From playing Charlene “Charlie” McGee in 1984’s Firestarter to Dylan Sanders in the Charlie’s Angel series about two decades later, Drew Barrymore grew out of her child start status, 1982’s blockbuster E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the biggest of her early roles, into a hugely bankable commodity. Her appearance in the adaption of the Stephen King novel is worthy of note, perhaps fueled by multiple airings on cable TV as much as the moments of brilliance that flash inside this classic from the Dino De Laurentiis production company.
De Laurentiis himself is a fascinating study – bigger budget than Roger Corman, his films get traction, though not as much as a disaster king Roland Emmerich. Would you compare the De Laurentiis King Kong to the original? No…and the greatest of the Hannibal Lecter movies, The Silence Of The Lambs, was the one Lecter film (so far) not produced under the aegis of De Laurentiis. Wikipedia notes “De Laurentiis also made several adaptations of Stephen King’s works during this time, including The Dead Zone (1983), Cat’s Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985) and Maximum Overdrive (1986); Army of Darkness (1992) was produced jointly by De Laurentiis, Robert Tapert and the movie’s star Bruce Campbell.” Wikipedia also has a full page on Firestarter noting that it’s “a story by Stephen King originally serialized in Omni magazine and later published in novel form in 1980.”
The two hour film made over 17 million in 1984, is #24 out of 38 on Box Office Mojo’s list of Stephen King films, and there was a 2002 TV sequel with some heavy names (Dennis Hopper and Malcolm McDowel) and not so heavy names (Marguerite Moreau, Danny Nucci), but it is the original with George C. Scott, David Keith, Heather Locklear, Drew Barrymore and Martin Sheen that could have been something more.
Having Art Carney as a farmer is a far cry from Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, and Carney is great in his role, as are George C. Scott and Moses Gunn (as the malevolent “Dr. Pynchot”, a baddy as if straight out of a James Bond film ). Drew Barrymore’s succinct “Go To Hell” to Martin Sheen echoes what her daddy, David Keith, says to Dr. Pynchot just frames before. The references to hell aren’t just coincidental, they are a clear threat from a little girl who can unleash the flames of the underworld whenever she so chooses. She got angry with her mother, Heather Locklear (in one of her first major film roles, if not her first), and put her hands on fire before The Shop, the clandestine government agency, removes her from the film as quickly as Steven Seagal was offed in 1996’s Executive Decision.
So as this makes its rounds on cable, and the more recent sequel gets distributed on DVD (there’s actually a two-fer with both available), one gets the feeling that like Dino DeLaurentiis’ undercooked “Manhunter” from 1986, a more fair treatment of Firestarter could make it a 3D sensation.
What we have now is a cult classic that is as good as any 1950s Sci-Fi phenomenon. Firestarter’s holes keep it from gaining more notoriety – Martin Sheen is absolutely pedestrian in this outing and the script has lapses galore, but there are clever moments and an angry little girl unleashing the power of Hades on an unsuspecting world is one concept that could work quite well in the theaters if given the right treatment.
TMRZoo Chief Film Critic