I am not really a Stephen King fan, and was never really interested in this book or film because the idea of a possessed car sounded, frankly, quite stupid. But then I watched the evil car movie The Car, and recalled that someone has mentioned in passing that this movie had a bit of a homo vibe, and that was enough to get me to throw it to the top of my list. Then I had the pleasant surprise of discovering that it was directed by John Carpenter, which I had been in ignorance of, and that it starred Keith Gordon, of Dressed To Kill fame.
The thing to know up front, as we learn from a quick perusal of the IMDb, is that if you have read the book, you hate the movie. This is because the movie entirely throws out the REASON the car is possessed, as presented in the book, thus making the 83% stupid story 100% stupid. I had not read the book, and I think this left me much more open to taking the movie for what it is.
We open with a flashback to 1957 that shows the car coming off the assembly line, and presents the only explanation we're going to get: the car was just born bad. That's all there is to it. It comes down the line as we hear "Bad To the Bone" [I think we all agree that it's time to jettison that song into space?]. Then its hood snaps down on a man's hand, then another guy decides to sit in it, smoke a cigar and listen to the radio after hours, and he is soon asphyxiated. It's just a bad car, ladies and gentlemen, and it needs a good spanking.
Now, in the present day of 1978, we join Gordon as Arnie, mega-geek. The homo vibe revs up [sorry] when we learn that Arnie has an inexplicable movie friendship with local football hunk Dennis. Arnie tells Dennis how he got in trouble for using the word Fellatio in Scrabble [yes, he just HAPPENED to pick that word!]. Dennis has a pretty blonde at school coming on to him, and Arnie mocks her and her attentions. Yep, seems like there's some homo-ness happening here. We also have the old standard of Arnie being picked on by local burnout thug Buddy and his gang, which Dennis rescues him from. Buddy is expelled, and vows revenge on Arnie.
As they are driving Arnie catches a glimpse of Christine, sitting wrecked in the yard of this creepy redneck. The redneck is wearing this metal back brace, and mentions that the car used to belong to his brother, who died in it. In the novel, it was the brother who possessed the car and would appear in the back seat, talking to Arnie. They decided to avoid the silliness of having this ghost appear in the back seat, but unfortunately didn't come up with any decent explanation to replace it. And silly as the idea of this ghost inhabiting this car is, at least it is an EXPLANATION, so you the viewer can accept it for what it is and not be constantly distracted by wondering WHY all this is happening. So Arnie insists on buying the car, despite its being a total junk heap, and over Dennis' objections.
Arnie rents space in this garage presided over by this hilariously nasty old man. Between Buddy the bully and the mean old man, we can see the movie lining up future victims for Christine. Arnie makes a crack about being ugly to Dennis, who responds "You're not ugly Arnie. Queer maybe, but not ugly." Meanwhile, Dennis is attracted to this girl Leigh, played by Alexandra Paul, who went on to be the OTHER babe on Baywatch.
SPOILERS > > >
So Arnie cleans Christine up, quite quickly, and begins changing as he does so. Soon Dennis is playing football when he gets distracted by Arnie making out with Leigh, and is tackled. Arnie visits him in the hospital, where he learns that Dennis will never play football again! Arnie says, rather out of the blue "Part of being a parent is trying to kill your kids." I'm guessing that was a line they liked from the novel and wanted to keep it, but couldn't afford to jam in all its context. Anyway, by now Christine has started to evince some menace, and "speaks" by playing certain songs on the radio [which I found monumentally idiotic] such as "I hear you knockin' but you can't come in" as Dennis is trying to get in. Then the car chokes Leigh, but unfortunately, she lives. Then the bullies from the beginning break in and smash the car. Then Arnie says to her "Come on baby, show me what you can do," and the car repairs itself. This is accomplished by them pulling parts of the car in with cables so it crumples, and then running the footage backwards. Even though you know how they did it, it is fairly effective.
Then Christine goes out for revenge against the thugs. The first one to get it is the portly one, and here is where we start to notice that people in this movie tend to go stand in the dead center of streets a lot, even after being threatened by killer cars. The guy runs to the end of a short alley that is too narrow for Christine to enter, and the car moves forward, ripping off its sides, as it moves in to get him. I actually thought that element was pretty cool. By now Arnie is acting full-on crazy, with opened flared eyes and everything. You'll also note that his hair has gotten more cool and he's now wearing all black and black leather vests. I think somewhere in here the owner of the garage was killed, and I know the head of the bullies gets killed at some point, but I forgot to write down where.
Anyway, by now Leigh and Dennis have pretty much gotten together, and realized that there's something about the car. They go to the garage to destroy it, with Dennis powering up a big bulldozer and protecting Leigh with it. Except when the car is coming at her slowly down the long expanse and she decides that the best thing to do would be to simply stand staring while remaining directly in its path. Anyway, Dennis destroys the car [the bulldozer climbs atop Christine and crishes her, also strangely sexual] and that's the end. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that somewhere in here, Christine threw Arnie through the front windshield and killed him.
< < < SPOILERS END
Basically, it's a giant mess. However, the vastness of this mess doesn't really occur until afterward, which I have to chalk up to Carpenter's directing skill. During the first half, I was actually quite impressed with the measured, steady quality of his direction. This is back in the time when he was trying, and for the first half you can really sense how carefully this is put together. This was a bit of a shock, as I confess I had gotten a little more used to the John Carpenter of such "Should your name REALLY be above the title?" films as John Carpenter's Vampires or John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars.
But it's all well and good in the first half, when the movie is throwing out a bunch of stuff and you can only assume that it's going to gel. In the second half, it resolutely does not, and it becomes apparent that this screenwriter didn't know what to keep in from the novel and what to throw out in order to leave a coherent film. For example, I haven't even mentioned that Harry Dean Stanton shows up as a cop on the case. I haven't mentioned him because he plays absolutely no part in the main storyline. Nor does the owner of the garage, who gets a fair amount of screen time for someone who ultimately connects to nothing meaningful about the story. These unconnected characters bear all the hallmark's of King's often-loose fiction, and that's why you would look for a screenwriter to clean them up and streamline the narrative. But, not here. The result is that the story just starts to become slack in its final third, just when it should be tightening, and rather than the climax seeming like the inevitable result of this set of circumstances, it just seems like a series of events that happen to resolve the main narrative, without much sense of purpose.
It could be worse, but it certainly could have been much better. I can't really see why there's any reason for anyone to watch this film at this point--unless you've just read the book, which, from what we've learned, can only lead to disappointment. Maybe it's better to just let this one take its place as like the 4th movie in a 4-for-1 Stephen King movie pack.
You can, I just don't see why there's any reason to.