As a student of film my whole life, I have developed a deep love for a select few movies with an iconic element; the ones that have that seminal scene, that standout performance, that line of dialogue that has become a staple of our lexicon. I often re-watch these films simply to enjoy that facet, such as the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in Star Wars, Robert Duvall’s beach landing scene in Apocalypse Now, and the “Are you talkin’ to me?” line in Taxi Driver.
This month’s focus of Rob’s Car Movie Review has an unforgettable element in the form of an automobile that actually stands out as the true star of the film. So without further ado, I present to you one of my favorite car films, Christine, featuring one mean, and iconic, 1958 Plymouth Fury!
Christine, a co-production by Delphi Premier Productions and Polar Films, was distributed by Colombia Pictures as a Christmas release in 1983. Based on the bestselling novel by horror-meister Steven King, and directed by John Carpenter of Halloween, The Thing and Escape from New York fame, Christine was considered a sure thing and one of Colombia’s event films for the year.
Christine tells the story of perennial high school nerd, Arnie. Smothered by his overbearing parents, targeted daily by bully Buddy Repperton and his crew, and seemingly destined to remain a virgin, Arnie’s only saving grace is his friendship with cool football jock, Dennis.
Hitching a ride with Dennis after school one day, Arnie sees a rusted out, 1958 Plymouth Fury beater, and despite Dennis’ protestations that the car is beyond rescue, Arnie spends his summer savings on the car, which the owner says is named “Christine”. Forbidden by his folks to keep the wreck at home, Arnie takes the car to Darnell’s Do-It-Yourself Garage, run by crusty grease monkey Will Darnell, who begrudgingly agrees to let Arnie restore the car there.
With Arnie’s nightly efforts, Christine begins to show signs of her former glory at an unbelievably rapid pace, and as she does so, Arnie seems to transform as well. Gone are his nerdy clothes and timid nature, replaced by slick threads and a confident demeanor. Soon, he is dating the most beautiful girl in school, Leigh Cabot, and riding around in an immaculate, cherry-red Christine.
Things begin to go awry when Leigh almost chokes to death at a drive-in movie in Christine, Buddy Repperton’s gang totals the car at Darnell’s with sledgehammers, and Arnie’s behavior seemingly begins to descend into the sociopathic. Leigh becomes convinced that Christine is somehow powered by a demonic spirit that is taking possession of Arnie.
After Buddy Repperton and his thugs end up… well, you’re just going have to watch the movie to see what happens to them… Leigh and Dennis visit the man who sold Christine to Arnie, and learn some haunting information about the car’s past that confirms Leigh’s worst fears. Together, they decide that they must destroy Christine in order to save Arnie in a final showdown between the Fury and a bulldozer!
Christine is quite simply fun to watch – a great popcorn horror movie that grabs you from the start and never lets go. The suspension of disbelief that Carpenter was concerned with works effortlessly owing to a finely crafted screenplay, apt performances and some great action and groundbreaking special effects involving Christine.
And what an iconic car Christine is. So gaudy with her tail fins, quad headlight eyes, ubiquitous chrome trim and aforementioned scarlet paint, the film really makes you believe that if a car could be possessed by the Prince of Darkness, this is the whip he’d choose.
Twenty–four 1956, 1957 and 1958 Furys, Belvederes, and Savoys were procured for the film, some just for parts, which resulted in seventeen Christines in total that were used for the film. Although the stunt cars had a variety of engines installed ranging from 383ci to 440ci Mopar big blocks, Christine was supposed to be powered by a 350 dual-quad, as seen in several underhood shots in the film. Christine’s power was transmitted to the rear through a 3-speed TorqueFlite pushbutton automatic.
In reality, Furys only came in one color, Buckskin Beige, but as evidenced in the assembly line scene, Christine is the sole red car, implying that perhaps she was a special order. Most of the cars used in the movie were destroyed during filming, and records state that only two cars remained intact. Both are now in private collections.
For those wondering about the special effects used to show Christine’s various transformations, hydraulic pumps were used to crumple plastic and rubber replica body panels. Often, footage was run in reverse to show damage being repaired spontaneously.
While Christine steals most of the limelight in the film, there are two other fantastic cars in the movie. Dennis drives a gorgeous 1968 Dodge Charger in CC-1 Medium Blue with a 318 powerplant mated to a 3-speed automatic with Cragar wheels; and Arnie’s nemesis, Buddy Repperton cruises around in a awe-inspiring 1967 Chevy Camaro Super Sport in metallic gray with black Z/28 hood stripes.
I will always have a special place in my heart for Christine, ever since I saw it in the theater as an already car-obsessed thirteen-year-old. The film has stood up well through the years and has developed a cult following, owing to the superb and macabre storytelling and that iconic Detroit demon. I give Christine seven out of ten pistons.
About The Author: Rob Finkelman is a freelance writer for Street Muscle Magazine. He attended and graduated from New York University’s film school in 1992, and subsequently worked in the movie business for twenty years as a documentarian and screenwriter. Combining his two great passions in life – films and cars – and writing about them is a dream job for him. He will be bringing us a Car Movie Review each month, and he’s open to suggestions so list yours below.