STEPHEN KING – Christine. Viking, hardcover, 1983, 526 pages, $16.95. Film: Columbia Pictures, 1983, directed by John Carpenter.

   A haunted car, right… Stephen King expects readers to believe in a 1958 red and white Plymouth Fury that’s haunted no less. Well, yes, he does — and they will. For that is the magic writing quality that makes his talent so special. Stephen King can make even the most ordinary and unlikely object an item of horror.

   In Christine, King attempts to invoke the terror.that permeated ’Salem’s Lot  and the chilling fright of The Shining. The time is 1978, in a suburban community outside of Pittsburgh, On their way home, Dennis Guilder and Arnie Cunningham drive by a parked car — a 1958 Plymouth — with a ‘for sale’ sign in its window. Arnie falls firmly and unquestioningly in love with the car and determines to possess it at all costs, The present owner, Roland Le Bay, tells him the car’s name is Christine.

   With Arnie’s purchase of Christine, no one who knows him remains untouched by the evil force that sits behind the wheel. And Arnie is a loser (“Every high school has to have at least two; it’s like a national law,”) and is frequently tormented by the school bullies. Christine quickly begins to exert an unnatural hold on Arnie, Not only does Arnie exhibit an abnormal affection for his car, but Christine’s rusty old exterior and worn mechanical parts mysteriously begin improving.  Not that Arnie doesn’t spend many hours working on her, but his efforts don’t seem as methodical and orderly as her improvements indicate.

   As Christine nears mint condition, Arnie acquires a girl friend, Leigh Cabot, As their relationship grows, strange and gruesome deaths happen to four bullies who inflicted damage on Christine. The story’s progression charts Christine’s increasingly diabolical hold over Arnie, and her acts of revenge towards anyone who tries to come between her and Arnie.

   Although the horrific events do not fully terrify or render the reader aquiver with fright, there are some tense moments. The final duel between Christine and Dennis and Leigh showcases King’s writing skills superbly as he makes a potentially laughable and unbelievable scene ring with credibility and anxious moments.

   By the time the last page is turned, it’s nearly impossible not to think of the ’58 Plymouth as “she” — as Christine — and not just an old car.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 1984).