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I started reading Stephen King novels when I was about 11 years old. The first one I read was Carrie. I loved it. Soon after I finished it, I started grabbing his other books from the library. But the one that I wanted to read the most, Christine, was always checked out.
My mom told me she’d read it and loved it — which was surprising to me, because my mom was a Danielle Steele kind of reader — so I wanted to read it even more. But the bookmobile and my local library branch always failed me. In fact, I’m pretty sure they only had one copy and some douchebag had lost it long ago.
Eventually, I lost interest in reading Stephen King books and forgot about wanting to read Christine. In fact I’ve still never read it. I should probably rectify that.
But even though I’ve never read the book, I have seen the movie many times. (Both came out in 1983.) I’m sure the book is a hundred times better, but without having much of a comparison to make, I think the movie works pretty well on its own. Directed by horror veteran John Carpenter, the man behind Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982), it stars Keith Gordon as Arnie Cunningham, a nerdy teenager who falls in love with a bright red 1958 Plymouth Fury known as Christine. Though she’s in bad shape when he first lays eyes on her — and despite the protests of his parents and his best friend, Dennis (John Stockwell) — he buys the car.
Because his parents won’t let him keep Christine at the house, Arnie takes her to a do-it-yourself garage and begins fixing her up. Over time, as he transforms her from a heap of junk into a hot ride, he transforms as well, from a bullied nerd into an arrogant, sexually confident dude who manages to land the hottest girl in school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul).
But something isn’t right about the “new and improved” Arnie. He seems to be obsessed with Christine, spending more time with her than anyone else, and she seems to have the same attachment to him. And anyone who tries to come between them finds out just how devoted she really is.
Christine isn’t as scary to me now as it was when I was a kid. In fact, Christine herself isn’t that frightening — it’s Arnie’s obsession with her and his subsequent transformation that really creep me out. Keith Gordon does a terrific job portraying Arnie’s eventual detachment from reality. Once he removes those big, clunky glasses, we’re able to see the changes Christine brings about in him through his eyes and facial expressions. He never even has to open his mouth, though the shit he says is all kinds of crazy. I’ve seen obsession in action in real life — not necessarily evil obsession, but obsession nonetheless — and it can be kind of scary.
One thing I love about Christine is its use of music to scare the shit out of the audience. I’m talking about the excellent score, composed by Carpenter and Alan Howarth, but also the songs used throughout the movie. Almost every song we hear, we hear through various car radios, and the moment a 1950s rock ‘n’ roll tune starts blaring from Christine’s eerie green-tinted receiver, you know someone’s going to bite it. What she does as the songs play transform them from light and fun to sinister. Even now when I hear them, I get a little creeped out.
We also hear a few modern songs — well, “modern” in the sense that the film’s set in 1978 — through the speakers of either Dennis’s or the school bully’s car, like ABBA’s “The Name of the Game” and the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” The only songs we don’t hear emanating from car radios are George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone,” which plays during the opening scene (Christine takes her first victims at the Detroit auto plant where she was built), and the Viscounts’ “Harlem Nocturne,” featured during a moment of auto regeneration (literally).
The soundtrack album featuring the songs below was released on Motown in 1983 but never made it to CD; it’s also long out of print. The Carpenter/Howarth score, however, is still in print and widely available.
George Thorogood & the Destroyers – Bad to the Bone
Buddy Holly & the Crickets – Not Fade Away
Tanya Tucker – Not Fade Away
ABBA – The Name of the Game
Bonnie Raitt – Runaway
Johnny Ace – Pledging My Love
Little Richard – Keep A-Knockin’
Robert & Johnny – We Belong Together
Dion & the Belmonts – I Wonder Why
The Viscounts – Harlem Nocturne
Thurston Harris – Little Bitty Pretty One
The Rolling Stones – Beast of Burden
Larry Williams – Bony Moronie
Ritchie Valens – Come On, Let’s Go
Danny & the Juniors – Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay