During 1983 and 1984, there were no fewer than four movies released that were based on the works of Stephen King, this era's horror literature maven. The first three were THE DEAD ZONE, CUJO, and CHRISTINE. The fourth, and least commercially successful, was FIRESTARTER, based on King's 1980 novel. The fact that it didn't fare all that well with critics or audiences doesn't diminish the fact that it remains, despite some flaws, one of the best adaptations of King's works, as well as a commentary on the dangerous of government interference and dissembling in people's lives.
Drew Barrymore, who made a star-making turn in E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, is the young girl possessed of a devastating kind of psychic power called pyrokinesis, the ability to light fires just by concentrating long and hard about it. Her power is the result of her parents (David Keith; Heather Locklear) having undergone a bizarre chemical experiment in 1969 conducted by a secret government agency known as The Shop. Since then, eight of the ten patients originally involved have died horrible deaths, and Locklear has been murdered by agents of the Shop. Now, Keith and Barrymore are on their own, with Keith's only ability to protect Barrymore being his own psychic ability. But once in the hands of the Shop, led by Martin Sheen and George C. Scott, they are the subject of various experiments on their abilities. Barrymore gets special attention, of course, because of her fiery power, especially from Scott. In the end, of course, Sheen and Scott, and the rest of the Shop's minions, find out what happens when you play with a power that you don't fully appreciate...
There are admittedly flaws with FIRESTARTER, most of them having to do with the slightly perfunctory way that Mark L. Lester (CLASS OF 1984) directs the actors, this even though he has some superb ones, notably Sheen and Scott. The dialogue is also a little clunky at times too. But overall, FIRESTARTER succeeds more often than it fails, due to King's own narrative genius, Barrymore's credible performance, and the special effects wizardry of Mike Wood. The scenes of the Shop being incinerated at the end by Barrymore's burning rage after her father has been killed are particularly spectacular. FIRESTARTER also benefits from brief but welcome cameo roles by Art Carney and Louise Fletcher, who become her protectors after the firestorm.
However flawed it might be, FIRESTARTER does provide plenty of suspense and atmosphere without an extreme amount of bloodshed (though the fire scenes are quite hair-raising all the same), and is well worth seeing.
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