CHRISTINE (director: John Carpenter; screenwriters: based on the novel by Stephen King/Bill Phillips; cinematographer: Donald M. Morgan; editor: Marion Rothman; music: John Carpenter; cast: Keith Gordon (Arnie Cunningham), John Stockwell (Dennis Guilder), Alexandra Paul (Leigh Cabot), William Ostrander (Buddy), Malcolm Danare (Moochie),Robert Prosky (Will Darnell),Harry Dean Stanton (Rudolph Junkins), Roberts Blossom (Roland Le Bay), Christine Belford (Regina Cunningham), David Spielberg (Mr Casey); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Richard Kobritz; Columbia Tri-Star Pictures; 1983)
“Slickly made dumb horror flick about a diabolical car and a nerd transformed into a lady killer.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
John Carpenter (“Halloween”/”Dark Star”/”Assault on Precinct 13“)directs this slickly made dumb horror flick about a diabolical car and a nerd transformed into a lady killer when he possesses the car and obsesses over it. After a promising start telling about bullies in high school making life difficult for a nerd, it stalls out as a cheap thrill revenge of the nerd pic. It’s based on the novel by Stephen King and is written by Bill Phillips. What scares might have worked on the written page don’t work when transferred to the screen.
In 1958, a shiny red and white Plymouth Fury comes off the assembly-line in Detroit and one worker is injured and another killed handling the car. We flash forward to 1978, in the suburban town of Rockbridge, in Northern California, where the horn-rim sporting misfit Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) is bullied in shop class by the switch-blade wielding punk named Buddy (William Ostrander). After surviving a rough first day back to school from his summer holiday, to start his senior season, Arnie is driven home by his best friend Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell), the school’s football star. When passing by a run down shack, Arnie spots a For Sale sign for that same 1958 Plymouth, all battered and rusted-out, and with love at first sight buys it, even after told by the new owner Roland Le Bay (Roberts Blossom) about the car’s deadly history, of people dying in it, including the former owner, Roland’s brother, who committed suicide in it and his daughter who choked to death in it. Arnie’s also told the car goes by the name of Christine. But Arnie’s nagging mom (Christine Belford) refuses to let him keep the car at home, so the kid, desperately seeking independence, works out a deal with surly local garage owner Will Darnell (Robert Prosky), so that he can garage the car and restore it on the premises with spare parts from the junk pile if he does odd jobs around the garage. At the same time Arnie gets the car, he throws away his glasses and with his new handsome looks wins over the new coed Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul), the school beauty. But they have a spat, as the car seemingly gets jealous of Leigh for stealing Arnie away and oldie 1950 rock tunes go on automatically on the car radio. Leigh gets locked in the car, as she chokes on the snack she’s eating until saved by a stranger.
The film is bearable up until this point, but turns ugly and witless and devoid of dramatics when Buddy and his punk friends destroy the Plymouth to get even for being punished at school for their attack on the nerd and then the nerd’s revenge on the punks comes about. The car, if you wish to believe, restores itself and bids Arnie to chase down the four punks who destroyed the car and with a crazed Arnie behind the wheel the car kills all the punks brutally.
If it was aiming for black comedy, the second half of the film has that go up in flames, turning it instead into just a special effects car wreck pic that’s an unpleasant watch. Ultimately, it just turns out to be another poor adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. When it plays ‘Boney Moronie’ on the car radio, not only do the passengers suffocate but so does the discerning viewer who expected something more substantial. It’s that kind of misguided pic, that believes its flashy car act can really put it over the top.
REVIEWED ON 1/8/2011 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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