The Car’s the Star – Christine

Cars and cinema go hand-in-hand. In fact, a car can be an incredible supporting actor, serving to show the attitudes and tastes of any given character. In the case of John Carpenter’s 1983 blockbuster, Christine, the car was even more than that. This 1958 Plymouth Fury was, arguably, the lead.

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By Chris Pollitt

It’s a film about a killer car. It doesn’t sound like a premise that you could or should take even remotely seriously. That is until you learn that 1983’s film, Christine, was based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. And Stephen King, as it happens, knows a thing or two about making horror work. A master of macabre, if there was anyone who could make such a ridiculous notion genuinely gripping and with it, a terrifying proposition, it was him.

Such was the power of King’s work in the early ‘80s, this film was green-lit and put into production before the novel’s release. And with John ‘Halloween’ Carpenter at the directorial helm, there was never any danger of it being a flop, even with the unusual premise.

We’re not going to spoil the story here just in case you’ve never seen it. But in short, a young guy (Arnie Cunningham) finds a long-neglected car, buys it and starts to restore it. Then the school bullies decide to wreck it, or should we say her, again. But she’s having none of that – she has her revenge. Oh, and she has the power to ‘heal’ herself, too. Seriously, you need to give it a watch and then come back to this page. If you have seen it, sit tight as we give you ten facts about the movie car that you may not know…

1) Unpopularity was key…

Stephen King wanted the car to be the mechanical metaphor for the lead character, Arnie Cunningham (played by Keith Gordon). Average, not fundamentally flawed, but deeply overlooked. The ‘57/’58 Plymouth Fury was the car for the job. We may see it as a mass of gorgeous fins and chrome now, but back in the ‘50s, it wasn’t a popular car at all, losing sales hand over fist to cars like the ’57 Chevrolet.

Plymouth Fury

2) ’57 on paper, ’58 on film…

In the book, Christine is a 1957 four-door Plymouth Fury. This isn’t the case in the film though. It was decided a two-door car would look cooler, but alas, there was no ’57 two-door Fury, so they had to use ‘58s instead.

3) Mr Belvedere, I presume?

At the time of filming, the Fury was still a largely unpopular car. As such, finding them was difficult. To make up the twenty or so cars needed for filming, the production crew bought the lesser Belvedere model as well as Furys, and just dressed them up to look the part.

Christine, Plymouth Fury, Moochie Welch, Stephen King

4) You can have it any colour you like…

In the opening scene you see ’58 Furys moving down the production line. All but one is gold and beige. This was the main colour option. In fact, you couldn’t even get a red Fury. In the book, it clears things up by saying it was special ordered in Ford Red.

5) A building of two halves…

In that same opening scene, the impression given is of a huge factory. In reality, the production rented a building and divided it into two. One half was used as Darnell’s Garage, while the other was first used for the opening ‘factory’ scene, before becoming a workshop in which the crew kept all the Christine vehicles running.

Christine, V8, Stephen King, Christine movie, Plymouth Fury, John Carpenter

6) Film it backwards…

In the famous ‘show me’ scene, Christine appears to rebuild herself after being horrifically vandalised. In reality, replica parts of the car were made of plastic and rubber and fitted with hydraulic rams. The rams then pulled the panels in slowly. In post-production, the film was reversed to give the impression of the car fixing herself.

7) It ain’t half hot…

The scene where Christine is driving down the road, fully ablaze? Yep, they did that in real life with an actual stunt man. Oxygen tanks were fitted into the stunt vehicle so he could breathe, and obviously he could only drive for small stints.

Christine, V8, Stephen King, Christine movie, Plymouth Fury, Christine fire

8) You’re getting close…

Keen-eyed film buffs might notice the licence plate of Christine, which reads ‘CQB241’. This isn’t a random combination of letters. The CQB stands for ‘close quarters battle’ to echo Christine’s style of attack. The 241 is allegedly in relation to Christine acting on Arnie’s behalf –  the victims were getting a ‘two for one’.

9) Sounds like a Ford…

Sadly, the engine noises you hear in the film aren’t of a Plymouth Fury. Due to the stunt and hero cars all having different engines and transmissions, the sound wasn’t consistent. As such, every scene was dubbed with engine noise from a 1970 Mustang 428 Super Cobra Jet.

Christine, V8, Stephen King, Christine movie, Plymouth Fury, Christine crushed

10) There’s a ‘real’ Christine…

Once production wrapped, three or four cars out of the twenty or so used managed to survive. However, one is not like the others. Martin Sanchez has a ’58 built from a mass of parts salvaged from the cars wrecked in the making of the film. Now fully restored, he has a Christine literally built from over twenty other Christines!

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