Revisiting Christine

Hell hath no Fury... like a 1958 Plymouth.

Hell hath no Fury… like a 1958 Plymouth.

A guest contribution from Brandon Engel.

And you thought THE BIRDS was hard to swallow…

At least birds are a biological organism. They might not have much in the way of brains, but they still have brains. And wings. And talons. And strength in numbers. If they were to band together and say “That’s it! We’re wiping out humanity,” they could probably make an honest attempt at it. It is dubious that they would succeed, but they could try.

What about cars, though? Could those band together and kill us too? And if cars could, what about electric pencil sharpeners? Refrigerators? When you get into inanimate objects becoming vehicles for demonic possession in films or literature, you’re venturing into risky territory. However, Stephen King and John Carpenter showed that, while there is an inherent incredulousness to the premise, such a story, if told with a deft touch, can be authentically scary. The trick is to get to the root of the anxiety: Technophobia.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, humanity has been in the clutches of a persisting existential crisis. What are we in relation to automata, or factories, or objects that resemble humanity in either its form or function? What if the technology we construct were to begin to function autonomously of our will? At what point is technological innovation a liability to humanity? CHRISTINE is one of those stories that succeeds because of the strength of the execution, in both the novel and the film.

CHRISTINE (1983) was met with mixed reviews from critics, but nevertheless spent five weeks in the box office top ten. Fans couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous Plymouth Fury with a lust for blood. Even though its entire theatrical run lasted only six weeks, the film still holds a special place among horror enthusiasts. It is, after all, the project that brought two modern horror icons together.

Coming off his first commercial failure (THE THING [1982], which failed to compete with BLADE RUNNER and E.T.), John Carpenter was having difficulty securing funding for his next project. And then, the big screen adaptation for Stephen King’s CHRISTINE came across his desk. Stephen King was already a literary success, having published a string of popular Horror novels. By 1983, King had also proven that his work had drawing power in the box-office (e.g. Brian De Palma’s interpretation of CARRIE [1976], or Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING [1980].)

When I said I wanted the car to be "Fire-Engine Red," this is NOT what I had in mind!

When I said I wanted the car to be “Fire-Engine Red,” this is NOT what I had in mind!

The story is about an impotent, geeky kid named Arnie (portrayed in the film by Keith Gordon) who is inexplicably drawn to an old, dilapidated ’58 Plymouth Fury that he spots one day. He decides to buy the car to fix it up, but soon strange things begin happening. Not only does the car prove to have regenerative powers (very handy for when bullies pulverize it), but it also begins to transform Arnie from the inside out. He turns into a macho, greaser dirtbag. And what’s more, Christine is a jealous mistress. So much so, that the car attempts to asphyxiate Arnie’s girlfriend (Alexandra Paul).

However ridiculous this may all seem, think about how sophisticated technology has become since 1983. Now that we live in an age of self-driving cars, and fully automated home alarm systems, are we approaching a world where we have to keep an extra watchful eye on the toaster as we eat our breakfast, just in case it decides to come after us? Much of this tech-paranoia likely sprang from the mind of Ray Bradbury, who was an enormous influence to both King and Carpenter. Bradbury wrote about automation in the future after the end of humanity, and he contributed stories to the EC comic books of the 1950s.

The groundbreaking comics released by the Entertaining Comics company were bringing vivid and bloody horror images to children all across the country. These comic lines featured titles such as Tales from the Crypt , The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. Each issue was packed full controversial stories and images, and you can see elements of those influences in CHRISTINE. This notable collaboration was neither King’s, or Carpenter’s strongest outing, but frankly, it’s neither man’s weakest outing, either!