In a 1986 interview with Weather magazine, Stephen King referred to his work as “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries”. Fans would disagree, and time greatly improved her standing in the literary community. Yet the fact remains that its canon is as much a franchise as any literary work elsewhere. His official homepage lists over 80 film and television adaptations of his works, with more on the way.
Naturally, this includes a fair share of chess alongside classics like Carrie and various versions of This. King himself wasn’t shy about voicing his opinions, especially for earlier works that he felt Hollywood hadn’t treated with enough care. This included Fire starter, a 1984 adaptation of her 1980 novel about a little girl who can start fires with her mind. With a new version released on May 13, his disdain for the original received renewed attention.
The novel involves a pair of college students, Andy and Vicky McGee, who take part in a government experiment that exposes them to a drug known as “Lot 6”. The results give them minor mental powers, but their daughter Charlie has the kind of potential the program was created for, with her ability to start fires with her mind. A sinister agency known as The Shop sets out to kidnap him. They murder Vicky and Andy must flee with Charlie before The Shop catches them.
In some ways, the book was a sequel to Carrie, whose story was presented as testimony by “The White Commission”, implied to be a government investigative group dedicated to bringing to light the massacre of Carrie White at the prom . Charlie is cut from a slightly different cloth, but she shares underdog status with incredible powers. The Shop has become a staple of King’s work, appearing in The Tommyknockers, The Langoliers, The Mist and The stall among others. The work as a whole is considered a classic on par with many of his other early novels, such as the brilliant and The dead zone.
And yet, the original film failed to connect, and King himself initially had only harsh words for it. Director John Carpenter was originally set to direct, only for Universal to take the project from him after the box office failure of The thing and give it to the much less renowned Mark L. Lester. In a 1986 interview with American Film, King compared the film to “cafeteria mashed potatoes” and complained about the sometimes nonsensical special effects. He spared the cast – a talented group that included Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen, Louise Fletcher and Freddie Jones – although he cast David Keith, who played Andy and he “didn’t find very good”. The audience agreed — Fire starter only grossed $18 million off a $12 million budget — and the movie remains a fair-to-average afterthought in the king’s canon.
However, in a 2021 interview with Barrymore, King reversed, at least as far as effects go. Specifically, the haloed hair around Charlie’s face – which the author expressed frustration about in 1986 – elicited a much more enthusiastic response. He also sang the praises of Barrymore, although he was never shy about casting. King’s response to the news Fire starter was something of a question mark, however a tweet from April 29 suggests he’s a much bigger fan of it than he was with the first movie.
King himself was struggling with drug and alcohol problems at the time of the 1986 interview. And his opinions are not always the prevailing ones, such as his lukewarm response to Stanley Kubrick the brilliant proven. But he’s also in a rare position to comment on other people’s versions of his own creations, and given his position, that makes any opinion worth listening to. His revised thoughts on Fire starter neither affirm nor contradict the previous ones, but they reveal his evolution as a person and affirm the power that his work continues to hold.
Firestarter opens May 13 in theaters and on the Peacock streaming service.
Firestarter Remake Gives John Carpenter Some Well-Deserved Cinematic Justice
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