A film combining two creatives that rumbled through one of their career peaks in the 1980s would be so monumental if it were not for their tug of war in the horror genre. Stephen King and John Carpenter are real masters of their craft. Putting them on the same project feels like a grand idea on the surface, but it is a powerful team-up that can only lead to disappointment. Like Chris Frantz producing a Happy Mondays album, great artists have their own way of thinking. They have a setlist of what they wish to do, and it will rarely ever match up as something both compatible and interesting. Christine gets it right, though. It holds down the issues King had with overutilizing his horrific elements in his books and tunes Carpenter’s horrific scope to the coming-of-age minefield.
Throwing a killer car into the mixture of these snot-nosed teens is a definitive way of scaring them into some self-realisations. A rusty old Plymouth is discovered, and two archetype, nerdy kids find it. One has tape around the front of his glasses and the other has an American football jacket. They are, no doubt, stereotypes. Christine is dependent on these two and their back and forth with one another. Performed well, at least, despite the broad strokes Carpenter has to create. Those wide character defects are intentional and integral to Christine though. It allows for hate or love to flow through to all the right places. So long as the audience is cheering the good guys, jeering the bad ones and are terrified of the car, then Carpenter succeeds.
Succeed he does, especially because Keith Gordon and John Stockwell are marvellous in the leading roles. Unlikely friends with stern parents and wild, rebellious ideas that would only live on through the teen-heavy features of the 1980s. Christine is the classic case of two unlikely friends teaming up to display some rebellion. In many of these moments, it comes to bite back at them, not as sternly as a killer car, but in an opportunity to stand up against the authority figures of their life. Risky Business and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off programme those well, as does Christine. It is less successful under Carpenter’s vision though. Not because it is performed poorly or mismanaged, but because the car must take precedence, and it is that jagged and awkward switch from sticking up for yourself to being a paranoid, greaser loon that Carpenter struggles to adapt most of all. Its message makes sense, but it is an odd turn from Gordon and Carpenter should have handled it with a stronger hand.
But the creativity on offer owes you or me nothing at all. Christine is a fascinating piece that derives many of its best scenes from the obsession with a third party. It is the corruptibility of the teenage years that elicits most of the stronger moments within Christine. Lashing out at the authority within their lives is not a necessary response but an inevitable one. There was so little to do during the 1950s, it is no surprise that most would rebel against their parental figures and try something different, completely wild and beyond the realm of comprehension. Whether that irrational preoccupation is with a person, an object or an inconceivable theory is irrelevant, it is how we see these characters react that strikes up the finest scenes in this brilliant King adaptation.