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Why Firestarter Suffers from a Lack of John Carpenter

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Firestarter

Firestarter is Stephen King’s comic book movie, even on the page. It’s been said that The Dead Zone is something of a superhero origin story, but I think the tragedy of it is that it’s cut short before that can really be the case. It’s about someone with extrasensory powers making the decision to take the law into their own hands, yes, but it winds up taking a different direction by the time all is said and done. Carrie is about someone with a huge amount of power who is, at her core, a good person, but simply gets pushed to her breaking point.

But Firestarter is just Stephen King’s version of X-Men. This book embraces comic book tropes all the way through. We’ve got two people gifted with powers they did not ask for, being hunted down by a shadowy organization that wants to use them for its own nefarious means. It’s classic stuff. There was an understandable excitement at the time from fans of the book, imagining how the story would translate into the amazing, groundbreaking climate of early ‘80s science fiction films.

The adaptation we got, though it has its fans, was not by any means the surefire hit that people were expecting. It suffered on a couple of levels, from the budget down to, frankly, the direction. And therein lies the problem. Firestarter was supposed to be directed by John Carpenter, but he was fired from the project at the eleventh hour after The Thing turned out to be an enormous box office flop. The studio was so nervous after the reaction to that movie, that they didn’t want its director anywhere near this one.

Because of that, Firestarter looks and feels like something that’s trying to look and feel like a John Carpenter film, but just isn’t doing it. It’s honestly a fascinating way to explore exactly what Carpenter brings to the table as a filmmaker by exploring what happens when he is removed from the equation.

Firestarter 1984

Everything about the concept and even much of the execution feels completely within Carpenter’s wheelhouse—ironically much more so than Christine, which was an unexpected adaptation from the director at the time. This could have been such a stylish thriller, mixing action and drama with classic sci-fi, hinging on Carpenter’s favorite theme of governmental organizations that can’t be trusted and are built on the abuse of their own power.

There’s no real reason on paper why Firestarter shouldn’t work. All the right elements are there. Drew Barrymore gave one of the best child acting debuts of all time in E.T. There’s some insanely impressive adult talent involved as well, including Martin Sheen and George C. Scott. So what went wrong?

Admittedly, there are some aspects of the pacing that really, really take a particular kind of director to be able to pull them off effectively. While Firestarter kicks off with a bang, diving head first into the story of a father and daughter on the run, they’re caught about halfway through. The second half of the movie is just Charlie being subjected to random experimentation by The Shop. At this point, it just slows to a crawl and never really recovers until the end.

Firestarter 1984

But that still makes you wonder if Carpenter would have elevated that into something that was appropriately tense, or if it would have turned out to have the exact same pacing issues he’d wind up having with Village of the Damned. This was the early eighties, though. Carpenter was on the top of his game. The movie that got him fired off Firestarter in the first place was, after all, the film that most fans now consider to be his masterpiece.

The truth is that there’s just something about Carpenter, not just his cinematic trademarks and style, but in who he is and what he brings to each project he associates himself with, that can’t be duplicated. It can’t truly be emulated. And that’s all the more obvious now that we live in such a nostalgia-heavy era where it definitely feels like everyone is trying to emulate the man and his work. How many movies are trying to recapture the sound of a Carpenter score? Trying to go for that same wide frame or those long Panavision shots? But even as fun as they are when they come close, they can’t do it. Because there’s only one John Carpenter.

That’s what’s painfully obvious in Firestarter. It has the basic look of Carpenter, the same basic tone and even some of the same sound. Everything about it suggests that it should be a John Carpenter movie, but it just isn’t.

Firestarter 1984

And that’s not to say that Firestarter is without merit or that Mark L. Lester is a bad director. George C. Scott as a Native American (especially one who seems to have such a creepy agenda) might not be a great choice overall, but when the feature eventually reaches its pyrotechnic finale, it’s delightful. Charlie’s rampage might not have the poignancy of Carrie, but at that point we’re more than ready to give ourselves up to sheer spectacle. These aren’t dazzling special effects, but I almost feel like they shouldn’t be. I think this is better. When it embraces its campiness by the end, it’s the best version of itself that it could be given everything it had to work with.

The score by Tangerine Dream is amazing. It’s easily the best thing about Firestarter. But even though it’s great to listen to on its own, sometimes its hard not to think about what Carpenter’s score would have looked like, what he could have brought to the energy, to the characters and—especially—to the entire visual style of the film as a whole.

You can have most if not all of the elements that Carpenter would have had, but when you take a director like that at the high point of his career and remove him from the project, you’re effectively removing the movie’s spirit. As entertaining as Firestarter can be, it ultimately never recovers from that.

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Event Coverage: Mark Patton and Kim Myers Talk Freddy’s Revenge in London

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Earlier this month Unicorn Nights organized a rare treat for horror fans, not only did we get to view the often under rated A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge but we were also honored to be in company with the two leading cast members. Mark Patton who played Jesse Walsh and Kim Myers who played his on screen girlfriend Lisa Webber were on hand for a Q & A session once the 1985 sequel had wrapped and Dread Central was in London for a full report.

Every horror fan has their own take on Freddy’s Revenge which has always felt like a standalone movie compared to the rest of the franchise. Speaking to fans at the infamous Prince Charles Cinema where the event was being shown they recalled moments that made the movie so special and separate from the other sequels. The bright yellow school bus, Jesse’s 20 inch tongue, Freddy bursting out of a Mark Patton plastic fantastic body, the exploding parrot, Jesse’s dance, Jesse’s fight, Jesse’s scream, the dog with a human head, the horrifyingly beautiful score by Christopher Stone, Hope Lange, Clu ‘fucking’ Gulager, the beautiful Kim Myers (who judging by tonight hasn’t aged) and of course the infamous line when Freddy tells Jesse,”you’ve got the body, I’ve got the brain”, before peeling back the skin on his head to reveal his pumping organ.

When the movie had wrapped Mark and Kim got down to business and answered fans long awaited questions. Myers confirmed that her audition had been grueling and that she had been asked back four times, but it was her read through with Patton that convinced the powers that be to cast her. “It was a dream come true to get the part and the opportunity of a lifetime”, confirmed Myers.

It was also interesting to learn that Robert Englund who of course would return as Freddy Krueger was the very last cast member to sign on for the sequel, and his participation was very much in the balance. Patton made everyone in the room laugh when he answered  a question from a fan who said ‘was his screaming really him?’ Patton confirmed it was, before revealing that the sound men were in fear of him. Of course Myers is the only actress to have kissed Freddy and she revealed that the peck was very slimy and disgusting , but it was all about saving the love of her life, and with that, both her and Patton, embraced in what had been a fantastic and memorable night for the fans that had turned up for this sold out showing.

ABOUT UNICORN NIGHTS:
Unicorn Nights is the LGBTQUAI strand of films at the Prince Charles Cinema. Looking at some of the best (and worst) films that appeal to a queer unicorn audience. From Classics like Dirk Bogarde’s Victim and Tilda Swinton’s Orlando to lesbian werewolf love stories Jack & Diane and coming out classic Get Real. Their goal is to not let forgotten films from gay film makers or covering gay subjects be forgotten about and give a safe space for unicorns (as they like to call their audience) to come and enjoy film in the beating heart of London’s film center.

If you are in the London area you can follow Unicorn’s latest events and keep up to date by clicking here!

Also check out news on Mark Patton’s new documentary, Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street.

All Photos: David Bronstein

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2017: The Digital Rebirth of the Midnight Movie

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This year’s Sundance audience had no idea what they had signed up for when they entered the Egyptian Theatre on January 21st, the midnight premiere of Kuso. While Flying Lotus has established a well-earned legacy through his music, feature films are a fresh venture for him – and his first effort was transgressive enough to be dubbed one of the grossest films ever made. In spite of this film’s instant infamy, however, it didn’t have a theatrical run. Its grotesque pleasures must be sought almost exclusively online. Only some (lucky or unlucky) cinephiles have been able to experience this creation as it, and much of its ilk, should be – in the darkness of a theater.

The midnight movie phenomenon truly broke into the mainstream during the late ‘60s, amidst the academically-deemed Golden Age of American cinema. Now-famous directors like John Waters, David Lynch, and Alejandro Jodorowsky earned notoriety with these works – made infamous by their grotesque natures, sure, but also because they broke cinematic rules in such effective ways. There is something cathartic about watching a film that shows you something impossible, surrounded by others who are just as shocked and moved. This is an experience that audiences can’t truly replicate outside of a theater, at any time before nightfall.

Since the rise of the multiplex and big-chain theaters, independent cinemas have had a more difficult time competing. Why settle for one screen, anyway, when you can have twenty? With blockbusters and a series of misfires (lookin’ at you, Heaven’s Gate) putting an end to the revolutionary Golden Age, there wasn’t a space for midnight movies. Perhaps this was because they defy classification. Their ultimate effect may be disgust or discomfort, but a midnight movie isn’t necessarily horror, or comedy or sci-fi, for that matter. Without a category, they’re impossible to sell – or sell easily.

Film festivals have become the salvation of these less accessible offerings. Kuso was one of eight midnight selections at Sundance this year, amongst the equally harrowing (albeit less gooey) Bitch, the oddly touching The Little Hours, and entertaining anthology XX, to name a few. Big players like South by Southwest, TIFF, Tribeca and AFI sport midnight sections as well, which have premiered recent smashes like Turkish hellfest Baskin or monstrous love poem Spring – while the equally important Fantastic Fest and Sitges Film Festival have focused solely on genre films for years. Fest favorites still rely on distribution to find a broad audience, though, and often the weirdest ones get left behind.

So, where do modern audiences find these films when they don’t get a traditional release? They have to go online. Netflix’s horror section is notoriously uneven, though its acquisition of IFC Midnight’s lineup has improved it immensely. One of the most consistent platforms for weird cinema is far more niche – AMC’s hidden gem, Shudder. It’s advertised as Netflix for horror, but its curators have shown a specific focus on all things strange, regardless of category. This year, they’ve acquired more standard genre fare, like the heinously clever Better Watch Out and the powerful, agonizing Revenge; but arguably their most famous grab is Kuso, which draws an entirely different audience. Fresh acquisitions like Prevenge and We Are the Flesh, along with hard-to-find classics such as Death Bed: the Bed that Eats and The Devils, prove the site’s attention to exposing new audiences to bizarre, world-changing content.

It isn’t to say that weird movies haven’t been made in the decades between these periods; but we seem to have entered an age in which they’re becoming easily accessible again. Prestige talent has begun crossing into weird movies too; see Anne Hathaway in the genre-destroying Colossal or Jennifer Lawrence enduring all sorts of abuse in mother!, remarkable if only for the fact that Paramount released it with no questions asked. Stylish directors like Ben Wheatley and Ana Lily Amirpour broke into the mainstream with their own no-budget visions of strangeness, A Field in England and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, respectively.

Presenting a new generation with films that challenge, provoke, disgust and distort is essential; we live in a time of upheaval and anxiety, so why not explore movies that show the world in all its chaotic glory? Even so, that connection of a dark theater is missed – and fans can hope that somehow, the system will change again, allowing for a fresh cycle of movies that only play at night.

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12 Spooky Video Game Farms To Celebrate Your Thanksgiving

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Happy pre-Christmas, everybody! It’s once again that magical time of the year, where all the department stores get out their light up Santas and tinsel to celebrate the birth of capitalism. The Spooky Month is gone, all praise be to the glorious Coca-Cola Company. Oh, and there’s also something about turkeys and stuffing your face with enough pie to temporarily shut down your brain’s ability to recognize your in-laws as the enemy.

Now if you’re like me and your family is an impossible five whole hours away from you, you might be spending Thanksgiving alone. No shame in that, just a single adult man alone in his room on a day meant for loved ones. But that doesn’t mean that we very-much-not-lonely-and-totally-content-with-our-life-choices individuals can’t have some fun! So this year, I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving by remembering the American heartland that made this all possible. The noble farmer, tilling the soil from dusk till dawn until automation made his job mostly just pushing buttons. So join me if you will, with my list of 12 Spooky Video Game Farms to Celebrate Your Thanksgiving!

12) All is Dust

O HAI!

All is Dust is pretty much the reason that this is a list of “Spooky Video Game Farms,” and not “Top Spooky Video Game Farms.” This is a game that I once used to kick off a series of negative reviews I called “Bottom of the Bargain Bin,” you can go ahead and read my rambling review if you are so inclined. For the rest of you, I’ll recap by saying that All is Dust is bad. None of that wishy-washy some redeeming nuggets that you can see through the rest of the turd. It’s just plain bad. But what it does have going for it is that, A) it is 100% free, B) it 100% takes place on a farm, and C) it’s so bad that it sticks in my brain as being entertaining. Play if you’re very bored or truly deranged.

11) Farm for your Life

Although not really living up to the “Spooky” part of the “Spooky Video Game Farms” list, I’d be remiss to leave it out. Taking place after the zombie apocalypse, you must do your best to raise livestock and run your restaurant by day, and defend it from waves of zombies by night. It’s part tower defence, part Harvest Moon, part Cooking Mama, part Diner Dash, and part Minecraft. For only $10, it’s definitely worth checking out just for the unique premise and adorable zombies.

10) Monster Rancher

Whereas Pokémon was about a small child going forth into nature to enslave its creatures and force them to fight in the ultimate bloodsport, Monster Rancher was about setting up the ideal monster sex palace. Okay, you still make them fight. This is a monster raising (or, if you will, monster ranching) simulator after all, it would be pretty bleak of the ultimate goal was to just chop them up and sell off the best bits. It never did as well as Pokémon, but I always found something charming about Monster Rancher’s take on raising your monsters. Rather than just fighting to get bigger and stronger, you could raise their individual stats by making them do chores like tidying up or running laps. I got much more of a sense of attachment to my individual monsters when I felt like I was their dad, making them mow the lawn for their own good. Then, later as their pimp, I forced them to mate and produce supermonsters.

9) Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green

Somewhere out there some, search optimization program must be whirring its little algorithms in confusion as this is the first time anyone has mentioned Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green in a decade. A tie-in to the equally unloved Land of the Dead, it actually serves as a direct prequel. You play as Jack, a farmer who on the night of the zombie outbreak finds his farm besieged by… well you know the drill. Road to Fiddler’s Green gets bonus points for not only partially taking place on a farm, but for starring an authentic American heartland stereotype farmer. Now let me be clear, this game is pretty bad. But it’s even more so that endearingly simple kind of bad, where the zombies are so easily avoided it’s like the scene from Dawn of the Dead where the bikers are basically just having an orgy around them. I have no idea where you’d get your hands on it, but give it a play if you want some good ol’ fashioned bad game.

8) Dead Secret

Dead Secret

This monkey could not possibly get any eviler.

This is the part where if this were a “Top” list, it would begin in earnest. Like a Jigsaw victim tasked with beating Five Nights at Freddy’s, this is a game that surprised me. I’m not really keen on the whole fixed point VR thing, as it tends to only lend itself to jump scares, but Dead Secret won me over with some thrilling chases and overall creepy atmosphere. The bizarre plot contains oni-masked demon spirit guides, magic slugs, dream machines, and the phases of the moon. It’s definitely something worth checking out, and is available on all major VR headsets. Even without one, I found the game enjoyable.

7) Minecraft

Hisssssssss…..

First of all, if you don’t find Minecraft scary, fuck you. You’ve obviously never played it. I do not care how blocky the graphics or adorable the sheep are. You try to listening to the zombies moaning softly in the distance as you huddle in your makeshift hovel and pray the night to be over. How about you place the last block on your new swimming pool, only to hear the telltale hiss of a creeper just behind you. Then you can come back and tell me that Minecraft isn’t horror. And don’t tell me it’s not a farm, either. All you do in Minecraft IS farm. It’s a game about building things to eventually grow more things so you no longer have to go out of your way to collect things. That is the literal transition from hunter/gatherer to farming.

6) Slender: The Arrival

Now that it’s been 4 years since its official release and the hype/controversy has died down, I’m free to say nice things about Slender: The Arrival without sounding like a pandering YouTube twat. In retrospect, the part of Slender that I really didn’t like (other than the community) was the first randomly generated section. The whole 11 or so interchangeable environments with 8 pages scattered between them just felt unnatural, a cheap way to lengthen gameplay at the cost of a cohesive world. However, I found the game to be pretty good when it got to the more linear scripted areas. One such level was titled “Homestead,” and takes place on a spooky farm complete with grain silo and quaint little hilltop church. It’s a pretty solid little piece of horror, and definitely worth watching someone overreact to on YouTube.

5) Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4

The game very quickly demands that you stop sucking.

Resident Evil 4 is not a game wanting for memorable locations. It’s got a spooky castle, a spooky military base, a spooky mine, a spooky… ancient ruins? I mean hell, this is a game with an underground lava fortress and a minecart ride! That being said, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t immediately associate Resident Evil 4 with the first pitched siege battle in the farming village. Many of the game’s most memorable moments come from these first few chapters in the decaying rural town, including the enduring introduction of Mr. Chainsaw-McSackface. That alone deserves a spot on this list.

4) Dying Light: The Following

When I gave Dying Light: The Following a five-star tongue bath awhile back, much of that was due to my own personal disappointment with DLC releases. You really have to give props to a DLC pack that is at the same time affordable, lengthy, and adds something genuinely new to the title. For The Following’s case, that came in the form of lengthy rural sections you had to get across in your sick customizable buggy. It was unique compared to the previously cramped and vertical spaces of the main campaign, adding even more freedom to a game about freerunning.

3) The Walking Dead

To be clear, I’m talking about this farm

Back in the day, Telltale Games was that cute little indie company putting out new Sam and Max games and the CSI tie-ins. That all changed in 2012 when The Walking Dead put them on the map. Before then, no one expected that a game you could play on your iPhone would make you cry. Of all the heartbreaking and shocking moments, perhaps the most is the dinner at the St. Johns’ farm. Clementine will remember that…and so will I.

2) Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Welcome to the family.

The last two additions on this list basically write themselves. I’m choosing to give Resident Evil 7: Biohazard the second slot because it’s just way less recognizable as once having been a plantation. As someone who doesn’t find country bumpkins scary, the crazed hillbilly trope of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or House of 1000 Corpses never really got to me. The Baker family? These people scare me.

1) Outlast 2

Outlast 2

Of course the top spot on this list goes to Outlast 2. If you Google “horror games on farms,” it’s the first result. And there’s good reason for that. Outlast 2 takes everything unsettling about rural Americana and cranks it up to 11. You’ve got slaughterhouses filled with people, rotting cattle, a syphilitic cult leader, pits filled with dead babies… the list goes on and on. It’s genuinely terrifying. I’m not even someone who likes the weaponless approach to horror, but with Outlast 2 it’s as much about the setting as it is the jump scares. Definitely check it out.

Well, there you have it horror fans. A nice sampling of 12 Spooky Video Game Farms to Celebrate Your Thanksgiving. I tried to include a little bit of everything for everyone here, but let me know if I missed your favorite heartland horror! Happy pre-Christmas to all, and to all a good… fright?

…I’ll see myself out.

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