People seem to like Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984) well enough. At the very least, people acknowledge its existence as yet another Stephen King movie that was “pretty good,” as the one with a tiny Drew Barrymore in it. Why I encounter so many who don’t outright love the movie is completely beyond me though! And with Firestarter receiving the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray treatment by Scream Factory—one of the greatest distributors of cult cinema today—I’m hoping that’s about to change.
One of the reasons Firestarter likely isn’t held in as high a regard as it probably should be is that it’s often misclassified as a horror film. It’s easy to see how folks would be tempted to classify it as such. After all, it’s got Stephen King’s name on it, for one. Plus, it’s got a little girl who can start fires with her mind in it, not wholly unlike that other female protagonist of Stephen King fame, Carrie White, who appeared in theaters not even a decade prior to Firestarter. Plus, it was released on the heels of John Carpenter’s far more financially-successful adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine (1983), which was pretty much straight horror. (Carpenter, as it happens, had been developing Firestarter for Dino De Laurentiis before Lester was attached.)
Firestarter is something different altogether. Sure, it’s a character study like most of King’s work, primarily an exploration of a single, father-daughter relationship. But it isn’t a traditional horror film by any means. Its monsters aren’t those characters with extraordinary mental powers, but the non-powered humans (just like Carrie). It’s a story of science experiments gone awry, of secret, governmental organizations ruining people’s lives in the name of military power. And at the heart of it are Andy McGee (David Keith) and his daughter Charlie (Barrymore, who delivers an amazing performance for a child her age), whose respective telepathy and pyrokinesis are the result of said government experiments, on the run from a government laboratory known only as “The Shop.” In this, Firestarter is more of a subtle, man-on-the-run, sci-fi suspense story than it is a horror film.
Moreover, it’s a terrifically effective story at that, rooted in the fear that this father and daughter might be forcibly separated and succumb to the lies and double-crosses of The Shop. And it all builds to an epic, special effects-filled climax! Sure, you can see strings guiding fireballs and the like, and the stuntmen’s fire-retardant suits are clearly visible through the flames. But that’s part of the film’s immense charm.
As if all that isn’t testament enough to the film’s quality, the rest of Firestarter’s cast and crew is populated by immense talent. In addition to the aforementioned Keith and Barrymore and the direction by Mark L. Lester (Commando, Class of 1984, Roller Boogie—all of which I adore), the film boasts a script by Omen II-writer Stanley Mann and additional performances by George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, and Heather Locklear. Plus, the distinctly 1980’s, atmospheric score was provided by Tangerine Dream, and legendary stuntman Dick Warlock worked on the film!
The Scream Factory Collector’s Edition release of Firestarter features a new, 2k transfer of the film’s interpositive, and special features including new interviews, featurettes and a new commentary by Lester, in addition to the trailer, radio spots, and a photo gallery. The two featurettes on the disc include a 52-minute making-of documentary featuring extensive interviews with Lester, Warlock, Tangerine Dream’s Johannes Schmoelling, and actors Freddie Jones and Drew Snyder, as well as a 17-minute interview with Johannes Schmoelling on the Tangerine Dream’s work on the score. The final feature on the disc is simply Schmoelling playing “Charlie’s Theme,” which I’ve already played a few times, if I’m being honest.
If you haven’t seen Firestarter, now’s the time to do so, since we’ve this excellent Collector’s Edition to look at thanks to Scream Factory. And if you’ve seen it before and are one of those who don’t look back on it with great fondness, do yourself a huge favor and give it another look!