Video Vices

Review Bites: All the Firestarters and the funtastic Wyrmwood sequel

Firestarter (1984)

There is a reason that Firestarter hasn’t been remade in 38 years. The original movie was as boring as watching a mopped floor dry and the book certainly isn’t one of Stephen King’s better novels. One of the reasons it was picked up in the place was to capitalize on the success and notoriety of Carrie, King’s first novel.

Father and daughter Andy (David Keith) and Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Drew Barrymore) are fugitives on the run from the evil Department of Scientific Intelligence, known as The Shop. The Shop conducted experiments on Andy and his wife Vicky (Heather Locklear) which has resulted in Charlie becoming a living, breathing flame thrower. The problem is Charlie needs someone like a Professor Xavier in her life because she cannot control her ability to barbecue or spit roast people when they piss her off.

The movie is an okay run-of-the-mill road trip, adventure until The Shop gets the upper hand. Firestarter then becomes a real chore to wade through as the creepy Shop flunkies John Rainbird (George C. Scott) and Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen) play mind games with Charlie.

Never have so many phenomenal actors been so poorly used. Every movie ever made needs more Heather Locklear, period.

Watch on: VoD, Disk and Peacock.

Firestarter 2: Rekindled (2002)

Shocker of all shockers. This made-for-TV mini-series is actually better than the original movie despite being produced aired by Sci-Fi, which is a minor miracle in itself considering how much garbage that channel has put out over the years.

Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Marguerite Moreau) is all grown up and still on the run from The Shop. McGee bluffs her way into a university library, archive gig so she can investigate their past, all of their misdeeds. At the same time as Charlie is digging through The Shop’s past so to is professional researcher, investigator Vincent Sforza (Danny Nucci). Vincent thinks he is locating people so they can be given their settlement from a class action law suit when in fact he is doing The Shop’s dirty work by locating targets for them.

Charlie and Vincent cross paths and discover that John Rainbird (Malcolm McDowell) is still among the living and producing, naturing the next generation of super powered kids, who are both silly and Children of the Corn creepy.

Moreau is superb as the conflicted and confused Charlie. There is only one scene that is very odd. Charlie and a barfly are doing the dirty in a parking lot when all of a sudden Charlie puts an abrupt stop to things fearing she will lose control of her powers and fry her hook-up. As Charlie exits the scene she sets fire to every building and dumpster in her path without a care in the world. The entire scene just doesn’t jive with her sympathetic portrayal.

Danny Nucci is awful as Vincent Sforza. The mousey actor with a voice of a cartoon character doesn’t come off as heroic or edgy. He’s just an awkward, irritating chump.

Cinematic legend Malcolm McDowell does his best with what he is given but even he cannot make the limping, partially paralyzed Rainbird more than a goofy Bond villain. The late, great Dennis Hopper is shoehorned into the film as a plot device. He is another victim of The Shop’s experiments.

As a sequel, Rekindled is not some kind of masterpiece as a TV movie it is is more interesting, has more action and tells a better story than Mark L. Lester’s film. It just should have been told as a 90 minute movie not a three hour mini-series though.

Watch on: Peacock.

Firestarter (2022)

In 2019, Di Bonaventura Pictures and Paramount Pictures remade the Stephen King classic Pet Sematary into a steaming pile of crap. For some reason, screen scribblers Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg decided to rewrite significant, key parts of the story…just because. This seems to be a very troubling trait with some of today’s filmmakers. Unlike generations of filmmakers who came before them who respected the established source material, the characters and plot by enhancing it with their directorial, storytelling skills they instead feel the need to create their own story, with their own themes using someone else’s characters and in turn totally ignore, disrespect the original work by doing so…just because. They then wonder why the “toxic fans”, who are familiar with the original story and characters, will pan their “interpretation” or “reimagining” as they like to call it.

Blumhouse Productions’ Firestarter starts out building upon King’s work by giving Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and her family (Zac Efron as  Andrew “Andy” McGee and Sydney Lemmon (Victoria “Vicky” Tomlinson-McGee) more of a backstory. There are scenes of McGee family life. There are scenes with Charlie being bullied at school making Charlie another Carrie White.

Once The Shop comes a calling though and Charlie, Andy are on the run, the story greatly deviates from the original plot to the point that it doesn’t resemble Firestarter at all. One cannot talk about the biggest change without discussing the character of John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), so if you don’t want to be spoiled stop reading now, go watch the movie and then kindly return to this review.

Now, as I was saying, Captain Hollister, the head of the shop and John Rainbird are the main villains of Stephen King’s story. Rainbird’s obsession with Charlie is crucial to the story and figures into one of the story’s big set pieces and the finale. In this bungled version, Rainbird has a redemption arc leading to an absurd, laugh out loud finale. One guesses that in this day and age the filmmakers were strangely and oddly uncomfortable with an aboriginal character being a villain so they altered the character to fit their agenda. I mean changing a character’s given name…just because? It is just ridiculous and almost petty.

Much of Firestarter is plagued with unnecessary and inexplicable changes. Captain Hollister, the role played by Martin Sheen in the original, is strangely but purposely identity swapped. The character is now played by Gloria Reuben. Vicky McGee’s character is now named Victoria “Vicky” Tomlinson-McGee. The character of Irv Manders is also identity swapped…just because. Rainbird has a redemption arc. Firestarter is an example of personal agendas taking priority, being more important in the pre-production stage than creating and telling an entertaining story. Some of these changes for the sake of change turn the story into something it was never meant to be.

Firestarter is a ‘woke’ as ‘woke’ can be.

And when I say “woke” I don’t mean the original definition which refers to someone being accepting and open-minded. I mean the phony Hollywood, corporate or politically extremist “woke” point of view that comes off as performative, disingenuous and like those multi-coloured bracelets for every cause under the sun in the nineties were really for social, career and peer currency and nothing more.

The only positives on display here is the impressive and sensational performance of Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie and the score written by horror legend John Carpenter, his son Codey and Daniel A. Davies.

You wouldn’t think it was possible for anyone to make a Firestarter worse than the original or the television series but the continually blundering Blumhouse has done so. Their rendition, their interpretation is, well, a dumpster fire. It doesn’t give me any confidence at all that another upcoming King adaption of theirs, Christine, will turn out well as they have butchered Firestarter so badly. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn the 1958 Plymouth Fury into an environmentally friendly Nissan Leaf…just because.

Watch on: Peacock.

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse (2022)

2014’s Wyrmwood was a really fun mix of Mad Max and Dawn of the Dead with a lot of that quirky Aussie humour thrown in and some unexpectedly powerful moments as well. If you haven’t seen it check it out although the sequel Apocalypse stands on its own as a self-contained story with only some of the characters from the original film.

Rhys, a resourceful solider (Luke McKenzie from TV’s Wentworth) strikes an uneasy alliance with government officials and scientists capturing survivors for their experiments in the hopes that a cure to the zombie plague will be found. The idea is as bad as it sounds.

Rhys’ exploits put him on collision course with a squad of renegades including the zombie/human hybrid from the first movie, Brooke (Bianca Bradey). If you remember, Brooke can telepathically control zombies to do her bidding. In-between abducting humans, shotgunning the heads off zombies and listening to meditation tapes, Rhys uncovers the Surgeon General’s best keep secret and is forced to choose a side in the human civil war.

Just as entertaining and substantially more light-hearted then its predecessor which was also a very clever take on the crowded, stale zombie genre.

Watch On: On Demand, The Dark Side of the Internet.

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