|A MonsterGrrls Halloween Special
It wouldn’t be Halloween without a few extra treats and surprises, so in this spirit we present an extra post for the season, A MonsterGrrls Halloween Special. Here we examine the Stephen King novel and John Carpenter film, Christine.
Cars, and their relationships with humans, are not exempt from speculative fiction. From the 1944 sci-fi story “Killdozer!” by Theodore Sturgeon, to the Twilight Zone episodes “You Drive” (1964 original series) and “Joy Ride” (1987 revival series), to sentient racing Volkswagen Herbie in Disney’s The Love Bug, to the 1977 horror film The Car, vehicles possessed by otherworldly forces, whether malign or benevolent, are a well-known trope in speculative fiction. Which brings us to Christine, both a 1983 horror novel by Stephen King, and a horror film of the same year by John Carpenter.
King had dealt with the idea of sentient homicidal vehicles before in his 1973 short story “Trucks” (which eventually became his one foray into film directing, 1986’s Maximum Overdrive) but in Christine he went whole-hog, or full-custom as the case may be. The novel concerns one Arnie Cunningham, a put-upon and lonely teen whose one friend is the comparatively normal Dennis Guilder, who also narrates the story. Spotting a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury while riding home with Dennis from work, Arnie makes Dennis stop, and discovers that it belongs to an old man named Roland LeBay, who sells Arnie the car for $250. Dennis, who doesn’t like the look of the car to start with, likes it even less when he sits inside it and has a frightening vision of the car and its surroundings as they were when it was new. Undaunted in his quest to restore the car, Arnie brings it to a do-it-yourself garage run by Will Darnell, who is suspected of using the garage as a front for smuggling. As Arnie works on the car, he becomes more and more withdrawn and cynical, but also more confident and self-assured. Christine, however, almost seems to be mysteriously repairing herself. LeBay eventually dies, and Dennis meets LeBay’s younger brother George, who fills him in on LeBay’s history of anger and violence and the back story of Christine: LeBay’s daughter died in the car from choking, while his wife committed suicide in the car through carbon monoxide poisioning. Dennis also observes that Arnie is becoming more and more like LeBay, and that the car is taking over more and more of Arnie’s life. With the advent of a girl named Leigh Cabot who begins dating Arnie and nearly dies in the car the same way that LeBay’s daughter did (leading to the relationship’s end when Leigh figures out that she is competing with the car for Arnie), and a number of car-related deaths around town that point to Christine but turn up no evidence, Dennis and Leigh, who are now lovers, eventually realize that Christine is possessed by LeBay’s spirit, and hatch a desperate plan to try to destroy Christine and save Arnie.
Many did not know what to make of Christine when it first came out, but it very quickly became a favorite book among King fans due to its strange juxtaposition of love story and spirit-possession horror. While there’s quite a build-up before the plot really thickens, it eventually pays off big, in such scenes as when Arnie, fully aware of Christine’s self-repairing abilities, pushes her through Darnell’s garage after bully Buddy Repperton and his gang have trashed her. In a thoroughly creepy scene, Christine regenerates: dents pop out, cracks in glass disappear, and paint damage disappears as if never there to begin with.
|The eternal... quadrangle (?)
These scenes would eventually be realized in movie form. Hollywood had already come calling for King’s work, and producer Richard Kobritz , who previously produced the Salem’s Lot miniseries, had purchased the rights to Christine after King sent him a manuscript copy. Kobritz’s first choice for director was John Carpenter, who was initially not available, but delays on other projects freed him to work on Christine. According to Carpenter, he directed the film as a job rather than a personal project, and at the time he was still smarting from the critical backlash over his previous film, the now-classic The Thing (1982). It may have been because of this disinterest that Carpenter altered one significant detail of the story: in the novel, Christine was possessed by the spirit of Roland LeBay, while in the film, the car’s evil manifested on the day it was built, as seen in the opening scene where two line workers fall prey to Christine as she rolls off the assembly line. Also, Roland LeBay does not appear in the film; instead, his brother George (who appears in the film to be as disagreeable as Roland, but somewhat milder; perhaps someone tried to combine both characters here) sells the car to Arnie.
|She's a bad, bad girl...
Cast included Keith Gordon (who went on to appear in the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield vehicle Back To School) as Arnie, John Stockwell (who appeared in 1985’s sci-fi cult-classic My Science Project), Alexandra Paul as Leigh Cabot, and character actor Roberts Blossom as George LeBay, brother of the deceased Roland. Harry Dean Stanton appears as Detective Rudy Junkins, who tries unsuccessfully to pin Christine’s murders on Arnie, and William Ostrander appears as vengeful bully Buddy Repperton. A number of cars appeared as Christine, but few were actual Plymouth Furies due to the car’s small production number, and instead Plymouth Belvedere and Savoy models, dressed to look like a Fury, were used. The regeneration scenes, while not initially planned for the film, were shot in post-production at Carpenter’s decision. The film has since become a cult classic.
Christine remains a favorite among fans of King and Carpenter due to its demonstration of the human fascination with the American automobile and the romance surrounding it, something we are all privy to, and sometimes prey to. Even if a car isn’t possessed by a malevolent spirit, you still have to be careful. Because sometimes, without any warning, it might just turn on you.
Be sure to return for our next post for The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween. But in the meantime, be careful out on the road in the dark…
MAD DOCTOR’S NOTE: Christine (both film and book) are available for purchase on Amazon.com, and can be rented for streaming with Prime Video.
Special thanks to Rose Marie Machario, who suggested this post.
|You better watch out, or she'll run you down...