The Girl in the Rearview Mirror: A Tribute to the Late Kelly Preston and Her Character in John Carpenter's 'Christine'
If only we all had the power to repair ourselves, no matter how broken we became…
…As many of you have probably heard by now, actress Kelly Preston passed away this past Sunday at the age of 57 after succumbing to breast cancer. As someone who lost my step-mom to cancer not all that long ago, I feel for Preston’s family, and wish them all the best. 57 is way too young to die. Cancer sucks. It’s a greater evil than anything we’ve ever seen in our beloved horror flicks.
Aside from roles in films such as Jerry Maguire, Jack Frost, and multiple TV series, Kelly has had her own experience with the horror genre, namely Spellbinder, an episode of “Tales from the Crypt”, and as Roseanne in Christine.
It’s that last one I want to talk about, because as we look back on the late Preston’s roles, that character in Christine is one I’ve always thought deserved better.
For those that don’t recall, Christine (1983) was directed by master of horror John Carpenter and based off of the much different Stephen King novel of the same name, in which school dork Arnie (Keith Gordon) lays eyes on a cherry red 1958 Plymouth Fury that’s seen better days—a lot better days—and which the owner refers to as “Christine”. Arnie decides he has to have her, despite the disapproval of best friend Dennis (John Stockwell), or, as car owner George LeBay (Roberts Blossom) likes to call him, “shitter”. Soon, Arnie starts becoming nastier, more obsessed with the car, and once Dennis and Arnie’s girlfriend, new girl Leigh (Alexandra Paul), realize Christine may actually be going around and running down Arnie’s bullies on her own, it’s up to them to exhaust her last breath…or mile on the odometer. Whatever.
You didn’t see Kelly’s name in that synopsis, and that’s the bullshit of Christine.
Christine was my first horror film at the age of 3 (yes, 3), which I watched on repeat until my VHS was so worn all of the lettering on the tape had faded. No joke. I loved this film, and I still do. But even then, I knew Roseanne, aka Kelly Preston, deserved a hell of a lot more screen time—and respect—than she got.
See, Roseanne is a character that, sadly typical to many horror films, is dumbed down as nothing more than the “school slut”, at least that’s how the characters seem to look at her. She has a crush on Dennis, and we first meet her by his locker, twirling her hair and practically flashing letters on a giant billboard saying “I want you, you dumbass!” But Dennis is pretty indifferent. He’s much more interested in shining his headlights on Leigh as she makes her way down the hallway moments later.
Stockwell is a great actor and Dennis is overall a good guy, but he’s a bit of a shitter.
The treatment of Roseanne in the film is wholly unfair. The moment she walks away during that scene, Bemis (Douglas Warhit) moseys up to Dennis and says, “I wouldn’t put that in my mouth if I were you Dennis…you don’t know where it’s been.”
You don’t know where it’s been? What about where you’ve been, Dennis! Just before this scene, Dennis is telling Arnie he should “make a deposit” with a girl deemed the school’s sperm bank, a girl he’s “made deposits” with. Oh, and moments after Bemis accuses Roseanne of sleeping around? Bemis’ hormones go from zero to sixty as he declares to Dennis he wants to have deep, meaningless sex with Leigh! See the double standards here?
It’s the problem in our society that we still can’t seem to get away from. Men can sleep with whoever they want, whenever they want, and it makes them think of themselves as a goddamn sports car with a fresh coat of paint. A woman sleeps around with a few guys? Oh, she’s a rust bucket you don’t want to even touch, for fear of getting tetanus!
Regardless of how incredibly hypocritical Dennis and his friend’s views are on Roseanne and girls like her, Roseanne seems like a perfectly nice girl. She’s sweet. She’s charming. She gleams in the sunlight. But Leigh has that new car smell, and Roseanne is old news, apparently.
We only see Roseanne in a handful of brief moments, but my heart truly breaks for her. Just look at the scene where Dennis and co. are in the library. They’re joking around about Dennis asking “her” out, and there’s Roseanne, reading by herself at a table, smiling and awaiting Dennis to come over to her. Little does poor Roseanne know, that demoness Leigh is sitting behind her, and that’s who Dennis walks over to at the complete dismay of Roseanne. The look on her face, my god, how do you not weep for this broken-hearted girl!?
Dennis, you shitter!
It might be one thing for Dennis to be so dismissive of Roseanne if she was portrayed like other high-school movie “sluts”, hanging off anyone and everyone and making out with dudes in front of Dennis to make him jealous, but we never see any of that. As far as we can tell, Roseanne is just another victim of the cruel labeling that some girls get just for exploring their sexuality. For all we know, Roseanne could even be a virgin, her sexcapades nothing more than rumors concocted by dickhead jocks to cover up for their own insecurities
Now, Dennis is allowed to like who he likes. That’s fine. I just hate that Roseanne is strung up to be the blond butt of a joke in Christine’s ash tray. Dennis could’ve and should’ve let her down easy.
I’ve been there in that moment when Dennis doesn’t even notice Roseanne and sits down by Leigh instead. It stinks! You want to be sucked into a black hole and appear anywhere else but in that moment. The pain in her eyes screams at us. Preston allows Roseanne to wear her heart on her sleeve for all of us to see. None of this is saying Roseanne should’ve been the final girl of Christine, but there’s no doubt she deserved more screen time, instead of showing up as the target of a few cruel moments before disappearing from the film entirely.
Seriously, why even include her then? The way Roseanne is used, she does utterly nothing for the story.
But that’s the kind of presence that Kelly Preston brought to this film and others. Thirty years later, and I’m still pissed at Dennis for shrugging Roseanne off like a used car at the city dump.
I like to imagine Dennis tried to go back to Roseanne after the credits roll. And instead of opening her door, Roseanne just sings, “you keep on knocking but you can’t come in.” And then Dennis walks away, head down, finally understanding he let a good one get away.
Rock and Roll will never die, and neither will my love for this character who charmed me so deeply with just a few minutes of screen time, that I’m still defending her to this day.
Rest in peace, Kelly. I’m sorry Dennis was such a shitter to Roseanne, and I’m especially sorry the world couldn’t fix you the way Christine so easily repairs herself. You also deserved better.
By Matt Konopka