- Movie Rating -

Firestarter (1984)

| May 11, 1984

Firestarter is an ugly, nasty little thriller about a little girl who has the power to start fires with her mind – pyrokinesis one might say.  The movie has been well-crafted with special effects that are especially good, but I fear that this is where the movie’s good senses start and stop.  What kind of story can you draw from this plot?  I wouldn’t know from the Stephen King book, I never read it.  All I can say is that once the special fire effects were in place, the filmmakers dusted off their hands and congratulated themselves for a job well-done, so to speak.

Drew Barrymore is Charlie, who is the product of Andrew and Vicky McGee, a couple who got together while they were earning money from the government while loaning themselves out for medical experiments (who wouldn’t?)  Of course, all of the experiments have sinister intentions, as they find out when they have a daughter who can start fires with her mind and years later, Andrew and Charlie have to go on the run. 

The big moments come when Charlie uses her special power.  She focuses in, the camera pulls in on her face, her eyes get narrow, the wind blows her hair and fire appears behind her.  That’s the movie’s key shot, but it takes no real talent.  The movie never uses Barrymore’s charm or humor or even dramatic abilities.  It is exploiting her.

The story is almost nothing.  The father is giving himself a brain hemorrhage from his ESP and she is setting fire to anyone who gets in their way.  Meanwhile they are surrounded by a gaggle of characters who are either trying to kill them or trying to protect them – most everyone dies in the attempt.  The worst is a loathsome creep named John Rainbird (George C. Scott), a Native American whose sole purpose is to kill Charlie with a technique in which he is able to break her nose and send bone fragments into her brain.  I don’t know what that has to do with the rest of the movie but he lays it out in a lurid speech and then demonstrates it early in the picture.  Rainbird seems to have come in from another movie, another script, another plot.  I never figured out where he came from, why he wanted to murder Charlie or why the movie made him into a child molester.  That’s the spirit of this movie.

I have seen Stephen King adaptations both very good and very bad and I have figured out that the best of these are working at a very human level.  I am thinking of CarrieChristine and The Dead Zone.  His best work brings out the fears in very real characters, those that we can stand next to and identify with.  The worst of these fail at that level and that’s what happens.  That’s Firestarter, a movie that is playing with matches and seems to burn up its script.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Horror