With a slight divine diversion last week, we’re back to the past picture prowess of all things 80’s – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! Today we’re heading down the road in one good-looking car from hell guaranteed to get your cinematic wheels turning. It’s a tasty terror tale ala one of the movie masters of suspense John Carpenter (we’re gonna be paying tribute to his work the next few weeks – deal with it!) that features an unusual relationship between a man and his…Plymouth Fury? Obsession, jealousy and plenty of car carnage awaits when you ride shotgun inside…Christine!
Arnie Cunningham is a geeky teen with adolescent issues. He’s quiet, dorky, a much desired object of ridicule via school bullies and his football playing best friend Dennis is the only one who will stick up for him. But one day Arnie spots an old beaten up red 1958 Plymouth Fury on a local old man’s lawn and immediately falls in love. Seeing that Arnie is infatuated with the vehicle, the old man decides to part with his brother’s car, named Christine, but not before letting Arnie know that his brother had committed suicide inside. Unwavering in his devotion, Arnie takes it anyway, makes a deal with a local repair junkyard and begins to restore his beloved Christine. But the gal on four wheels is not the only thing undergoing change…
Cryptic description above (and yes, ominous on purpose for those who have not seen the film!) I think is a fitting tribute to the eerie exploration of John Carpenter’s work in Christine. Taking what is essential a car from hell movie and giving it nuance, quirky characters and an ominous tone is a specialty of Carpenter’s and with Christine his magic touch elevates the material well beyond it’s seemingly one-note premise. Not that there aren’t other outside elements that add to the experience (the story from Stephen King and the visual prowess of Christine herself!), but tone and mood are always a huge part of what makes Carpenter’s work stand the test of time and matching his filmmaking prowess with King’s menacing prose proves film fruitful here. Not to mention that there are so many standout sequences with the stellar storytelling framework of Carpenter’s vision. Christine’s itchy introduction, her dispatching of various nefarious youths (bad guy Moochie’s beginning creatively with the toe tapping ditty Little Bitty Pretty One by Thurston Harris!) and of course the star of the practical pre-GCI show when a beaten Christine all but unbends and heals herself (all made possible via shooting backwards and playing the film in reverse!) all enhance a film already steeped in scary.
But no auto film would be five-star without a cast to carry the burden of believability and Carpenter assembles a good one. And while John Stockwell playing Arnie’s good natured friend, Alexandra Paul as Arnie’s new flame, Robert Prosky as the surly garage owner, Harry Dead Stanton as an inquisitive detective and baddies William Ostrander, Malcolm Denare, Steve Tash and Stuart Charno all provide great performances, it’s ultimately the standout work of a young Keith Gordon as the meek turned maniacal Arnie that matches the showy sheen of Christine. In a turn that’s layered, focused and goes from simple to sinister in one believable character arc, Gordon breathes a fascinating flawed human element into the film that could have simply been just another killer car movie.
There’s frankly not enough room to point out all the great elements that have made Christine a work of art that has stood the test of time. From savory songs to outstanding acting, from movie mood to vicious visuals, there’s something words cannot describe that makes Christine a classic. Show me – and Carpenter does.