Christine is like three different movies in one, and they never gel. One is a realistic high school movie about a nerd trying to get along in school and in his family. Then there are the scenes with the bully, William Ostrander/Buddy Repperton, which move into the camp arena, since his performance is so wonderfully ridiculous. And the third tier, when the killer car takes over the plot, Christine becomes more of a silly horror movie with a premise it would like to commit to but doesn’t.
I listened to the Keith Gordon/John Carpenter commentary as well (and watched the 25 minutes of deleted scenes, the film is already 20 minutes too long, but some of these details about the Dennis-Leigh relationship need to be explored, though there was still no scene showing how Arnie and Leigh got together in the first place), and they suggest the intention was never to take the horror element too seriously, because it is inherently stupid. However, that may have been the problem, the realism of Arnie’s school and family life does not mesh with the car coming to life plot (nor why he becomes initially obsessed with what appears to be such a piece of shit).
Carpenter’s music is excellent and the character actor choices are great (Robert Prosky as the garage owner and Harry Dean Stanton as the cop, even if his performance is unconvincing, as he’s playing a focused, competent human being) but the Gordon character progression doesn’t work, he still looks like a wimp in 1950’s clothing, and his attempts to be menacing with his friend in the hospital are laughable.
The question I have is, why does something less realistic like Carrie work, which is a lot more exaggerated and melodramatic in terms of character motivation, while Christine flounders, and can’t even properly use its killer vehicle as any sort of appropriate metaphor (the way that Americans love their cars too much, a man’s fear of intimacy, etc.), and simply plays as a test-marketed attempt to satisfy each section of the audience by shoving genres together in an unwieldy fashion?