Starring Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Distributed by Scream Factory
Ever since Brian De Palma kicked off the practice of adapting Stephen King’s seminal literary works to film with Carrie (1976), the floodgates have remained open for cinematic interpretations of his stories. The trickle that began with that film, Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and Creepshow (1982) turned into a raging river that often saw multiple King films released within the same year. In fact, it would be easier to single out years when no King stories were adapted, as most saw multiple stories ushered onto the silver screen. Even now, in 2017, there are five (!) films related to King’s work on their way to audiences. The ‘80s were a wellspring for classics, though, with many of his most celebrated horror pictures debuting during that time. 1984 saw the release of both Children of the Corn (which has gone on the spawn an entire franchise… somehow) and Firestarter – and if you lived in any territory outside of North America you also got The Dead Zone (1983), too. Firestarter has the most interesting history to horror fans, since it began as a vehicle for John Carpenter before he was unceremoniously removed after The Thing (1982) bombed at the box office. Oh, sweet irony…
Director Mark L. Lester – he of Class of 1984 (1982) and Commando (1985) fame – eventually took over the reins, directing a then-fresh faced Drew Barrymore in her first feature-length leading role. Despite the prestige of both a rising child actor and a score by German electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream, Lester’s film stumbles by committing a mortal cinema sin: it too often moves at a glacial pace.
Andy McGee (David Keith) and his daughter, Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Drew Barrymore), are on the run from agents of “The Shop”, a highly classified arm of the government’s Department of Scientific Intelligence. Flashbacks reveal Andy and his wife, Vicky (Heather Locklear), were participants in a government study about the effects of hallucinogens back in their college days. The two were given low doses of LOT-6, an experimental drug that granted them telepathic abilities; Vicky could read minds, while Andy can use his mind to manipulate others into doing his will. Charlie, meanwhile, has the extraordinary ability of being able to start fires with her mind, as well as being able to predict some future events.
Another flashback shows how agents of The Shop infiltrated Andy and Vicky’s home one afternoon, killing Vicky and abducting Charlie before Andy showed up and was able to stop the kidnapping. Ever since then, the two have been on the lam and agents are never far behind. Frustrated, the commander of The Shop, Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen), calls in Agent John Rainbird (George C. Scott), a hardened professional, to capture them both. Exhausted and in dire need of respite, Andy and Charlie are taken in by a kindly old couple, Irv (Art Carney) and Norma (Louise Fletcher) Manders, who are taken aback by Andy’s story and aren’t sure what to believe until agents ascertain their location and storm the farm. Threatened and cornered, Charlie unleashes a wrath upon the feds like she never has before, revealing just a taste of the power she holds. Andy and Charlie go back on the run but they are eventually caught by Rainbird, who hauls them back to The Shop. Under Cpt. Hollister’s watchful eye, the two are separated and Charlie is subjected to further testing, the power of which could be enough to destroy the world!
Alright, maybe she isn’t going to go that far, but it is possible? Probably. Even at the end, when Charlie seems to be using all her might in a pyrokinetic display of savagery, there exists the potential for her to exponentially increase her scope. Who’s to say where it ends? Charlie, as played by Barrymore, is the heart of this film. Well, she and Art Carney who is just a class act of old-school gravitas. But as Charlie, Barrymore is required to spend nearly half of the film in a highly emotional state, crying and agitated. Acting is a lot to ask of kids in general, but to have one so capable of displaying the right level of emotion to sell a scene is impressive. There is a reason why she has stuck around in the business for so long.
David Keith is a serviceable actor but there is always some level of detachment to his performances that prevents me from completely empathizing. He is only seen as sympathetic here due to his circumstances – dead wife, “special” daughter – but Keith himself, in character, never manages to rise above barely-there for me. His range is limited here and he isn’t much for the doting father type. I find he works best as an antagonist, like in Donald Cammell’s excellent White of the Eye (1987).
The less said about Heather Locklear’s role, the better – although I will say Locklear was in her prime here, gorgeous as ever. Her role as Andy’s wife is minor and severely lacking and her – not-really-spoiler alert – death has zero impact because all we really know is the two were married and she had Charlie, but we don’t spend any time with her.
Entire paragraphs could, and should, be devoted to discussing George C. Scott’s luxurious ponytail and generally gruff, badass demeanor here. Hell, the guy kills a man with one swift smash to the bridge of his nose; it’s his signature move, one which he eloquently describes later in the film. Rainbird is a unique, lone wolf type of character and Scott was the perfect man for the job. His involvement can increase the enjoyment of any film; see: The Exorcist III (1990).
Finally, any review would be remiss not to mention the musical contributions of the legendary Tangerine Dream. Despite scoring the film cold (the band just sent over some music and told Lester to choose what he liked) the themes and melodies often work wonders, whether heightening the emotion of a big moment or simply providing some mellow tunes for the film’s slower periods. This score, combined with the strength of a nearly solid acting ensemble, is what makes Firestarter a better film than its script may have otherwise allowed.
Almost forgot, eagle-eyed horror fans keep an eye out for Dick Warlock, who just two years after Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is once again playing a mysterious man in a tailored suit. And if you pay extra close attention, you can watch him die twice.
This film has been issued and re-issued countless times (OK, maybe, like, five but you get the point) and the last release, a Blu-ray from Universal was reviled for looking ugly as sin thanks to an overuse of DNR. Rest assured, this new 2K scan of the interpositive is a revelation compared to past releases. Scream Factory has knocked it out of the park with a 2.35:1 1080p image that is brimming with fine details thanks to stunning clarity, robust color saturation, razor-sharp definition, and a complete lack of dirt & debris (save for very minor white speckling). No problems whatsoever can see seen here, making this one of Scream Factory’s strongest visual presentations yet.
Don’t fret over the lack of a multi-channel track as Universal’s disc had because the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is true to the source. Dialogue is easy to understand and always clear. Tangerine Dream’s score soars in lossless audio quality. The mono track doesn’t carry the same weight as a multi-channel or even stereo affair but I commend Scream Factory’s commitment to purists. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
Director Mark Lester provides an audio commentary that has been described as “lacking” due to a lack of frequent conversation. It might be best to skip this and go right into the documentary.
“Playing with Fire: The Making of Firestarter” – Although Barrymore and Keith are absent from this documentary that should in no way dissuade potential viewers from missing this excellent retrospective. Many important players are interviewed here and there is a lot of great movie trivia for fans.
“Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories – An Interview with Johannes Schmoelling” – This is a fantastic trip through memory lane with Schmoelling, who recalls many details of Tangerine Dream’s early days and their scoring efforts. Highly recommended, especially for fans of the group.
“Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream Plays “Charlie’s Theme” is a great new rendition recorded just for this piece.
A couple of theatrical trailers, six radio spots, and a still gallery stuffed with all sorts of rare and cool photos are also included.
- NEW 2K scan of the interpositive film element
- NEW Audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester
- NEW Playing with Fire: The Making of FIRESTARTER – featuring interviews with director Mark L. Lester, actors Freddie Jones and Drew Snyder, stuntman/actor Dick Warlock and Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream
- NEW Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories – an interview with Johannes Schmoelling
- NEW exclusive performance of “Charlie’s Theme” by Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream
- Theatrical Trailers
- Radio Spot
- Still Gallery
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman
Directed by B.D. Benedikt
Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision
Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.
Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.
Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.
The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.
Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.
The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.
“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.
“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
- Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
- The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.
The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross
Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu
Directed by Xavier Gens
Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.
A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.
From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.
I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?
My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.
The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.
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