Quantum Geek: Stephen King's Firestarter (May 1984)

It seems that the world of entertainment has its own mascot to represent the zeitgeist of every era we endure, or at least it used to, until every big movie studio realised that the best way to compete was by trying to master a league of their own. The mid to late nineties saw a comeback for giant monsters and alien invasion movies, the noughties saw the zombies take back control in a big way, and then eventually the superheroes began the camapign to reign supreme!

Dan Ashley Quantum Geek for nerdgenious.com reviews classic nerd favourite sci-fi, horror and action movies

Here we are, today, with Warner Brothers' Godzilla pitted against Sony's The Amazing Spider-man 2, and with highly successful The Walking Dead taking another few months out before AMC kicks off its fifth season. However it's all too clear that the spandex crowd have gained world domination, with a massively popular back-catalogue of superhero movies and another half a decade's worth of box office hits already in planning. However, many attempts have also gained world criticism. There's a very thin line between success and excess, after all.

It only makes sense that I take this route towards explaining how Quantum Geek's next retro movie review should appeal to the comic book fans out there whose movie fare nowhere near resembles the darkness of their favourite Marvel or DC story arcs. Without further jibber-jabber on behalf of yours truly, let's set back the clocks...

Quantum Geek Stephen King's Firestarter horror sci fi May 1984


Post ET: The Extra Terrestrial child star Drew Barrymore as Charlie McGee in Firestarter

Tired as you may be of the name Stephen King, especially if you watched a lot of television in the last decade and a half, the '80s really set him onto the path to superstardom. Movies such as Cujo, Creepshow, Children of the Corn and Christine aren't just vivid childhood nightmares to many of us, they're an important part of cinema history, regardless of their box office performance!

One movie of his that wasn't clear cut horror, however, was Firestarter, and I feel that it doesn't come across as memorable as the rest, sheerly for the fact that it wasn't one of the grossout movies. Instead, thanks to today's comic book superhero renaissance, King's Carrie-esque journey into shady government experiments and pyrokinesis (fireballs out your ass, baby!) is probably more relevant today than it's ever been. Despite its age, it's also a really enjoyable bit of drama, pumped chock-full of literal hair-raising pyro-stunts.

King's limited and highly sought after 1980 novel of the same name was adapted for the big screen and released in May of 1984, starring then-child actor Drew Barrymore in her first movie since Spielberg's ET: The Extra Terrestrial amongst a collective of very fine actors, including Oscar winning veteran George C. Scott (Dr Strangelove, The Exorcist III) and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The West Wing). Imagine an X-Men Origins movie to one of Professor X's many gifted school pupils, only it was made in the '80s. Instead of millions being spent on tailor-making fucking leotards, you spend them on good actors, original loactions and then blowing it all to shit. That is Firestarter, and if you want my opinion, it fucking rocks!

Firestarter sees future husband and wife Andy McGee (David Keith) and Vicky Tomlinson (Heather Locklear) meet as volunteers of a scientific experiment, just trying to pay their way through college like any other sensible and wholesome hippy kids. The experiment is being run by shady government organisation "The Shop" aka the Department of Scientific Intelligence. While the effects of ingesting LOT-6, a drug they believe simply to be LSD, fails on other volunteers, it grants Andy and Vicky psychic and telekinetic powers.

Vicky Tomlinson and Andy McGee human test subjects of The Shop in Stephen King's Firestarter
"Hey, I love you man! No, you don't know, I really do! Got the bad munchies too..."
They have a baby, Charlie (Barrymore), and as she grows, we see who the title really refers to. You see, Charlie is born with the power to set shit on fire, kind of in the same vein that the Incredible Hulk loses his temper and rage-quits in grand fashion. This proves a bit of a problem, but regardless, they continue to try to live a normal life, training Charlie to be in control of her powers. When Charlie reaches the age of 8, her mother is murdered when The Shop comes looking for a little catchup with their human experiments. Andy and Charlie are forced on the run.

What the fuck, Shop? You outta your damn minds? Heather effin' Locklear?!!

Heather Locklear nude bikini pose for Playboy
Heather be thy name. Shwiiiiiing!
After a year on the run, The Shop gets their greasy mittens on Andy and Charlie, essentialy kidnapping them, and then holding Andy hostage so that Charlie will demonstrate her powers to assure his safety. George C. Scott's psychotic dirty jobs guy, John Rainbird, poses as a friendly orderly at The Shop's facility, befriending Charlie and finding out how to unleash the full potential of her powers. The government wants to craft Charlie into a weapon. Oddly, though, as Rainbird charms Charlie, this adorable little girl clearly has more charm over him, and we feel for him as much as we do her. Shame that's just part of his big plan. Damn you, you convincing Oscar winning bastard, you!

Dr Strangelove and Patton Oscar winning actor George C. Scott in Stephen King's Firestarter
"FUCK HYDRA!!! I was General Patton."
As Captain Hollister, the man running the whole show, Martin Sheen is as flawless as he was in The Dead Zone opposite Christopher Walken. Although he was a total psychotic in the novel, the movie understandably makes him more neutral so not to psychologically scar parents everywhere. Andy is being doped up with medication that inhibits his own powers (to control minds), but starts to skip doses, eventually gaining control over Hollister's mind, so that he and Charlie can escape once more. The only trouble is that Charlie trusts orderly John so much, she shares their escape plot with him, believing that he will help them to escape.

As the inevitable shit hits the fan, we are treated to some gloriously old-school pyro-stunts. When I say some, I mean that it's a surprise Drew Barrymore is still with us today. For what it is, and for when it was made, Firestarter lives up to its name, ending with more than a bang. I mean, for Christ's sake, it looks like director Mark L. Lester was practicing for Schwarzenegger's Commando and just brought a bunch of RPG's and rocket launchers to the set on the last day.

Not only does this movie succeed by good drama, storytelling, effects and Barrymore's impossible cuteness, like I said, it does what Marvel should be doing right now. It tells a tale of the darker side of great power and responsibility, something that isn't just limited to web-slinging. Even Joss Whedon is, so far, guilty of hiding women in refrigerators. This movie is about that girl you'd never dare suggest she take a cold spell.

Drew Barrymore burns down the house in Firestarter
"Fuck marshmallows, Ima toast your face!"
On a final note, did you know that John Carpenter was originally set to direct Firestarter? Because of the financial and critical failure of The Thing, the studio blacklisted him. Being made on a budget of roughly $15 million, it only earned about $100 thousand in the US after getting its millions back. Fuck the critics!

Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment below. More to come later this week from Quantum Geek.

-Dan Ashley

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