It's become an October tradition (for me; no one else cares) that I write one of these "Movies I Love" to kick off #ScaryMovieMonth, I think because I want to set a tone of positivity by celebrating a movie that's special to me. This year, it has been incredibly difficult for me to pick a movie to celebrate. For one, we've been around long enough at this point that we've covered so many of the movies I love, which takes a lot of titles off the table. For another, I've experienced some major, major writer's block lately, and the thought of trying to articulate why I love a certain movie seemed almost impossible -- especially if I wanted to do that movie any kind of justice. No matter what film I picked, I almost immediately talked myself out of it. In some cases, I even revisited a movie to see if it would spark something, but no luck. I'm empty.
I don't mean for this to be an excuse, but rather an apology. An apology to you, the reader, who clicked on this piece hoping for some new insight into a movie that isn't talked about enough. More than that, though, it's an apology to Firestarter, a movie I love that probably won't get the appreciation it deserves even from me. Lost in the shuffle of being yet another Stephen King adaptation in the 1980s -- a decade that saw King's work adapted to the screen a lot -- Firestarter has a reputation as middling and unremarkable. Even its fans seem unable to muster more enthusiasm than "It's ok." My affection for it is considerably greater, even when I recognize that the movie itself may not be truly great.
Firestarter began its life as a John Carpenter project, but after the box office failure of The Thing, Universal wasn't interested in giving Carpenter the big budget his version of King's novel would require. A new script, one more faithful to the novel, was commissioned and Mark L. Lester was brought on to direct coming off of the great Class of 1984. Regular readers of this site know what a Mark Lester fan I am, so his involvement in the movie certainly doesn't hurt my love for it. He's a guy who came up through the drive-in and exploitation cinema of the 1970s, so watching him graduate to a big studio movie like Firestarter is interesting. Lester serves the material well, but I can feel a slight sense of caution in the way he directs. The movie is confident, yes, and quite capable, but it's missing some of the personality that his earlier work has, so it's a little like someone nailing a job interview because he or she said everything the other person wanted to hear. There are times watching Firestarter where I miss the old Lester, whose movies felt a little crazy, a little dangerous. He would strike that balance much more successfully in his next movie Commando, which is a good mix of studio slickness and gonzo exploitation insanity.
Of course, theirs is not the only significant relationship in the movie, because we also get the completely insane connection between Charlie and Rainbird, played by a totally miscast George C. Scott. Part father, part friend, all evil, Rainbird deceives the girl by posing as an orderly named John, going so far as to pretend to be afraid of the dark as a way of seeming vulnerable and childlike. Scott is such a weird choice to play Rainbird (when Carpenter was still signed to direct, he wanted to cast Assault on Precinct 13's Darwin Joston), but he's such a good actor that he winds up as the biggest standout even among an amazing cast that also includes Art Carney and Louise Fletcher as a kindly couple who give cover to Andy and Charlie. With his sizable bulk, his ponytail, and his eyepatch, Scott turns Rainbird into such an eccentric creation that he's practically a freak; watching him and Drew Barrymore occupy the frame together is like the scene in Frankenstein where the monster is picking flowers with the little girl before tossing her into a lake (spoilers for Frankenstein, I guess?). Rainbird's endgame is demented and Scott's commitment to the performance so devoted that it's all fascinating when it could have been the sort of thing that completely derails the movie.
Happy Scary Movie Month.