Meet Christine, Herbie's Evil Cousin
When college geek, Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) buys a beaten up old car in the hope of restoring it to its former glory, it seems to take over his life. Spending more and more time repairing his beloved car, he shuns his friends and families concerns as he becomes moody and unstable. But it is not just Arnie's moods which raise concern, as the car seems to have a violent life of its own, reeking revenge on anyone which attempts to get between them.
To be honest I am not one for horror movies, especially those from the current crop which seem to work on the basis of showing as much blood and guts as possible to gain a reaction from the viewer. On the odd occasion that I fancy a horror flick, I usually find myself watching one from years back where they managed to scare the audience through suspense rather than blood and guts, one in particular which I always enjoy is "Christine". Directed by John Carpenter and adapted from a Stephen King novel, the film manages to build up suspense throughout its entire duration with out resorting to in your face gore. But to be honest, the plot and suspense is not the reason why I first encountered "Christine", it was the beautiful red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury which is undoubtedly the star of the film which grabbed my attention.
As already mentioned, "Christine" is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, and whilst I cannot comment on how true to the book the adaptation is, I will say that it makes for a thoroughly decent movie. Based firmly in the real world, whilst relying heavily on a wonderful fantasy element, it manages to mix both seemingly effortlessly, making the viewer forget that a car coming to life is that of pure fiction. What is quite surprising about "Christine" is that the plot to the film is amazingly simple, and revolves purely around just two elements, the transformation of Arnie from nerd to jerk and the car itself which appears to have a rather violent mind of his own. Both of these elements run in tandem, entwining to make the basis of a compelling story where, for the majority of the film, you actually find yourself siding with Arnie instead of his peers who seem to be interfering.
Of course a story about restoring an old car and getting annoyed with your friends is not going to be enough to please even the most easily pleased of minds. So tie in a few deaths and a mighty climax of good verses evil and you have a simple but packed movie, which won't require an immense amount of brain power to appreciate it. What is also very good about "Christine" is that, other than two minor sub plots, one featuring the school bullies who take delight in making Arnie's life a misery and the rather surprising romance between Arnie and the most attractive girl in school, there is not a lot else to detract from the main story.
There is no doubt in my mind that this engaging storyline would not have been so effective if it had not been handled by Horror supremo John Carpenter. Right from the outset of the film he builds up suspense using the simplistic of mechanics such as the car managing to lock a victim in all by itself, and it's stereo which seems to play only tunes from a bygone era which are relevant to what is happening at the time in the scene. But it is also how he manages to suck you into a scene so that you are so totally engrossed in what is going on that he will make you jump when something completely unexpected happens. Now I know some people prefer to be frightened by seeing blood and guts, but for me being made to jump out of my seat by the unexpected is a much better thrill.
Saying that, the film does use a certain amount of visual gore but nothing like today's movies and in some ways this element looks quite tame. This is where one of the problems lies with "Christine" as it is now nearly 25 years old and whilst the plot and suspense is still brilliant, the effects do look pretty dated. One such example is when the car manages to miraculously restore itself after being completely wrecked by the school bullies, you can tell how it has been done and is quite laughable compared to today's big budget CGI effects, but in some ways this dated approach actually adds to the films charm and makes it feel much more honest than today's big budget, CGI packed horrors.
What I also enjoy about Christine is that the stars are pretty minor league, except for maybe Harry Dean Stanton, allowing you to watch them without comparing them to previous roles. In the lead as Arnie Cunningham is Keith Gordon, who is absolutely brilliant at playing the nerdy, geek who suffers from a lack of confidence. Whilst I enjoyed his performance as the nerd, I must admit I struggled with how his character changed and it was not so much to do with a poor performance but more to do with it being a pretty unbelievable transformation. Despite this, I cannot really fault Gordon's performance; the same can be said for John Stockwell who plays his best friend Dennis Guilder, a school jock who has grown up as Arnie's best friend. There is a sort of rawness to both Stockwell's and Gordon's performances which make them believable as two high school mates.
Where the film is let down is by the casting of Alexandra Paul as Arnie's girlfriend, Leigh Cabot. Firstly I find the fact that an attractive girl would fall for Arnie hard to comprehend, but more importantly Paul's performance is so unbelievably weak that it falls into the category of your typical screaming girl which appears in most horror movies.
Compared to modern horror movies "Christine" does feel remarkably dated, and rather simplistic but this for me is part of its charm. With a decent plot and some brilliant suspense, interspersed with enough events to make you jump, this for me is a very good and enjoyable horror movie. My only real niggle is with the casting of Alexandra Paul as her ability as an actress is far from evident here. Of course the beautiful 1958 Plymouth Fury is a big attraction for me, but then I do like classic cars. Personally I would recommend this but it actually boils down to what you want from a horror movie. If you want blood and guts, with stunning effects then you will probably find this quite laughable, but if you want a film which will make you jump by using the unexpected then this is a must see.