Christine

Rating:

DRIVE MY CAR

Main Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell

Director: John Carpenter

Staircase by Lumen roma

How can they seriously believe this is enough space??

I had forgotten what a drag on the system long days of shooting can be.  I try to keep myself in tip top physical condition as I never know when I might be called upon to perform a complex tap routine in front of a crowd of thousands of adoring fans and I have to keep those quadriceps stretched and firm.  All of this roaming around the exclusive neighborhoods of greater Los Angeles looking at properties for my new reality series Hooray for Hollywood House Hunting with Vicki Lester has seriously cut into my time with Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist and our current quarters on the yacht just haven’t given me the room I need to truly practice my extensions and layouts.  The producers claim that they have found the perfect property and that we should be able to tour it next week. In the meantime, if I see one more break room masquerading as a kitchen, one more house without adequate maids quarters or one more grand foyer without at least a triple staircase, some location scout is going to have to answer to my temper.  I am well known for my sweet disposition and calm demeanor but we all have our limits.

Normy and I did have to spend some time at the old Chateau Maine supervising the packing up of our things for storage until a suitable domicile can be found.  The lovely family of Korean grocers who were my living nativity this last year are overseeing the project.  Far cheaper than Bekins and they are incredibly clever at making the oddest things fit nicely into boxes.  Possibly years of experience in preparing Bento lunches?  They’ve been working hard at packing up the memorabilia from the suite of trophy rooms in the west wing.  I must admit to feeling a bit teary eyed as props and costumes from my triumphs of stage and screen were meticulously stowed.  The camera crew from the reality show popped up during our visit and shot a bunch of B roll footage of the packing and I gave them permission to wander the halls and shoot at will.

The home theater at Chateau Maine is out of commission for the duration as the 118 inch plasma screen has been packed away for moving so for my afternoon break, I had to break out the trusty iPad.  I was sort of in the mood for a sweeping epic but a screen the size of a postcard is not conducive to sweeping vistas so I headed off to the more obscure cable channels looking for a smaller scale film that might be worth revisiting and stumbled across the 1983 film version of Stephen King’s Christine which I had not seen for some years, not since I was doing research for the stage musical version in which I played the title role.  (A costume that I did not keep for the collection as all those panels were exceedingly uncomfortable to wear).   It struck me as a pleasant way to while away the cocktail hour and so I settled in.

Christine was directed by horror auteur John Carpenter who was on a roll in the late 70s and early 80s with titles such as Halloween, The Fog, The Thing and Escape from New York to his credit.  What exactly attracted him to this property, based on a minor early Stephen King novel, is unclear.  The titular Christine is a haunted car, not just any car but a red 1958 Plymouth Fury who, as the soundtrack makes clear, is bad to the bone.   She accomplishes her first horrific act while still rolling off the assembly line.  We then fast forward to the late 1970s.  Christine is now a junker owned by a peculiar old man (Roberts Blossom) when she catches the eye of nerdy teen Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon).  He spends his savings on her and sets about restoring her to her former glory despite the misgivings of his buddy Dennis (John Stockwell).  Under the influence of Christine’s demonic spell, Arnie starts to transform from a nebbish to a confident young man, acquiring a girlfriend (Alexandra Paul) and eventually taking on the school bullies (led by William Ostrander in really bad facial hair).  When the bullies strike back by targeting the car, car and boy merge into a murderous machine taking an explosive revenge.

The film rises slightly above the usual conventions of early 80s horror fare courtesy of two things.  The first is John Carpenter who offers up his usual stylish direction making use of a black and red color palette and lighting effects to transform otherwise ordinary locations into sinister places where evil may dwell.  The second is the central performance of Keith Gordon as the doomed Arnie who quite believably transitions from hapless nerd to avenging fury.  It’s a difficult part that would defeat a lesser actor but Gordon is up to the challenge.  He was one of the finer young actors of the period who transitioned to directing relatively early on as his unconventional looks often made him difficult to cast in anything other than outsider roles. The rest of the cast isn’t quite up to the bar he sets.  John Stockwell, as his friend and more traditional hero just doesn’t have much to do with an underwritten role which confines him to a hospital bed for a long stretch of the film.  Ms. Paul, the ostensible heroine, is a charisma vortex who makes no impression at all.  (She later went on to pop culture fame on Baywatch, mainly due to her bust line, not her thespian abilities.)  There is one bright spot when Harry Dean Stanton turns up in a small role.

The novels of Stephen King range from the truly scary to the somewhat ridiculous.  Christine is on the latter end of the spectrum and the screen adaptation by Bill Phillips does it no favors.  The writing relies heavily on King’s leaden ear for dialogue which is not helped by his having the spirit of the car cause its victims to spout more and more four letter words.  We get the point.  The film also comes across as more of a period piece than intended in the way the high school boys view and look at high school girls.  The casual misogyny would be completely out of place in any film made today.   It shows us that society has evolved for the better over the last couple of generations.

I can’t say that I recommend you search this one out, but if you happen across it, it’s worth a look for the direction and Keith Gordon’s performance.

Football tackle.  Uptight mother.  Heimlich maneuver.  Gratuitous lunch stabbing.  Scrabble references.  Multiple explosions.  Fifties songs. Feathered hair.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

photo by Lumen roma

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