Never get between a man and his car.
An underrated horror flick, even by its own director, Christine gets a spiffy looking transfer from Columbia TriStar but with a disappointingly meager scrap of extra content.
I have read elsewhere that director John Carpenter is not terribly enamored of this film and seems to consider it one of his worst efforts. This is a puzzle to me, because I think Christine is far more worthy of praise than most other representatives of its genre. I am generally not a horror film fan, probably because if I want to see real horror I can go to work and look through some homicide case files. Horror films that grab my interest tend to be more understated, using actual violence sparingly and slowly building a creepy mood, emphasizing psychological elements over pure shock value. In this category, I appreciate films like The Shining, Christine, and even Alien.
Christine is the story of a cherry-red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury. Even from its earliest beginnings on the assembly line in Detroit, we know that this is not your usual car. Perhaps it is a clue when "Bad to the Bone" plays over this scene? This one seems to have a personality, and strange powers to do harm. Jumping ahead twenty years, we find ourselves in Rockbridge, California, meeting two very different high school seniors, jock Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell) and nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon). Arriving at school one fine day, this odd couple is smitten by a new student, Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul), who is as smart as she is attractive. After Arnie has an unpleasant run-in with tough-guy punk Buddy (William Ostrander), Dennis and Arnie drive home, stopping on the way to meet Arnie's true love—Christine.
She has had a rough life, and looks quite the worse for the wear, but with Arnie it is love at first sight. Christine is for sale, the prior owner having tragically died after a long and dangerous obsession with her. Arnie is not fazed at all, and strikes a quick bargain with the deceased's odd brother, George LeBay (Roberts Blossom). Arnie's parents are shocked that he bought the car without their approval, which is most unlike him. They do force Arnie to find a new home for his junk heap, which brings us to Darnell's Garage. Darnell (Robert Prosky) is a grouchy old slob, but he lets Arnie have a spot at the back of his garage. By hard work and devoted scrounging in Darnell's scrap pile, Arnie makes dramatic progress on Christine in only a few weeks. He does such a good job that he even impresses Darnell, who gives him a job at the garage in return for parts and money for Christine.
Arnie is slowly changing, being much more rebellious to his parents, less concerned with spending time with Dennis, and looking less and less like the helpless nerd that he used to be. His life increasingly revolves around Christine, and everyone else in his life is worried. At a big football game, Dennis is so distracted by the appearance of Christine and the shocking sight of Arnie publicly making out with the unattainable Leigh Cabot that he suffers a career-ending injury. Ominously, Buddy and his crew of punks also takes note, and it is clear they mean to take some revenge on Arnie.
Arnie has definitely changed from the shy, awkward teen, as he now gets very hot and heavy during a rainy night at the drive-in with Leigh. However, Leigh cools his jets and tells Arnie that he's been spending too much time on Christine. Very quickly, we learn that Christine is definitely the jealous type. The doors lock of their own volition, the radio plays a sweetly menacing tune, and Leigh very nearly chokes to death while Arnie looks on helplessly. Arnie tries to patch things up, with dubious success, and then drops Christine off at Darnell's garage. Buddy and his punks are waiting, and when Arnie leaves, they unleash an orgy of destruction.
His rage and obsession take an even deeper turn, as he is so keen on rebuilding Christine that his parents live in fear of their own son. This time, weeks of work are unnecessary, as Christine brings herself back to life to the eerie strains of "Harlem Nocturne." It's time for some other-worldly payback, as Moochie discovers when he comes face to bumper with the driverless and revenge-minded Christine. Everyone is suspicious of Arnie when Moochie turns up dead, particularly State Police Det. Rudolph Junkins (Harry Dean Stanton), but nothing definitive is found to link Arnie to the crime. Christine's not done yet, catching up with Buddy and friend late at night and administering her own brand of Detroit justice. Damage, explosion, and fire do not slow Christine down; they only make her madder, it seems.
The tragedy only increases, as fickle Christine turns on Darnell. Wrong place, wrong time! By now, both Dennis and Leigh are certain that something is wrong with Arnie, and that the cause is Christine. Dennis attempts to reason with Arnie, but he is too far gone with his dark obsession. Knowing that they must save Arnie from certain destruction, Dennis and Leigh set a trap, hoping to destroy Christine and free their friend from her spell. In the end, tragedy cannot be avoided in order to bring a very final end to the seductively lethal 1958 Plymouth Fury.
Once again, Columbia TriStar does a top-flight job in presenting a stellar video presentation for an older catalog title. Not only do we get an anamorphic widescreen transfer, but it is absolutely crisp and clean, free of all but the most minor of flecks or blemishes. Flesh tones seem a little off in a number of scenes. I did not see any video noise or film grain, even in the numerous poorly lit or night-time scenes. Contrast levels are good and blacks are solid. Colors are as well saturated as you might expect for an older title, but Christine's cherry-red and white paint is very pretty on this DVD, making her the true star of this movie.
Audio is a good but unremarkable Dolby Surround mix. Dialogue is clean, but channel separation is somewhat limited. The music in key action scenes could do with a more substantial low end and explosions are rather flat, leaving your subwoofer with not a whole lot to do. Now that I think about it, there's not a lot going on at the high end either, so we're "stuck in the middle with you," as the song goes.
Acting is very good for a horror type of flick. Robert Prosky (perhaps best known for his role on Hill Street Blues) and Harry Dean Stanton are character actors par excellence, and certainly add flavor to this movie. Keith Gordon and John Stockwell turn in credible performances as mismatched high school friends, though Keith's transformation of Arnie from nerd to cool cat is not entirely convincing. Alexandra Paul, perhaps best known for her eventual role on Baywatch is suited to the simple role of the demure "new girl," and that's probably for the best.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the video and the acting are strong points for the disc, sadly the rest of the disc is not as solid. Not having read the original Stephen King book, I can't comment on how well it was adapted onto the big screen. What we do have is a decently paced script that builds the tension small step by small step. However, the build-up is a little too slow, and the final payoff is not as impressive as we might have expected. Also, don't try and figure out how or why Christine is possessed, as it is never explained.
Also, I am pained to report that the extras are rather disappointing, even for a Columbia TriStar catalog title. Other than some production notes in a two page insert and the usual talent bios and filmographies, that's it. Not even a lousy trailer, for this or any other film. The preferred Amaray keep case is used as packaging.
While I can understand why they wouldn't have a director's commentary for this movie, there should have been at least a few trailers, or some web links, or something.
For a horror flick that is not too gory, and not too taxing on the brain cells, I highly recommend an evening curled up with Christine, a bowl of popcorn, and your favorite adult beverage. If you are a Stephen King, or John Carpenter fan, go ahead and buy the disc, while the rest of you should consider the lack of extras and the average ($25) price.
Though perhaps a bit of a guilty pleasure, the film is acquitted, but Columbia TriStar is placed on supervised probation for having the poor judgment to release such a bare-bones disc.
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