unique, and he really had his shit for more than a decade. Of course, a few movies didn’t really fit with the others like Starman (more of a drama) and his first novel adaptation, which smartly he picked a dude making a name for himself in Stephen King. For a Carpenter film, it's one of the few of his early works that doesn't completely feel like one of the others.
Under the examination: Christine.
THE STORY: A geeky high school kid named Arnie (Gordon) falls in love with a piece of shit 1958 Plymouth Fury, which his best friend Dennis (Stockwell) tries to talk him out of buying. Arnie does it anyway and suddenly things start changing for him. He dresses a little sharper. He gains some confidence. And he slowly becomes…well, evil. What he doesn’t realize comes from his car, Christine, which is one evil car with a mind of its own. It seems to choose its owners carefully and kills anyone who tries to mess with him or it. And that’s the basically the plot.
Worst first car ever? Doubt any can top it.
WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: I’m going to sound contradictory at times in this review, but that’s what Christine ends up as. It’s a slasher movie with multiple parts: revenge, high school drama, possession, and obsession. That’s a lot of parts but mostly it all comes together to work because the movie focuses on the Fury, which Carpenter never reveals too much about it, leaving the unexplained power of it to drive the film. I’ve never read King’s book, but it’s well reported that Carpenter altered quite a lot, including the purpose of the car (the book made it clear it held the soul of a man). I like that Carpenter shows that it was born evil direct from the assembly line. While all over cars were painted alike, Christine had her own damn thing going on. And just as Carpenter made Michael Myers a mute icon, he does the same here and probably could have swapped Myers for the car and the movie wouldn’t play much different.
I also enjoy Gordon and Stockwell. They play well together, and we can really feel the distance that grows between them. Dennis is the cool dude who still hangs around a nerd who doesn’t deserve a friend like him. But it’s his shown loyalty that makes Arnie’s transformation painful. They seem like real friends, and it hurts Dennis as much as it hurts to the audience to see Arnie become a complete asshole.
Oh...and Harry Dean Stanton plays a random detective here and he really doesn’t have anything to do, but he still brings that HDS presence to the flick, and it makes you wish Carpenter had brought him back into the fold a few more times or gave him a chance to anchor a movie. He looked like he belongs in these worlds.
Best scene in the movie has a fat guy running for his life. Yep.
WHAT BLOWS NOW: For a R-rated John Carpenter feature, this thing is light on gore factor. I’d understand if this truly wanted to reach broader audience with a lot implied shit happening to ensure that PG rating (PG-13 wasn’t around yet), but that didn’t seem the goal. Instead, we get plenty of tough teenage talk with the violence lighter than Gremlins. Hell, there wasn’t even a trace of nudity.
At times, Christine plays like a weak and dated high school tale, barely rising above an ABC Family drama of the week. Hell, the high school angle itself ends up unimportant and silly especially since most of the students look anywhere from 28 - 35. And while I generally enjoy Gordon’s performance, he isn't very good or convincing when Arnie loses it. Once Christine's powers overtake him, Gordon didn’t seem up to the task of providing a realistic level of crazy. He ends up looking like a cheese dick pretending to have a case of the possessions.
Somehow, the most annoying element came from the bullies. Maybe they were too old for the role or they were just too clichéd, but it all seemed too easy and obvious. And perhaps that’s the main flaw of Christine. It doesn’t offer any true surprises. Entertaining, yes, but original…no. It has all the Carpenter elements that fans crave (including his music) but somehow it's still missing something. Maybe it also comes from it not being his idea. Sure, The Thing wasn't his story, but he made that one his own. Christine feels only like part of him.
Christine is possessed with Darth Vader's choking skills.
(Oh, a side note, somehow I got obsessed with seeing actor Steven Tate here, who plays one of the bullies. His main claim to fame came from his role as the guinea pig student in Ghostbusters. He only made a few movies in the 80s, but what the hell did he do after that? It’s a bit of a mystery. Anyone know?)
THE VERDICT: Christine is probably an iconic horror movie, perhaps the iconic killer car character, but I wish it had more meat to it. It could be darker, meaner, and we could be given a little more time with the car to build more suspension and tension. More so, I wanted this to play more like a Carpenter film. It has moments like the car chase of victim number 1 (the chubby bully), but most Christine ends up feeling light. It’s entertaining still, but the Test of Time proves this one shows some real rust.
Carpenter (probably) said: "This is a car. It's a bad car. That's all they need to know."