Face-Off: The Car vs. Christine

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

The goofball family film MONSTER TRUCKS, which is about trucks being powered by monstrous creatures, isn’t really Arrow in the Head material and isn’t exactly setting the box office on fire, but its release is responsible for inspiring this week’s Face-Off, as it got me thinking about horror movies in which vehicles are powered by otherworldly forces. Specifically, it got me thinking about Elliot Silverstein’s 1977 drive-in classic THE CAR and John Carpenter’s 1983 Stephen King adaptation CHRISTINE. Both are entertaining films, but which would come out the winner in a head-to-head match-up? Up for the challenge, the homicidal sentient cars are revving their engines at the starting line, so let’s wave the flag and get this race started.
THE CAR is often described as being “JAWS with a car”, since it’s about a small community being invaded at a time of celebration by a deadly force of nature and it’s up to a family man police officer to bring the reign of terror to an end. The Car speeds through the desert countryside around the town of Santa Ynez much like Bruce the shark prowled the sea around Amity Island, taking the lives of random victims unlucky enough to cross paths with it. This isn’t on the same level as JAWS, of course, but it’s a fun ride built around a very cool concept that allows for some exciting action sequences and effective moments of tension.
CHRISTINE is a car that was “born bad”, claiming its first victims before it even rolled off the assembly line. Its owner became obsessed with it, so much that he kept driving it even after his young daughter choked to death inside it. And after his wife killed herself in it. Six weeks after he kills himself inside Christine, the car is purchased by a meek teenager who also becomes obsessed with it. The longer the car is in his possession, the more he seems to be possessed himself, and the people who care about him become determined to separate vehicle and driver. The possession angle allows for character drama that is even more involving than the car action.
THE CAR is a very unique looking vehicle, a true one of a kind that was created for the film by customizing a Lincoln Continental Mark III. Within the story, The Car is something straight out of Hell, powered by evil forces, with no driver at the wheel. Accompanied by an unnatural wind, honking its horn obnoxiously, and making noises no man-made engine would make, The Car is on a mission to mow down the innocent. The only way to be safe from it is to be an unrepentant sinner or to seek refuge on hallowed ground. For example, if you go into a cemetery The Car won’t be able to follow you through the gates.
CHRISTINE is a classic beauty, a crimson and ivory 1958 Plymouth Fury. There is no explanation for its malignancy, it’s just an evil force that is a bad influence on its owner. She demands devotion, but is also loving and loyal in return – you can tell this by the classic pop tunes she plays over her radio to communicate with the occupants. Her devotion is also demonstrated through the murders she commits to get rid of anyone who messes with her owner and anyone who threatens to get in between her and her love. It’s incredible how such a nice looking vehicle can have such a heavy, chilling screen presence.
The primary characters to go up against The Car are the Santa Ynez police force, which is made up of some interesting characters, like the soft-hearted sheriff, the deputy struggling with alcoholism, and single father Wade Parent, whose biggest concern before The Car showed up was how to introduce his young daughters to his new girlfriend. The police aren’t sure what they’re dealing with here, but they put in a valiant effort to stop The Car’s killing spree. Wade is a serviceable hero; he’s nothing special, but he’s a good guy with noble purpose.
While Dennis Guilder cares for his friend Arnie Cunningham and becomes deeply concerned for his well-being when he falls under the spell of Christine, he’s also bland enough that he can be absent for a large portion of the story and not be particularly missed. Even blander than him is Arnie’s girlfriend Leigh Cabot. It’s Arnie himself who is by far the most intriguing character; it’s fascinating to watch him transform from a meek nerd into an off-balance villain who can appear to be his normal self one second and violently snap the next.
This car out of Hell isn’t very choosy about who it kills, it will run down anyone who gets in its way – as long as that person is a good-to-decent human being. It will swerve around a lying, cheating, wife-beating bully, but others are run over, knocked off a bridge, pushed down a cliff, and killed in spectacular collisions. The most jaw-dropping death comes when one of the most likeable characters in the film, school teacher Lauren Humphries, is in a place you would think is safe: inside her own home. We find out that if a house gets in The Car’s way, it will just launch itself straight through the structure.
Those who pick on Christine’s owner and/or cause damage to the car itself can expect to face deadly retribution. That’s what happens to high school bully Buddy Repperton and his three lackeys, who Christine wipes out over the course of two nights out on the town. Victims are smashed against walls, caught in large explosions, run down by Christine while she’s engulfed in flames… The overly curious don’t fare much better. When someone other than Arnie sits in Christine’s driver’s seat, the seat moves forward to crush the man against the steering wheel. The violence is sporadic, but it delivers when it flares up.
The Car appears to be absolutely indestructible, coming out of devastating wrecks – like when it purposely flips itself so it can roll over two oncoming police cruisers – without a scratch on it. Attempts to shoot out its tires have no effect, as every inch of The Car is bulletproof. A person can’t even try to get inside and take over the wheel because the doors have no handles. How do you deal with an unstoppable force? A plan is put together involving a cliff and explosives… The initial result looks positive, but we’re left with some doubt. The Car might still be out there, in perfect condition. If so, it can’t be stopped no matter what is done to it.
When Arnie first lays eyes on Christine, she’s a total mess. It takes him a lot of time and effort to get her back into pristine shape, but as it turns out that time and effort may have been a waste because Christine is capable of healing herself when she has sustained damage. Dents pop back into shape, broken pieces reassemble. Shattered glass? No problem. It’s not clear how much damage is too much for Christine to recover from, so heavy machinery is employed to put her to the test. Seeing Christine take damage and recover from it is more satisfying than watching a car that can’t be scratched, but it also gives hope that she could be stopped for good.
This was a close one, it was one of those Face-Offs that could have gone in any way – a tie, a CHRISTINE win, or a win for THE CAR – and in fact it did turn out in each way at different points while the article was being put together. In the end, I have THE CAR taking the win with a very narrow victory. A photo finish, with The Car’s bumper crossing the finish line just ahead of Christine’s. CHRISTINE has the more interesting character drama, but I find The Car to be the more badass vehicle of the two. You can sweet talk Christine, you can grind the Fury up into tiny pieces, but you can’t reason with or damage The Car from Hell.

Do you agree with the final outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think one of the other two possible outcomes was the way to go? Share your thoughts on these films in the comments section below, and also let us know what some of your other favorite vehicle-based horror movies are. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can send those in to [email protected].

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.