; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Saturday, November 01, 2014

It Came From the Garage: Remembering John Carpenter’s Film Adaptation of Stephen King’s 'Christine'

By Brandon E. - In 1983, two masters of horror collaborated on a film about an evil car that is still a hallmark of pop culture more than thirty years later. John Carpenter directed Christine, a film based on Stephen King's best-selling novel from the same year. The film made over $21 million and took its permanent spot in the annals of horror history. Read on to learn more about the meeting of the minds that resulted in Christine...

When the film adaptation of Christine came to pass, John Carpenter was one of horror's most in-demand directors after the incredible success of his slasher hit, Halloween. King was also at the height of his career with the success of his early work, a litany of best-sellers that included Cujo, The Stand, The Shining, and Carrie. In fact, he was so popular in 1983 that Christine went into production before the book even came out, and was released the same year. The collaboration between the two masters made complete sense, as both Carpenter and King were rabid fans of EC's horror comics of the 1950s, a style that heavily influenced the look and feel of Christine.

Christine is the story of high school nerd Arnie Cunningham, who becomes smitten by a hunk of junk 1958 Plymouth Fury he names Christine. After he purchases the car against the advice of his much cooler best friend Dennis, strange things begin happening as the car begins to restore itself. Soon enough, Arnie's tormentors start turning up dead. Arnie himself also begins to transform, getting a girlfriend named Leah even as he becomes obsessed with Christine.

The film had a generally good critical reception, with over 65 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and four stars from Roger Ebert, who praised the film's menacing tone and creepy atmosphere. While the film is quite faithful to the book, there are a few key subplots that were trimmed for the theatrical version. In the novel, Arnie begins smuggling for a shady garage owner in exchange for space and is arrested; also, when Arnie and Leah hit a rough patch over his obsession with Christine, a romance between Dennis and Leah blooms.

While Christine is certainly not the first work to feature vehicles that begin to act of their own accord – King himself covered the topic in a story in 1978's Night Shift ‒ it is certainly the foremost in our minds even today when the topic of a killer car arises. This endurance is almost certainly due to the star power of Carpenter and King, both still considered pillars of the horror genre decades after their debuts.

The dangers of the technological age (especially with the added knowledge of current automated security systems and even home appliances with their cameras and internet connectivity) are certainly a theme in both the novel and the film. In one interview, Stephen King notes that Christine and technology in general in the book are a symbol of the end of innocence. As teenagers learn to drive and become interested in rock and roll, they gain freedom, a freedom that often comes with substantial danger. It's this danger of coming of age that makes the biggest impact in both the novel and film of Christine.