Jean-Luc Godard was only two-thirds right. The 2.35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio was good for snakes, funerals…and frontal-axis shots of flames licking through the grill of a murderous 1958 Plymouth Fury as it barrels forward on an otherwise pitch-black stretch of byway. John Carpenter’s move to tackle a Stephen King novel in 1983—a year that saw no less than three major film adaptations of books by the ubiquitous author—was no doubt an artistically conservative strategy following the critical savaging then heaped on his now-classic remake of The Thing one year earlier. But if both the book and film Christine only seemed to add fuel to the notion that King’s brand of horror was in serious danger of overexposure 30 years ago, the film’s reputation has since put the pedal to the metal, burning serious rubber as one of the most viscerally satisfying King flicks this side of Carrie and The Shining.
Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Phillips began by stripping away the book’s most baroque supernatural flourishes, jettisoning the idea that the Plymouth Fury purchased by teen geek Arnie Cunningham was “haunted”—a word often used in the 1980s as a punchline when referring to King’s ostensibly formulaic novels—in favor of the suggestion that she was born to kill. The movie’s opening scene, set to the strain of George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ “Bad to the Bone,” shows an assembly line halted by a series of injuries sustained by workers detailing the Fury, one of them ultimately choking to death after dropping cigar ashes on her new seats. When, decades later, Arnie sets his eyes on Christine and purchases her from George LeBay, Carpenter makes is apparent that the car has played an active role in destroying LeBay’s life, or at least met him halfway in a symbiotic death spiral, one which it doesn’t take Arnie long to mimic.
Concurrent with his restoration of the broken-down vehicle, Arnie’s own personal transformation is depicted as someone redefining himself upon attaining a status symbol—specifically, a teenager otherwise seen as a hopeless pushover flexing his mettle via his souped-up hot rod. (If his choice seems anachronistic, note that Arnie’s own tormenters are by and large greasers who may as well have been transported from 1958 along with Christine.) His confidence increases, he alters his appearance to coordinate with his purchase, and acts in accordance to its temperament. Carpenter stages this seduction of the innocent with his dependably sleek, laterally sinewy framing. His evocative autocide sequences inevitably take place at night, to allow for Christine’s headlights to throw glossy lens flares across that wide, terrifying expanse of negative space. Equally unnerving is the juxtaposition of Carpenter’s subzero synthesizer palpitations against the doo-wop classics emanating from Christine’s radio, as when she ominously stalks the rotund Moochie Welch through a maze of concrete pylons while Thurston Harris’s “Little Bitty Pretty One” echoes in and out of earshot.
Without drawing too fine a point on it, Carpenter repositions the entire concept of a haunted car (to be sure, one of King’s most self-parodic concepts) as an abstraction of American industrialism’s “supply, regardless of demand” ethos. Arnie may be as much a victim as the various bullies Christine dispatches, but he willingly pays his way toward his own debasement, and the film rewards both him and us with some of the strongest pieces of straightforward commercial filmmaking of Carpenter’s career. That it was released at the tail-end of a year absolutely saturated with King product, a period that even he has admitted led to him being regarded as the McDonald’s of contemporary American literature, is a sad irony, as Christine stands today as an eerie depiction of the horror of a consumer culture wherein the customers, not the commodities, are the psychologically malleable and physically interchangeable accessories.
Christine looks like grease lightning on Blu-ray, or close enough at any rate. Twilight Time’s transfer boasts strong, bold colors and a sharp focus on John Carpenter’s tight framing. The nighttime sequences are just otherworldly. The sound mix is, if anything, even more evocative, handling the contrast between the rock n’ roll cues and the roar of Christine’s engines almost perfectly. As an added bonus, Carpenter’s extraordinary score is made available in an isolated score track.
Twilight Time rarely goes out of their way to provide much in the way of bonus features for their limited edition runs, but happily for fans they’ve retained the solid collection of extras that accompanied Columbia’s previous special edition DVD. (Their presence also possibly helps to explain why the disc reportedly sold out in less than a day, driving ancillary prices up beyond $100 in a flash. And no, my review copy is not for sale.) First up is a full-length audio commentary by Carpenter and lead actor Keith Gordon, both of whom are extremely well-rounded in their explications, which is understandable given the latter has gear-shifted his career from acting to directing. They acknowledge the film’s ridiculous and sublime aspects alike, with respect for both, and seem rightfully proud of their work. Also included on the disc are a number of deleted scenes (none of which are remotely essential) and featurettes delving into behind the scenes footage and Carpenter’s score. A rich slate, especially given Twilight Time’s track record.
As Dorothy Zbornak demanded, "Maestro, how about something with a little octane?"