FIRESTARTER

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FIRESTARTER - 1984
USA Release: May 11, 1984
Dino De Laurentiis / Universal Pictures
Rated: Argentina, Spain: 13 / Australia: M / Canada: 14A / Finland: K-18 / Iceland, West Germany: 16 / Norway, UK: 18 / Singapore: PG / Sweden: 15 / USA: R

Stephen King is unlucky. Yeah, I know, he's richer than you'll ever be and famous and massively successful but I maintain that he's unlucky. I say that because almost every movie that's been made from his excellent stories has, pardon the expression, sucked. Go to imdb and check it yourself if you don't believe me. They've almost all sucked bad.

FIRESTARTER was directed by Mark L. Lester (CLASS OF 1999, PTERODACTYL) and written by Stanley Mann (CONAN THE DESTROYER, EYE OF THE NEEDLE), based on the novel by Stephen King.

The story begins with a desperate man carrying a little girl along a crowded Washington, D.C. sidewalk. The man is Andy McGee (David Keith: DAREDEVIL) and the little girl is Charlie (Drew Barrymore: SCREAM, DONNIE DARKO).

A group of men in standard issue "we're Feds" business suits follows close behind and almost catches Andy and Charlie, but they make a getaway in a taxi. Andy gives the taxi driver a one dollar bill but somehow casts the illusion that it's a five hundred dollar bill.

Andy has a psi power alternately referred to as mental domination and telepathic hypnosis. He can “push” someone and make them do whatever he says. Using his ability causes him great pain and gives him a nosebleed, suggesting he’s doing damage to himself each time.

Firestarter long poster

Andy and Charlie are on the run from "The Shop", the very definition of the standard issue "evil government agency". We learn that agents from The Shop already killed Charlie's mother Vicki (Heather Locklear: THE RETURN OF THE SWAMP THING) and are intent on capturing Charlie.

The Shop's chief evil scientist, Dr. Wanless (Freddie Jones: VAMPIRA, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, SON OF DRACULA, KRULL, TIME AFTER TIME), once ran an experiment on some college kids, giving them a pituitary extract called "Lot 6". This drug awakened psychic powers in some of the subjects (and caused the grisly death of others). Andy and Vicki met during this experiment and their daughter has psychic powers as well. She has pyrokinesis, the ability to start fires.

The Shop is lead by Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen: THE DEAD ZONE, THE DEPARTED, TOTAL RECALL 2070, SPAWN) and his right hand man, John Rainbird (George C. Scott: THE CHANGELING, EXORCIST III). They're determined to get Charlie in a lab to study her abilities and casually murder anyone who gets in their way.

And now I'll casually insert a

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
There is no evidence that any form of psychic power is anything more than wishful thinking. However I can imagine a scientific basis firm enough to suspend my disbelief. If you assume that there is some as yet undiscovered form of energy permeating the universe and/or existing in some higher dimensional space then that can serve as the power source for Charlie’s amazing abilities. For a more thorough explanation I refer the interested reader to “Waldo” by Robert Heinlein.

Want more? Go to SCIENCE MOMENT.

Okay, it's time for the important question. Is this another member of the long list of bad movies made from Stephen King stories? Did it suck?

No, it didn't. I like this movie a lot, by which I mean I enjoy it despite its flaws. It's not a great movie by any means. Many of the lesser characters suffer from state-the-obvious-itis, an affliction that takes the form of them saying what we can plainly see or figure out on our own. And a lot of the acting is very bad, especially by the great George C. Scott who was just phoning it in.

A variety of interesting characters do make an impression, including the evil Dr. Pynchot (Moses Gunn: THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, AMITYVILLE II) and the good hearted Irv Manders (Art Carney: RAVAGERS) and his wife Norma (Louise Fletcher: THE EXORCIST II, STRANGE INVADERS, INVADERS FROM MARS, MAMA DRACULA, PREDATOR: THE CONCERT, VIRTUOSITY). But the story of a father desperately trying to protect his daughter from very bad people is the core of this movie and it's compelling enough to overlook a lot. The father-daughter chemistry between David Keith and Drew Barrymore feels genuine and the weird situation and constant threat makes you care what happens to them.

I give FIRESTARTER three shriek girls.

Shriek GirlShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2007 E.C.McMullen Jr.

Firestarter (1984) on IMDb
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