Right up until the end, when the subtitle “Chapter One” gets used for the first time, I thought It (2017) would be a standalone movie. Then the jig was up because blockbusters aren’t like TV shows. They don’t tease sequels without knowing they’re going to be picked up. And, depending on when you’re reading this, It Chapter Two might already be in theaters (the film premieres September 6 in the United States). However, it wasn’t the fact that It got a sequel that bothered me, and given its success that’s not exactly a surprise, but that it was clearly intended to get one all along. That’s what the title card tells you that none of the promotion for the film did (at least not until afterward when all the speculation articles started coming out). It wasn’t enough for It to hint at Pennywise’s return. Another movie needed to be made to confirm it. And while it’s not like modern movies are the only ones guilty of this, it does make you appreciate the rareness of a film that can tease the villain’s survival yet have the restraint not to pursue it.
It might not be the Stephen King adaptation to do that, but John Carpenter’s Christine (1983) was, and today its ending still stands out for allowing the future to remain hanging without a follow-up movie or remake to fill in the blanks. As an April Fool’s joke in 2014, Stephen King announced a new book, Christine Lives, that would’ve pitted Dennis against Christine again, but that book has never been written. The original film remains untouched except to be appreciated as a beautiful car should by film historian Lee Gambin in his new book Hell Hath No Fury Like Her: The Making of Christine.
Taking you behind the scenes of a cult classic, Gambin’s book breaks down the film scene by scene using critical analysis and interviews with members of the cast and crew. Together, they illustrate how a killer car movie can be both exactly what you expect and so much more. Starting with the cast, both Kevin Bacon and Andrew McCarthy were up for the part of Arnie Cunningham that would eventually go to Dressed to Kill’s (1980) Keith Gordon. But as producer Richard Kobritz brings up, it’s a role that “required a real actor not just some pretty boy.”
Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Gordon nailing Arnie’s arc and nailing it while Christine was filmed out of chronological order. Alexandra Paul (Leigh) admires this at one point.
Each chapter opens with a close reading, followed by quotes and photos from on-set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker and others. Good criticism doesn’t always escape being dense, yet Gambin’s writing is as smooth as a beach read. It’s packed with personal insights as well as stories learned from talking to people firsthand.
As far as Stephen King bona fides go, Gambin has written a book on Cujo (1983) titled Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo. He also recorded an audio commentary with film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas for Arrow’s Blu-ray release of Carrie (1976) and a solo commentary for Eureka’s Blu-ray release of Cujo.
He knows Stephen King’s world. Of Christine’s cast, John Stockwell (Dennis) is the only significant absence, in terms of providing quotes. Before Christine, John Carpenter was meant to direct Firestarter (1984) which at the time boasted a screenplay by Bill Phillips. The Thing’s (1982) failure at the box office and budgetary issues would get that project taken from him. Stanley Mann wrote the final screenplay for director Mark L. Lester, but Phillips would go on to write the screenplay for Christine and provides some of the best anecdotes on what it was like to adapt King’s work for the screen.
Decisions like whether or not Christine was born bad, moving the setting from Pittsburgh to California, showing Christine’s rebirth on-screen instead of off, and cutting the ghost of Christine’s former owner Roland LeBay from the film are all addressed. Other changes made later are also touched on like cutting out scenes (now DVD outtakes) that would’ve shown Dennis and Leigh starting a romantic relationship.
Rock and roll is how Christine speaks in the film, and Gambin has music critics like Adam Devlin discuss the songs and the film’s use of covers to bridge the gap between the ‘50s (when Christine was born) and the ‘70s (when the film takes place). Christine is Arnie’s prized possession, yet (despite a tag line that would posit that Christine’s soul was made “by Satan”) she’s not possessed like you’d typically define possession in a religious horror film. Christine might be “bad to the bone,” but Lee Gambin’s book is good for the soul and a necessary read for fans of the Plymouth Fury that wouldn’t die. For all intents and purposes, Christine is out there still and wreaking havoc to this day.