Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Stephening, Day 1: Firestarter (1984)


Starting with Firestarter seems appropriate because it's right there in the title. It's not called Firelighter or Fireigniter, after all.  

I had never seen Firestarter, hadn't read the book, and just sort of missed it in the marathon of 80s horror VHSes we churned through during the latchkey years.  I had sort of filed it away under "not a great adaptation of not a great King novel" and gave myself a pass not to watch it. 

But oh man that pass was not legit, and all the blame I should put on myself I now telekinetically direct outward, like a shimmering ball of smoky fire, at all of you for not telling me about it!  *a single hair wafts beneath a ceiling fan, AC almost kicks on*

Because, I'll tell you, I loved this film and its burning confused heart.  It's a film about dads!  And the military-industrial complex!  And fire safety!

And then there's the sheer nostalgia throwback of it all. Digital watches! Jokes about microwaves! Heather Locklear! Government agents who drive sweet sweet Buick sedans in all their blocky tan glory! Whoever thought black SUVs were a step up didn't get a load of this badassery.  

The film slows down and gets scattered through the middle, but that's ok because the whole thing suspends from one hook: Drew Barrymore's Charlie can, at any point, wreck absolute living hellfire on everyone and everything, and we keep watching because we know she will.  And then she does and the whole movie makes up for everything in explosions and conflagration.

No CGI here (that I'm aware of).  Stuff is really on fire.  And when I say stuff, I mean, people. So many people on fire. All set to a perfect 80s synth score by Tangerine Dream.

Three notes in passing:

1. George C. Scott's red face casting of the psychopath government hit man John Rainbird is both disappointing and weirdly effective.

It's disappointing because in the book the character of John Rainbird is actually a Native American.  But in the film, because he's played by George C. Scott, famous white actor, I thought Rainbird was supposed to be appropriating in an obnoxious but sort of familiar way.  

And that made it so much more effective!  If the psychopath Rainbird, who wants to kill Charlie and steal her power, were white, then the film would be criticizing cultural appropriation rather than, you know, doing it. 

2.  The pastoral vs. industrial vs. plantation settings suggest that the military industrial complex is fundamentally linked to antebellum Virginia plantation culture.  Like, the tech-modern military installation is literally in the basement of a plantation.  

And on the other side, you have this aw shucks homestead of the simple and intuitive American farmer who offers you a beer.  Much more to say about this and the drift of political imaginary in U.S. culture and such, but instead I'll talk about. . .

3.  Fire extinguishers. Uncommented fire extinguishers in the background of shots (can you find them all?).

Man, that kitchen is so 80s it hits me right in my giant V8 can of a heart.

Next up, Sleepwalkers!  Already behind on this little project, but I promise briefer blurbs in the future--I just did not expect to like this film this much.

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