Directed by John Carpenter
Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4 at IFC Center’s “Cult Carpenter” midnight-movie series
With Christine, John Carpenter took Stephen King’s novel and turned it into an emblematically anti-nostalgic horror film. Unlike most monster movies, Christine features a monster that needs to be loved in order to be really monstrous. The titular killer car is a vampiric fetish that won’t die because it’s owner cares too much for it.
In Christine, Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon), a nerdy high school senior that gets trod on by everyone (including his parents!), grows a spine after he forms a dangerous symbiotic relationship with Christine, his vintage 1958 Plymouth Furies. Initially, Arnie, who happily thinks of the car as being “practically an antique,” harbors no illusions about what he wants from Christine: to help him feel less like a worm and more like a socially functional adolescent.
In other words: if Christine can’t get him laid, nothing can.
Dennis (John Stockwell), Arnie’s more socially adept best friend, tries in vain to separate Arnie from Christine. But it can’t be done. Arnie and Christine are, for a time, equally invested in each other. Over time, Arnie’s identity eventually becomes conflated with Christine’s. People see the car and associate it with Arnie. Christine’s victims typically wonder aloud, “Is that Cunningham,” before they hear brakes squealing, an engine revving and themselves screaming. And above that cacophonous death knell, you can hear the cheery sounds of 50s rock and roll music.
Ultimately, once Christine has taken over and what was once a symbiotic relationship becomes parasitic, Arnie can no longer truthfully tell where his needs end and the car’s powers of bedevilment begin. Arnie can’t truthfully say, “I know what I am,” like he could at the film’s beginning. Move over, Dracula: rock ‘n roll and muscle cars are here to stay.