Special Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround, Portuguese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: September 28, 2004

"Okay…show me."

Film ***

John Carpenter is, and was, one of the purest kings of cinematic terror, so for him to translate a story by none other than Stephen King was something pretty phenomenal, even in the aftermath of the late great Stanley Kubrick's cinematic converting of The Shining. To be honest, I think names Carpenter and King go hand in hand with chilling storytelling.

In 1983, Carpenter was just coming off his extravagant gorefest, The Thing. Although that film, to me, is the director's signature film, it wasn't too well received by critics or at the box office. The reviews often mentioned how he had let the blood and guts aspect take over that movie. So Carpenter decided that, for his next project, he wanted to do a much more laid back horror movie that didn't rely too much on gore. His next film would perfectly meet those requirements.

Along came a screenplay adaptation of a book by Stephen King about a 1958 Plymouth Fury that happens to be possessed. The name of the book was Christine. Everything fell into place at just the right moment, and with a decent budget at his disposal ($10 million, to be exact), Carpenter made what was hailed at the time as his finest achievement since Halloween in 1978.

Christine remains a sharp, deeply enthralling piece of movie terror. Surprisingly enough, Mr. Carpenter managed to not rely on gore overload, as he intended, and still come off with a film just as effective in its frightening element as The Thing, The Fog, and of course his aforementioned breakthrough masterpiece. Of all of Carpenter's films, this is by far one of the more character driven pieces, although that aspect is most likely attributed to the original Stephen King story.

The film takes place in 1978 in a small Californian town. The focus of the story is high school nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon). For Arnie, most days consists of constant embarrassment, frequent confrontations with a gang of bullies. His best friend is Dennis (John Stockwell), who's also the star player on the school's football team. Although Dennis has all the things that Arnie can't, his best friend has always got his back.

After a disastrous first day at school, Arnie and Dennis happen to pass by a run down home with an even more beaten down car beside it. Arnie, however, is awestruck by the car so much that he agrees to pay whatever will be accepted by the proprietor. The car is a red hot 1958 Plymouth Fury that carries the name Christine. It turns out the previous owner died as a result of…well let's just say it has something to do with the car. The deceased's brother nevertheless strikes a cheap bargain with the kid, as Arnie is given for once something he truly wants.

It is at this point where one of the movie's most signature elements is established; Arnie's slow and dangerous psychological deconstruction, as he becomes more and more obsessed with his new car. He shies away from his disapproving parents, spends less time with Dennis, and even manages to startle his new girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra Paul) with his obsessive and destructive behavior. Every inch of Arnie's life is now revolving around his new joyride.

But the movie's MOST signature moments are the sequences where the car extracts force on those who've done Arnie wrong. Even before then, there is an astonishing sequence where in which the car, having just been wrecked to death by the same bullies at Arnie's school, physically regenerates right at the boy's request. Even by today's standards of special effects, this twenty year old sequence still manages to create something of a reaction.

When Christine gets her revenge, that's when the movie places itself into the horror movie hall of fame. A sequence that has the car relentlessly chasing after one of the bullies is a monumental sequence of terror. I even remember seeing that scene as a kid, and a feeling of fright was certainly generated. A later scene, which has Christine covered in fiery flames and still kicking is one of those sequences that can still grab your attention.

Christine, for me, remains one of the best horror treasures to come from the early 80s. John Carpenter's undeniable talent for developing a dark moody tone works extremely well in the re-crafting of a Stephen King story. And for a horror movie to entertain you without dousing the screen with blood and guts is always a refreshing note to go on. Though beware, this isn't by any means a light horror movie, as Christine herself maims and kills in the most chilling ways I've ever seen.

BONUS TRIVIA: Look closely, and you'll spot a young and very pretty Kelly Preston as the girl who's hitting on Dennis. Ms. Preston was gorgeous then, and has gotten even more beautiful with age. She's one of the many reasons I wish I was John Travolta.

ADD. TRIVIA: In case you thought that stars Keith Gordon and John Stockwell had vanished from the movie business, they haven't. Both have gone on to become successful filmmakers themselves.

Video ***1/2

This anamorphic presentation from Columbia Tri Star is a pleasing accomplishment. I had seen the movie numerous times on its initial DVD release, which was double sided and although it wasn't a bad looking disc, it was very much in need of some remastered work. This new dual layer presentation is exactly what was needed. The picture is superbly clear, balancing tones brilliantly. There's a heavy level of nighttime sequences (an area where the original disc did not quite succeed), which now look flawless. Minor light grain, but nothing far from distracting at all.

Audio ***

I think that the 2.0 channel mix on this disc is a whole lot better here than it was on the first release. Then again, it may be the sound system I have. Nonetheless, the sound on this release provides a close to strong level of audio power that you're likely to find in such a presentation. Carpenter's unbeatable music score is especially well delivered, dialogue is heard ultimately clearly, and the sequences of action and terror are especially superb.

Features ***1/2

This terrific new Special Edition package boasts some neat extras that will make any engine roar! There's a commentary track with John Carpenter and actor Keith Gordon. Like all Carpenter commentaries, it's an intriguing and often humor-filled listen. Also featured are 20 alternate and deleted scenes, three featurettes; "Fast and Furious", "Finish Line" and "Ignition". Lastly, there are filmographies, and a bonus trailer gallery.


Christine is indeed one of my favorite Stephen King tales to be converted into a motion picture. Complete with a character driven story and true full throttle terror, this remains an easy 80s horror favorite, and a strong point in John Carpenter's career.

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