Christine (1983)

Not to be confused with the Christine Chubbuck biopic Christine (2016), Christine (1983) is a John Carpenter movie about an evil car.

It sounds stupid, and it probably is, but Carpenter’s ability as a filmmaker yields B-movie magic. From a novel by Stephen King (isn’t everything?), who’d revisit the cursed car idea in the quietly compelling From a Buick 8, Carpenter plays the source material fairly straight. Cruising the same strange suburban settings he haunted in Halloween, he takes a concept that could so easily have been a car crash, and makes something oddly convincing.

This has much to do with the car herself – she is explicitly female, a point feminist academic Carol J. Clover finds significant: “Christine’s femininity is not a side issue; it is the central one.” Upon finding Christine, the nerdy Arnold Cunningham (also the name of the protagonist in The Book of Mormon, presumably not by coincidence) falls in love with the car, which slowly turns him evil. Maybe that’s what happened to Jeremy Clarkson.

To Arnold, Christine is an object of desire, and the two begin an intense relationship, starting with dates at the drive-in (with the pretext of there being another woman in the car) and ending in a jealous, murderous rampage – as every romance must. “She’s real sensitive,” Arnie explains; possessive as well as possessed. Once under Christine’s spell, the emasculated Cunningham (nicknamed “Cuntingham” by his classmates) takes on an exaggerated masculinity; toxic, hostile and violent.

Keith Gordon plays Arnie well – first as a geek, then a stud, and finally a bastard. John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul and Harry Dean Stanton provide good support, but the car is the star of the show. Through robust hydraulic effects, stunt work and inspired direction, Christine feels truly alive; cooler than Lightning McQueen, more personality than KITT and better music than Bumblebee (really, Linkin Park? What is this, 2002?).

Christine’s fondness for playing 1950s music as she slaughters gives the film a memorable rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack, while Carpenter’s own idiosyncratic score provides a distinctive atmosphere that modern horror films seem obsessed with trying to replicate. Meanwhile, shows like Futurama and Ash vs Evil Dead have revved up evil cars of their own, clearly inspired by Christine. But when it comes to Christines practised in the dark arts, accept no imitations.

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