Christine

Director; John Carpenter (USA). Year of Release: 1983.

Detroit, 1957, A shining red car stands in a production line of duller white vehicles. One of the auto workers needs to take a closer look, and approaches the car … which assaults him. Another worker goes in and sits in the front seat. As everyone leaves at the end of the shift, suddenly the car radio starts blaring. When the foreman looks to see what’s happening, the worker’s body rolls out onto the floor.

Fast forward 20 years. The titles say 1979, but we’re really in the territory mid-70s film land of American Graffiti and Grease. Where school students all drive cars, and (American) football stars make out with cheerleaders. Where the nerd gets bullied by some hairy blokes who are presumably supposed to be students, but look 20 years too old. At least. Where the boys make lascivious jokes about the “hot” girls, who in turn all wear Farrah Fawcett perms.

We are, in short, in a world which never really existed. Following these cinematic fantasies, Arnie, a nerd who wears glasses is best friends with the school (American) football star Dennis. Arnie gets trapped in a downstairs classroom by bullies who stamp on his glasses and pull a flick knife on him. Dennis unsuccessfully tries to come to Arnie’s rescue, but he is only really saved when a teacher comes and Arnie tells on them. The bullies are expelled, and Arnie has made enemies for life.

Driving home, Arnie spies a rusting red car, falling apart in a field. Apparently its owner no longer needs it, being dead and all that – we later learn that he filled himself with carbon monoxide inside the car. Arnie is insistent that he must have the car – which the seller says is called Christine – and is from the sort of nice, middle class family which means he has $250 (1979 prices) lying around. When his parents don’t allow him to park the car at home, he rents a space at Darnell’s car lot.

The acquisition of Christine seems to provoke a change in Arnie. He ditches the glasses, and starts to date the school hottie (don’t blame me, this is the sort of language that’s prevalent in the film) Leigh. He becomes an arrogant shit, although seeing as he started the film as a snivelling, timid shit, that’s not as long a journey as it might be. And he sees Dennis less and less, even though Dennis was hospitalised while playing (American) football.

Christine also starts to get a bit moody. When Arnie and Leigh visit the drive in cinema in the pouring rain, Christine’s doors lock halfway through the film. 1950s music starts playing and Leigh starts choking. She’s only saved when a passer by gives her the Heimlich manoeuvre. Similar incidents happen whenever the car gets close to any of Arnie’s adversaries – silence followed by loud fifties music and an attack. Things get so bad that a police investigator starts asking questions.

Relations between Arnie and Leigh start to become strained, with her – not without reason – claiming that he cares more about his car than he does about her. Arnie spends all his spare time at Darnell’s garage restoring the car, which no longer looks like a piece of scrap. If you want to get elaborate about this (and you really shouldn’t), Arnie’s love empowers Christine to take control and go on her killing spree.

Christine, the film, is pure hokum of course, and doesn’t even try to present an intelligible plot – although there are worse crimes in film than this. To it’s credit, while the film goes through its improbable (strike that, insane) scenarios with a straight face, it never takes itself too seriously. In a different universe, there is a film like this that proudly states that it contains important metaphors about the human condition. Such a film would be utterly unwatchable.

Instead, Christine plays it for laughs, and though I was never taken over by the roars of hilarity in parts of this evening’s cinema, there was something funny in a film that takes all the stereotypes of a High School movie and then disregards them so blatantly. So yes, it was full of stupid characters, but that was kind of the point. And while I don’t care enough for cars to fully buy into the satire of motor obsessives, you kind of got where it was trying to go with this.

Christine was directed by John Carter and based on a book by Stephen King, and you’ve got to admit that both have been responsible for much better films. At the same time, it’s an inoffensive film – in both a positive and negative sense. You can go and watch it and spend a pleasant enough evening in the cinema. There’s nothing to complain about, ever if there’s not too much that’s that memorable either. There are some spectacular individual scenes, but it’s an incomplete whole.

There’s enough here to enjoy, but not enough for you to make an effort to seek it out. A horror film that’s not scary, a satire that’s not particularly funny, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s perfectly ok.

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