In 1957, the production lines of the Plymouth 1958 Fury threw up an aberration: a bright red version that before it was even driven out of the factory had smashed one worker's fingers with its falling hood and another had died in mysterious circumstances - was it because he flicked ash on the passenger seat? Forward to 1978 and seventeen-year-old Arnie Cunninghham (Keith Gordon) is a high school nerd who is looked after by his best friend Dennis (John Stockwell). Arnie tends to make enemies of the tougher kids, but he is headed for trouble when he spots a rusting '58 Fury one day... cars can take over your life, after all.
The nineteen-eighties had to be the heyday of adaptations of Stephen King novels as Hollywood went nuts for the most successful horror writer of his era, believing that if fans devoured his books, then they'd pay good money, and lots of it, to see the movie versions. As it was, director John Carpenter had recently come off his flop remake The Thing and was looking for work, so was hired for Christine. The result was criticised for being his most anonymous project to date, but actually, in collaboration with screenwriter Bill Phillips, what he created was very faithful.
In fact, it's probably one of the few films that really captured King's style, so deceptively easy that many have failed since in attempting to re-fashion it for the big (and small) screen. However, here the tone is just right, as Christine wasn't the greatest novel King had offered up anyway, being essentially a retread of Carrie with a phantom car instead of psychic powers. The film also had the advantage of not featuring a jarring shift in perspective between Dennis's point of view and the third person approach adopted in the middle of the story.
Thanks to that introduction we already well aware that the Fury, named Christine by its previous - suicidal - owner, is bad to the bone, but Arnie is innocent of the seductive darkness it holds within. He should have had alarm bells ringing when the man who sells the car to him is played by Roberts Blossom, veteran of many off-centre characters, but he ploughs on as Christine, as much a personality in the film as any of the actors, has woven its spell over him. Soon he is experiencing teenage rebellion as the car becomes the most important thing in his life to the exclusion of all else, a super-possessive mechanical girlfriend for Arnie.
This may help him secure the love of attractive new girl in school Leigh (Alexandra Paul), much to the consternation of Dennis, but also attracts the ire of the bullies, after all, it's not a killer car movie without victims. For Christine, in simple but effective effects, can rebuild herself no matter how many knocks she takes, and also has a habit of driving around by herself and blaring 50s rock 'n' roll from her radio (it's sort of the twisted side of American Graffiti). It may be predictable, and yes, the victims have a habit of running down the middle of the road when chased, but Carpenter crafts a sleek shocker from the original, with not a scene out of place and a few great images (a blazing Christine riding through the night). Though largely bloodless, this film fits straight into that strain of horrors of the late seventies and early eighties, an unsung golden age. Music by Carpenter.
Skillful American writer-director of supense movies, often in the science fiction or horror genres. Comedy Dark Star and thriller Assault on Precinct 13 were low budget favourites, but mega-hit Halloween kick-started the slasher boom and Carpenter never looked back.