When the conversation of ‘greatest car movie’ comes into question the default answers start flying. Bullit, Vanishing Point, and Gone in 60 Seconds all come to mind immediately. Rarely does the 1983 cult classic, Christine, find a home in the conversation, and yet it should easily be high on the list.
While I feel it’s silly to do, we will issue a spoiler alert warning for anyone that hasn’t seen the 34-year old film yet. It’s a great movie, go watch it right now if you haven’t already. Seen it? Good, now you may continue.
‘Christine’ is a film based on Stephen King’s novel of the same title. It was directed by the ever impressive John Carpenter. While it is not uncommon to see a movie based on a novel, it is uncommon to see one released so close together. From the time Stephen King’s books hit the shelves, it was only 8 short months before the movie was out as well. This was all possible thanks to producer, Richard Kobritz. Kobritz had worked with Mr. King in the past, stemming a working relationship. King forwarded two of his manuscripts, Cujo and Christine. Kobritz loved the thought-provoking Christine and purchased the rights to it.
The film is centered around a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury, possibly the perfect car for such a role. The car is absolutely gorgeous with its massive tailfins, as well as its quad headlights and massive grill. It’s a car that drips with personality, even if it is that of a demon. Because Plymouth only produced roughly 5,000 Fury’s, they have become increasingly rare. Even in 1983, they were becoming scarce, resulting in the studio doing its magic and converting Belvederes and Savoys to look like the incredible Fury. All in all 24 cars were used to assemble a total of 17 working examples for the movie. Of those 17 only 2 examples would make it out of production intact. No wonder Christine had a chip on her shoulder.
Because John Carpenter doesn’t miss a beat, he was able to make the car come to life in incredible ways. Even from the beginning, Christine is just a little different, but you don’t know why. For starters, the original Fury only came in one color, Buckskin Beige. If you look closely on the assembly line you can see Christine is the only fury in cherry red, a sign of things to come.
The movie follows Arnie Cunningham(Keith Gordon) through his troubling times in high school. Arnie is the proverbial nerd, broken glasses and all. He even gets bullied by a greaser, in shop class. It’s got all the makes for an epic transformation and that’s exactly what we get. Anie relies on his good friend, and popular jock, Dennis Guilder(John Stockwell). While driving in Dennis’s own badass 1968 Dodge Charger Arnie sees her, Christine. Now it’s not the glamorous red Fury we know and love, instead, it’s a heaping pile of rust with a bone-chilling backstory. In typical fashion, the mysterious old man selling the car talks like a crypt keeper. Arnie is sold, blowing his entire summers savings on his new beat up Plymouth.
From there on as Christine is slowly restored to her former glory, Arnie starts going through changes of his own. He ditches the glasses, gets some new clothes and lands the hottest girl in school. And while those sound like great things, it’s his personality that changes the most. He goes from loveable nerd to arrogant sociopath. And Christine does the same. After the greasers get their revenge on Arnie’s car, the true nature of Christine comes to life. The car repairs itself, before wreaking havoc on several members of the town. It becomes obvious that the car is controlling Arnies life, and it is up to Dennis and Arnie’s new girlfriend, Leigh Cabot(Alexandra Paul) to destroy the Fury once and for all.
The reason this is one of the greatest car movies of all time is the personality Carpenter gave this Fury. Christine is sinister, and they manage that with a few choice radio stations, some clever lighting and beautiful film work. The few car ‘stunts’ that are in this movie are top notch, no CGI needed. Lastly, the car repairing itself scene is one of the most brilliant moments of automotive film. They managed it through rubber panels as well as doing reverse photography. Basically, they crumpled the car and played it backward. But when you are halfway through you really get sucked into the idea that Christine is coming alive.
While it may not have the chase scenes that make other car movies great, this one has a car with true personality. John Carpenter brought this Fury to life with his film work, creating a character out of an object. Sprinkle in a flaming freeway chase, and you have a stunning car movie.