At the Drive-In: Christine (1983)

drive-in Christine

MADRID, SPAIN – MAY 07: A general view of the Autocine Madrid Race open-air cinema from a car on May 07, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Autocine Madrid Race will reopen its doors on May 13 after closing due to the lockdown. Spain is opening new businesses as hairdressers, delivery food restaurants and book shops after weeks of lockdown. Spain has had more than 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 26,000 reported deaths, although the rate has declined after weeks of lockdown measures. (Photo by David Benito/Getty Images)

There are a lot of movies that feature cars, and some classics where the cars are the stars, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Herbie The Love Bug to the Back to the Future and the Fast and the Furious series.

But there is one movie where the car outperforms most of the human actors and looks quite fabulous doing it. I am of course talking about the 1983 John Carpenter adaptation of the Stephen King novel Christine.

The film (and novel) center around a bloodthirsty 1958 Plymouth Fury that murders an assembly line worker, presumably for spilling cigar ash on her (I generally oppose anthropomorphizing vehicles, but this was Stephen King’s choice, not mine) pristine seats.

After Christine kills a young family, she sits rusting in a field for 20 years until socially awkward high school student Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) and his improbable best friend, football star Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell) happen across her.

Arnie, convinced Christine is his ticket to cool, and over the objections of his friend, buys Christine and makes an arrangement to trade odd jobs around Darnell’s Garage for a place to restore her to her shiny chrome-laden glory.

Meanwhile, the man who sold Christine to Arnie confesses to Dennis that after the deaths of his niece and sister-in-law, he made his brother get rid of the car. But she returned later to finish him off, and after sitting idle for so long is hungry for blood.

The now-cherry Christine distracts Dennis during a game and he suffers a nondescript leg injury that puts him on crutches for the rest of the film. Arnie – now halfway to cool-ish – later brings his new girlfriend Leigh (Alexandra Paul) to the drive-in, where Christine tries to kill her with a hamburger.

A stranger saves her with the Heimlich maneuver (which had only been made common knowledge nine years before the movie’s release), but she and Dennis are now convinced the car is evil.

Things escalate when four thugs trash Christine after an incident in a shop class involving a switchblade and a spineless teacher, and it’s now we are granted our first look at Christine’s regenerative powers.

One of the young ruffians actually poops on Christine’s dashboard, although this scene and Arnie’s mention of said poop have been cut from the most current broadcast versions.

Two runnings over and one exploded gas station later, the four punks are dead and a flaming Christine returns to the garage and kills a curious Darnell (Robert Prosky) for dessert.

All these murders finally draw the attention of detective Rudy Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton), but he has no evidence to convict Arnie (who has gone past cool-ish to full on ghoulish), and isn’t quite ready to go to his boss with the self-repairing homicidal car theory.

So it’s up to Dennis and Leigh to stop Christine, and the movie’s climax comes when the two plucky teens take down the beast using Darnell’s rusty old front end loader, but not after Christine nearly mows Leigh down and ejects Arnie’s corpse through the windshield.

The film ends at a wrecking yard where Christine has been turned into a cube, but as our heroes walk away relieved, we see Christine start to straighten herself out again. This seemed like an obvious open avenue for Christine II, but thankfully that never came.

The movie got deservedly lukewarm reviews on its initial release, which rightfully called out the fairly wooden dialogue and one-dimensional characters. Both Stockwell and Gordon went on to greater success as directors than as actors, and the most talented performers – Stanton, Prosky, and Christina Belford as Arnie’s mom – have among the smallest parts.

Christine’s mystique is also unexplored. Why is she murderous? Is there any disposal method that would end her once and for all? And was she in control when the four bullies were murdered, or was that Arnie? Is her power physical, psychic, or both?

Most of Christine’s seven kills aren’t terribly fear-inducing, although her choice of music to accompany her violent acts ranges does get creepy when she’s not trying to be funny about it.

The book does expose a little more of her backstory, but relative to its popularity as both a film and a book, isn’t one of King or Carpenter’s strongest efforts. But the car is so damn beautiful, it just doesn’t matter.

Christine is harmless fun, and like anything once popular, it is up for a reboot. Ordinarily the best one of these decades-later nostalgia-driven remakes are shadows of the originals, but Bryan Fuller and Jason Blum have strong sci-fi credibility and hopefully will make inspiring casting decisions.

Unlike any car manufactured since that era, this remake might actually be better than the original.