Horror Film Review: Firestarter (dir by Mark L. Lester)

Adapted from Stephen King novel, 1984’s Firestarter is a film about a girl with a very special power.

Back in the day, a bunch of college students needed weed money so they took part in a government experiment.  Half of them were told that they were being given a placebo.  The other half were told that we would be given a low-grade hallucinogen.

Surprise!  The government lied!  It turns out that everyone was given the experimental drug!  Some of the students ended up going crazy.  One unfortunate hippie clawed his eyes out.  Meanwhile, Vicky (Heather Locklear) gained the ability to read minds.  She also fell in love with Andy McGee (David Keith), a goofy fellow who gained the ability to mentally control people’s actions.  They married and had a daughter named Charlie (played by a very young Drew Barrymore).  Charlie, it turns out, can set things on fire!  She’s a firestarter!

Well, of course, the government can’t just leave the McGees out there, controlling minds and setting things on fire.  Soon, the McGees are being pursued by the standard collection of men in dark suits.  Vicky is killed off-screen, leaving Charlie and Andy to try to find some place where they’ll be safe.

Good luck with that!  This is the government that we’re talking about.  The thing with films like this is that the government can do practically anything but it never occurs to them to not all dress in dark suits.  I mean, it just seems like it would be easier for all of these secret agents to operate if they weren’t automatically identifiable as being secret agents.  Anyway, Andy and Charlie are eventually captured and taken to The Farm, a really nice country estate where Andy and Charlie are kept separate from each other and everyone keeps talking about national security.

Running the Farm is Capt. Hollister and we know that he’s a bad guy because he wears a suit and he’s played by Martin Sheen.  Working with Hollister is John Rainbird (George C. Scott), a CIA assassin who kills people with a karate chop across the nose.  When Charlie refuses to show off her firemaking abilities unless she’s allowed to talk to her father, Rainbird disguises himself as a custodial engineer and proceeds to befriend Charlie.  Of course, Rainbird’s plan is to kill Charlie once she’s displayed the extent of her powers….

Stephen King has written that he considers this film to be one of the worst adaptations of one of his novels but, to be honest, I think the movie is actually a bit of an improvement on the source material.  Firestarter is probably the least interesting of Stephen King’s early novels.  Supposedly, Charlie was based on King’s youngest daughter and, reading the book, it’s obvious that everyone’s fear of Charlie is mostly a metaphor for a father trying to figure out how to raise a daughter.  Unfortunately, instead of concentrating on those primal fears, the book gets bogged down in boomer paranoia about MK-ULTRA experiments.

The movie, however, is just silly enough to be kind of charming.  For example, consider the way that Andy grabs his forehead and bugs out his eyes whenever he uses his powers.  Andy’s powers may be slowly killing him but he just looks so goofy whenever he uses them that you just can’t help but be entertained.  And then you’ve got Drew Barrymore sobbing while setting people on fire and George C. Scott growling through all of his dialogue and even Martin Sheen gets a scene where he gets excited and starts jumping up and down.  (And don’t even get me started on Art Carney and Louise Fletcher as the salt-of-the-Earth farmers who try to protect Andy and Charlie….)  Some of the special effects are a bit hokey, as you might expect from a film made in 1984 but occasionally, there’s a good shot of something (or someone) burning up.  It’s all so over-the-top and relentlessly dumb that you can’t help but be entertained.  You can even forgive the fact that basically nothing happens between the first 10 and the last 15 minutes of the movie.

Firestarter‘s silly but I liked it.

Celebrate Life Day With The Star Wars Holiday Special!

Happy Life Day!

The Star Wars Holiday Special was first aired in 1978 and, over the years, it has achieved a certain amount of infamy.  Some people say that it’s the worst thing to ever be made for TV.  To those people, I say that 1) that’s not a good attitude to have on Life Day and 2) have you seen Disco Beaver From Outer Space?

Anyway, this is a musical Star Wars extravaganza.  One thing that makes it interesting is that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher were all ordered to appear in it.  Seeing as how Harrison Ford tends to come across as being grumpy on a good day, I can only imagine how he reacted to filming The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Also, a few years ago, Val reviewed the Hell out of this thing.  Be sure to check out her review.

And now, for those of you looking to experience a dubious piece of pop culture history on this Christmas, we present to you …. The Star Wars Holiday Special!

A Movie A Day #260: The Naked Face (1984, directed by Bryan Forbes)

Dr. Judd Stevens (Roger Moore) is a mild-mannered Chicago psychologist who has never been in any trouble, so why has one of his patients and his receptionist been murdered?  Lt. McGreavy (Rod Steiger), who has a personal grudge against Stevens, thinks that the doctor himself might be responsible.  Dr. Stevens thinks that the first murder was a case of mistaken identity and that he is being targeted for assassination.  Detective Angeli (Elliott Gould) says that he is willing to consider Stevens’s theory but can Stevens trust him?  Or should Dr. Stevens put his trust in a veteran P.I. (Art Carney) or maybe even his newest patient (Anne Archer)?

An example of one of the “prestige” pictures that Cannon Films would produce in between Chuck Norris movies, The Naked Face has the potential be intriguing but both the direction and the script are too formulaic to be effective.  Even though the movie does not work, it is always interesting to see the non-Bond films that Roger Moore made while he was playing the world’s most famous secret  agent.  In The Naked Face, a lot of time is spent on establishing Judd Stevens as being the exact opposite as James Bond.  Stevens doesn’t drink or smoke and he is devotedly loyal to the memory of his dead wife.  When someone offers him a gun, Stevens replies, “I don’t believe in them.”  Unlike Bond, Dr. Stevens does not have the ability to come up with one liners.  He barely ever cracks a smile.  Moore is miscast in the role but he still does a better job than Rod Steiger, who bellows all of his lines, and Elliott Gould, who spends the movie with his head down.  I don’t blame him.

One final note: As much as The Naked Face tries to distance itself from the Bond films, it does feature one other connection beyond the casting of Moore.  David Hedison, who plays Dr. Stevens’s friend and colleague, also played Felix Leiter in Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill.

A Movie A Day #259: Take This Job And Shove It (1981, directed by Gus Trikonis)

Originally from a small town in Iowa, Frank Macklin (Robert Hays) is a hotshot young executive with The Ellison Group.  When Frank is assigned to manage and revitalize a failing brewery in his hometown, it is a chance for Frank to rediscover his roots.  His childhood friends (played by actors like David Keith, Tim Thomerson, and Art Carney) may no longer trust him now that Frank wears a tie but it only takes a few monster truck rallies and a football game in a bar for Frank to show that he is still one of them.  However, Frank discovers that the only reason that he was sent to make the brewery profitable was so that his bosses could sell it to a buffoonish millionaire who doesn’t know the first thing about how to run a business.  Will Frank stand by while his bosses screw over the hardworking men and women of the heartland?  Or will he say, “You can take this job and shove it?”

Named after a country music song and taking place almost entirely in places stocked with beer, Take This Job And Shove It is a celebration of all things redneck.  This movie is so redneck in nature that a major subplot involves monster trucks.  Bigfoot, one of the first monster trucks, gets plenty of screen time and, in some advertisements, was given higher billing than Art Carney.

A mix of low comedy and sentimental drama, Take This Job And Shove It is better than it sounds.  In some ways, it is a prescient movie: the working class frustrations and the anger at being forgotten in a “booming economy” is the same anger that, 35 years later, would be on display during the election of 2016.  Take This Job And Shove It also has an interesting and talented cast, most of whom rise above the thinly written dialogue.  Along with Hays, Keith, Thomerson, Bigfoot, and Carney, keep an eye out for: Eddie Albert, Royal Dano, James Karen, Penelope Milford, Virgil Frye, George “Goober” Lindsey, and Barbara Hershey (who, as usual, is a hundred times better than the material she has to work with).

One final note: Martin Mull plays Hays’s corporate rival.  His character is named Dick Ebersol.  Was that meant to be an inside joke at the expense of the real Dick Ebersol, who has the executive producer of Saturday Night Live when Take This Job and Shove It was filmed and who later became the president of NBC Sports?

The Fabulous Forties #48: Pot O’ Gold (dir by George Marshall)


The 48th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1941’s Pot O’ Gold.  At first, I was really excited about watching Pot O’ Gold because it starred James Stewart, one of my favorite of the Golden Age stars.  “Wow,” I thought, “James Stewart never made a bad movie!  This is going to be great!”  However, before watching the film, I looked Pot O’ Gold up on Wikipedia and I discovered that apparently, James Stewart considered Pot O’ Gold to be the worst film that he ever made.

After having watched the film, I think that Jimmy may very well have been correct in his assessment.

Pot O’ Gold is a musical comedy.  Stewart plays Jimmy Haskell, the owner of a music store.  Jimmy loves music but he’s a terrible businessman.  Despite the fact that his store always seems to be full of quirky characters playing musical instruments, it still goes out of business.  Jimmy is forced to go to work for his uncle, C.J. Haskell (Charles Winninger).  C.J. not only owns a health food company but he also produces a radio show.

And, on top of all that, C.J. hates music!

Unfortunately, considering how much C.J. hates music, he lives right next door to the McCorkles, a family of Irish musicians.  The McCorkles are constantly practicing in front of C.J.’s store and, as a result, C.J. is constantly forced to call the cops to make them go away.

When Jimmy first arrives at the store, he befriends the McCorkles.  He even falls in love with Molly McCorkle (Paulette Goddard).  Unfortunately, none of the McCorkles know that he is C.J.’s nephew and C.J. doesn’t know that his nephew secretly continues to love music.  Meanwhile, C.J. is trying to catch the mysterious person who threw a tomato at him.  What he doesn’t realize is that the tomato was thrown by … JIMMY!

And it just keeps going on and on from there.  C.J. conspires to get rid of the McCorkles.  Jimmy tries to bring peace between the two sided without the Molly discovering that he’s related to C.J. and without C.J. realizing that Jimmy threw that tomato.  Jimmy eventually goes on C.J.’s radio show and soon, he’s using the show as a way to give away money to the needy.  Meanwhile, he struggles to forge peace between the McCorkles and C.J. without Molly discovering his true identity and without C.J. finding out he threw that tomato.  Will C.J. ever learn to love music and will it ever occur to anyone that this whole mess could easily be resolved by everyone making an effort not to randomly break out into song every time C.J. happens to be walking down the street?

Pot O’ Gold is an amazingly silly movie and I don’t mean silly in a good way.  This is one of those films where every issue could be resolved if people just showed a little intelligence.  It’s also a movie where everyone breaks into song every few minutes.  The key to a successful musical is that the songs have to feel like the grow organically out of the action.  The songs in Pot O’ Gold feel like they’re just there to be there.

Personally, I think James Stewart is one of those actors who can make any movie worth seeing.  He is his normal, likable self in this film but Pot O’ Gold never seems worthy of his famous persona.

Incidentally, Pot O’ Gold’s credited producer was James Roosevelt, FDR’s wastrel son.  I don’t know how much he had to do with the actual production but I’ve always wanted an excuse to use the word “wastrel” in a review.

Sci-Fi Review: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, dir. Steve Binder & David Acomba)


Here I am, glass of soda in hand and Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) by The Darkness playing while I write about The Star Wars Holiday Special. Didn’t I go to college or something? I have a paper on my wall signed by Schwarzenegger that says I did. Oh, well. Let’s talk about this thing. The special begins and it’s already showing me something sad.


Instead of airing an episode of The Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman, they aired The Star Wars Holiday Special. Now we cut to Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. They are being chased by the Empire while they are trying to reach Chewie’s home planet so he can celebrate Life Day. I’ve watched the whole special and I still don’t know what that means. At first Han is a little hesitant, but they jump to lightspeed anyways. Now we get weird iris shots of people who are in the special including Julia Child if she were a man who was turned into a female plastic doll then given a spray tan.


Then we cut to this shot of the Swiss Family Robinson house.


Inside is the main set filled with the main characters such as:


Papa Wookiee who is here to give all the viewers nightmares.


Mama Wookiee who we know is a woman because she’s working in the kitchen.


And Baby Wookiee who we can all thank for introducing the worst animation I’ve seen since that Chinese computer animated movie Agent F.O.X. (2014).

After pointless and meaningless noises from the Wookiees, the special reveals it’s true colors. By that I mean that it’s really a variety show of bad comedy and musical numbers. It’s not everyday you get to see Anton Lavey in a musical number though.


And this shot makes watching the whole special worth it.


Now the Wookiees put in a call to Luke Skywalker.


It’s been awhile since I watched the original Star Wars movies, but I don’t remember Mark Hamill looking like this. He reminds me of Pierre Kirby’s girlfriend in Dressed To Fire (1988).


After Hamill embarrasses himself, we now go back to the Wookiee household. They place a call to “Trading Post Wookiee Planet C”. I call it we roped Art Carney into this horrible thing to do really unfunny comedy bits.


Next we cut to a shot of Zuco from Brazilian Star Wars


before cutting back to the Wookiees. Just in case the kids weren’t already traumatized for life…


there’s this scene where they thought it would be funny to dress up Harvey Korman like this. I’d be offended since I’m transgender, but all I can feel is sympathy for poor Korman. Not only is he in this, but this is one of his appearances in the special. That thing is cruel and unusual punishment. Mama Wookiee is watching this on TV.

Now the special cuts back to Han and Chewie to remind us they are still in the special before cutting back to more pointless crap. The only difference is that now Art Carney shows up to deliver some stuff to the family. Carney says the name Han as if he is saying the word “hand”. That would have made for a great name, wouldn’t it? Hand Solo. Goes right along with the single weirdest thing in the special that happens next.



Papa Wookiee looks at VR porn. Diahann Carroll says things like “Now we can have a good time” and “I’ll tell you a secret. I find you adorable”. Oh, and Papa Wookiee makes drooling noises while pressing a button to have her repeat “I find you adorable” over and over. Then she goes on to sing a reject Bond song. I guess this part could be worse. I’m pretty sure Wookiee’s don’t have genitals and he could have been watching Water Power (1977).

Now the special cuts to Leia and C-3PO to remind us they are in this too before cutting to Chewie and Han. Then Imperials show up at the treehouse to look for Chewbacca and to remind us that people in Dayton, Ohio suffered greatly one night.


This part goes on forever, and Art Carney gets a brilliant idea. I’ll distract this guy by making him watch Jefferson Starship.



We built this special on Schlock ‘N Schtick.

Then Baby Wookiee goes to some sort of device while the Imperials are searching the very small set. He calls up the infamous cartoon. This thing is supposed to introduce us to Boba Fett. I could actually talk about this cartoon, but I think this shot sums it up.


Already missing Harvey Korman doing bad comedy? He now makes a return. Earlier Baby Wookiee opened a present which had the Brain Computer from Brazilian Star Wars in it and now he needs to watch an instructional video on how to use it.


This part can best be described as Harvey Korman auditioning for Max Headroom about a decade before that show came on the air. Also, it shows us what anyone looking at this special was doing in 1978.


I don’t know what that was all about, but now we go to the bar scene. This is the only bright point in this special thanks to Bea Arthur.


Harvey Korman comes into the bar run by Arthur and attempts to hit on her. Korman has a hole in the top of his head that she pours drinks into.


Didn’t think this character through, did they? If he takes in drink through the top of his head, then what exactly comes in or out of his mouth? Arthur turns him down. Then an announcement is made over the TV that the bar is to be closed by order of the Empire. This is when the scene basically turns into that part from Casablanca where they sing the French National Anthem. Honestly, this scene is not that bad. Granted it’s surrounded by fecal matter, but still. Arthur does a decent job singing and is kind of funny.

Now we cut back to the treehouse where we get a cameo appearance by the Wilhelm scream as Han Solo throws a Stormtrooper off the patio. It’s funny that even during this tiny little scene with Harrison Ford, we can still see why he’s a good actor.

Now the time has finally come to celebrate Life Day where it appears a bunch of people are walking into a star to commit suicide.


It’s kind of like that overly edited version of the Star Wars commercial with Anna Kendrick that was on YouTube where they cut out enough of her lines that it appears she picks up a knife then kills herself.


Then we get to see the whole gang together. You know, like I’m sure everyone thought they were going to see when they tuned in to this “Star Wars” special. Carrie Fisher sings here because who cares.

After stock footage from the movie to remind us this thing actually had something to do with Star Wars, we cut to the Wookiees at the dinner table together.


I’m just going to assume they are conducting a seance to try and contact Obi-Wan. Now the credits roll and according to them we have Bob Mackie to blame for that thing poor Harvey Korman had to wear during the cooking scene. I love that the ending credits don’t include any of the actors names from the Star Wars movie. Apparently, Miki Herman was their “‘Star Wars’ Consultant”. It’s hard to believe that position existed. Oh, and of course David Winters did the choreography. That reminds me, I do need to see Dancin’ It’s On (2015). Heard it’s terrible. Then the 20th Century Fox logo comes up which is nice considering I’ve been watching Godfrey Ho movies that start with a girl standing like the Columbia Pictures lady while the Star Wars theme plays.

And the special goes out like it came in, by reminding us we could have been watching an episode of The Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman.


I’m sure there’s a fascinating backstory to this, but I don’t care. This is one of the most ill-conceived and poorly executed things I have sat through this year. And I watched a parody of Rocky where he gets hit in the face with the Star Of David as well as a children’s Hallmark movie where a little girl refers to beauty squirting out of her body onto the floor.


Ghosts of Christmas Past #4: Twilgiht Zone Ep. 47 “Night of The Meek” (dir by Jack Smight)

A Christmas episode of the Twilight Zone?  Yes, such a thing does exist.  In Night of the Meek, an unemployed man (Art Carney) is given a chance to be Santa Claus.  This is a wonderful episode that truly captures the spirit of the season.

Night of the Meek was written by Rod Serling and directed by Jack Smight.  It was originally broadcast on December 23rd, 1960.

An Obscure Film Review: Katherine (dir by Jeremy Kagan)

One of the great things about being an online film critic is that you occasionally come across a good but obscure film that you can then let the rest of the world know about as well.  Katherine is one such film.

I came across Katherine as part of a 3-film compilation DVD called Classic Films Of The 70s.  The other two films on the DVD were The Harrad Experiment and Born To Win and both of those films were so bad that I nearly tossed the DVD to the side without watching Katherine.  I’m glad I changed my mind because, while it may not have truly lived up to the promise of being a classic film of the 70s, Katherine was still a thousand times better than The Harrad Experiment.

Beginning with the idealism and hope of the early 60s and ending with a literal bang in the 70s, Katherine tells the story of how one woman is transformed from being a sheltered, upper class liberal to being a political revolutionary who is proud to embrace violence in order to bring about change.  Katherine ( Sissy Spacek, before she was Carrie) starts out as a teacher before falling in love with a civil rights activist (played, in a nicely smarmy performance, by Henry Winkler).  Against the backdrop of the Viet Nam War and the violence of the late 60s, Spacek and Winkler gradually become more and more radicalized until they eventually go underground and turn violent.  The film is made up of interviews with people who knew Katherine and Katherine herself even pops up and tells us her own version of her story.  Despite being forced to wear a horrid wig in the latter half of the film, Sissy Spacek gives a wonderfully empathetic and multi-layered performance as Katherine.  Even if you don’t always like the self-righteous stridency of the character, you never doubt her sincerity.

After I watched Katherine, I did a little research on the IMDb and I discovered that Katherine was a made-for-TV movie that was originally broadcast in 1975.  This did not surprise me because,  even as I was watching it, it was very easy to imagine a remake of Katherine (starring, I decided after much debate, Leighton Meester) being broadcast on the Lifetime Movie Network.  However, if Katherine felt like a Lifetime movie  with a political subtext, that’s only because I happen to love Lifetime movies.  Katherine is both an intelligent and interesting look at a very specific period of American history and a portrait of youthful idealism, disillusionment, and wanderlust.  We have all had to deal with that moment when our beliefs run into the wall of reality and Katherine captures that experience perfectly.

I found myself thinking about Katherine earlier today as I watched the presidential inauguration in Washington D.C.  Though the film might be close to 40 years old, its portrait of naive idealism, political stridency, and destructive activism still feels relevant.  Katherine is a film that most people have never heard of but it’s also one that is worth tracking down.