80’s Trash of the Week: Firewalker

In the ’80s you knew were in for a stupid good time when the first words on the screen were “a Golan-Globus Production.” The Cannon Group gave us unforgettable films like Lifeforce, Bloodsport, and Masters of the Universe. Those were some of their big budget efforts- Enter the Ninja, The Last American Virgin, and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo are more what they’re known for. And Firewalker- an Indiana Jones style adventure starring Chuck Norris and Louis Gossett Jr. as treasure hunters on a gold-seeking caper full of wacky hijinks.

The last thing you will ever see.

It’s a much needed dash of humor in Norris’s run of ’80s kickfests. We meet adventurers Max Donigan and Leo Porter in a Jeep in the desert as they flee a convoy of gunmen in dune buggies. They’ve been partners a long time and bicker like husband and wife. Leo says to turn left; Max makes the rather astute observation that in a desert, does it really matter? But it does, because they make a right turn at Albuquerque and crash right into an oasis. They are captured and staked out over convenient ant hills by their nemesis The General, who is a Chinese general, as you might imagine. The comic tone is set early on as Max (Norris) says, “he’ll probably say something cheesy like ‘Gentlemen, we meet again,'” and he proceeds to do exactly that.

Perrier is Chuck Norris’s Kryptonite.

The story may be slapdash and derivative, the lines hackneyed, the stunts and effects cheesy and low budget, but there’s genuine comic chemistry between Max and Leo that sort of holds things together. Gossett has always excelled as the second lead and he makes great use of what little he’s given here. And hell, Chuck Norris to me has always worked best with a little tongue in cheek. While I don’t have the tolerance of Jason over at Invasion of the B Movies, who had a whole Norris month, I’ve watched some of his goodies and baddies like Good Guys Wear Black, Lone Wolf McQuade, Code of Silence, and The Hero and the Terror. Where would I rate Firewalker? Somewhere in the middle.

Another Stakeout

For one, Melody Anderson, who played Dale Arden in Dino De Laurentiis’s Flash Gordon flick- you know, the one with the Queen soundtrack- plays Patricia, who hires Max and Leo to help her find a lost treasure of gold. She’s not the greatest actress, but manages to be funny here and there, like when she’s dressed as a nun to sneak through the Nameless South American Dictatorship- let’s call it Val Verde- that they must traverse. Max and Leo dress as priests, and Gossett has to give last rites in Pig Latin, which sounds funnier than it is. Director J. Lee Thompson, who gave us The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear, coasted for a long time after those hits and this is smack in the middle of a period where his most memorable movies are the ’80s horror holiday flick Happy Birthday to Me and the so-bad-it’s-good Death Wish IV: The Crackdown.

I get to dress like Indy? And drive a camo Beetle with balloons? Sign me up!

But Firewalker is not without its charms. Being a Chuck Norris movie, he has to kick the asses of an entire bar full of patrons, but it says something when it’s more fun watching Louis Gossett Jr. get knocked around because he won’t ask for help. They find an Indian medicine man, played by Will Sampson of Poltergeist II: The Other Side and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in his final role, who tells them how to find the treasure. And to beware of its guardian, the Firewalker. I think. The bad guy is called El Coyote, and played by Sonny Landham- Billy from Predator– and like Mola Ram from Temple of Doom, he can pull your brain out through your nostrils with his fingers. At least that’s what it looked like; maybe he was just digging for gold.

I ain’t afraid of no man. Or his boogers.

Along the way, they get rescued by old friend Corky Taylor- John “Sallah” Rhys-Davies with an absolutely hilarious Southern drawl- so there are some small rewards for suffering through this movie. It’s just unfortunately pretty boring and predictable; the script is threadbare and the director doesn’t know much about comic timing, to give his actors their due. I’ve certainly watched worse movies from the ’80s, but without Norris and Gossett bickering this would be intolerable. It’s barely worth making fun of, because you feel bad for them. They really tried, but you can’t polish a turd. Golan-Globus did best when they went full-on exploitation as in Lifeforce; this kid-friendly flick might have appealed to young’uns who liked Norris, but otherwise it’s best forgotten.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 4
Could it be remade today? It was, with a Crystal Skull
Quotability Rating: zip
Cheese Factor: Nacho Grande
High Points: Norris and Gossett Jr. bickering.
Low Point: Spray painted gold treasure
Gratuitous Boobies: None


80’s Trash of the Week: Lifeforce (Space Boobies)

A modern Hammer film with gobs of nudity, this is one of the most expensive B-movie productions ever made. It never rises above vulgarity, but it manages to be an entertaining diversion. It begins as 2001: A Boob Odyssey and ends up part Sexorcist, part zombie apocalypse, with a touch of Highlander.
Originally titled “The Space Vampires,” based on the book by Colin Wilson, it was given a high-concept title for U.S. release and re-cut to be more of a blockbuster sci-fi flick. It was trounced by Cocoon of all things, and its failure helped put the final stake in the heart of Golan-Globus films. (Sorry. Cold iron. Through the abdomen, the old way). It’s a shame, really- for while it is awful, it is a good sort of awful. Directed by Tobe Hooper with incredible effects by John Dykstra, with Mathilda May (The Tit and the Moon) walking around naked all the time, some scenery-chewing by Steve Railsback (Cockfighter, Barb Wire) and Patrick Stewart possessed by a lusty female vampire, it is endlessly entertaining, albeit confusing and rather like a teenage anime in its story.

Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon also wrote Alien

Another movie influenced by the coming of Haley’s Comet, Hooper altered the original screenplay to include it. The space shuttle is having a rendezvous with the comet and finds an enormous, 150-mile long vessel behind it. It is organic in nature, sort of like the ship from 2001 crossed with a crusty umbrella. The shuttle is conveniently blocked from communicating with Earth by the comet, so they go investigate the ship. Inside they find thousands of dessicated bat-like creatures, and three naked humans- or at least what appear to be humans. The crew unwisely brings them back to the shuttle, and– after an annoying flash forward– we lose contact with them. A rescue mission finds everything barbecued except the 3 humanoids, and Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback) who’s a bit unhinged by his experience.

Back on Earth, the humanoids are kept for study at a government lab. There the female awakens, hypnotizes her guard with her perfectly formed D-cups and some unworldly powers, and sucks the energy out of him, leaving a lifeless husk. She escapes, and soon her escorts follow suit. They can also jump to other people’s bodies if they are killed, or even if they’re not. Carlsen is brought to London, and we learn he has a psychic bond with the female, and they track her using him. He can sense when someone is possessed by her, and likes to beat it out of the women, and sometimes the men. Patrick Stewart, the director of a mental hospital, gets possessed by the girl and starts talking in her voice, and even wants to get it on with Carlsen. This, along with his role in Jeffrey, probably doesn’t help the gay rumors. It’s hilarious to watch.

Did I fall asleep in the tanning booth?

Shortly thereafter, they learn that the dead guard isn’t really dead, and has to suck the life out of people, in the form of pretty blue lightning, every few hours or he’ll explode into dust. By the time they realize this, a space zombie epidemic is overtaking London, as the space vampires beam our lifeforce up to their ship, to revitalize their doomed race. There are some quite spectacular effects for ’85, including some very realistic looking emaciated zombie puppets, Patrick Stewart puking up gallons of blood which reform into the Space Girl from the inside out, and some lovely bat creatures when we finally see their true form. And of course, Mathilda May’s buxom form strolling about nude is enough to forgive the severe shortcomings of the story. That and the performance of Peter Firth (“Spook”) as the cop turned vampire hunter; he acts so naturally that we forget the confusing and bizarre jumps the plot will take.

Headshot works on space
vampires too.

As a 14 year old, I could not comprehend how feel-good dreck like Cocoon with Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche and Steve Guttenberg could trounce such fare at the box office. The old-folk demographic must have watched it in droves. 1985 was probably the last year you could depend on gratuitous boobs at the movies, and Lifeforce tried to corner the market. Just look at them. When the Space Girl (she has no name) tells Carlsen that she modeled herself after his desires, we believe it. But the movie does have problems-it tries to be too many things at once. At first we have a quiet space mystery, then a supernatural thriller, then a horror movie, then a zombie movie, and finally an attempt at science fiction. The aliens are compared to the vampires of legend, but they really don’t resemble them at all; it’s hinted that they visited before, but we see no evidence of how these soul-stealing aliens could have inspired the vampire myth.

Baby, you got real ugly.

The author of the book thinks the adaptation is horrid, the comet was shoehorned in without the usually dependable screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s approval, and thus the story is a huge mess. When you find out what the source of Carlsen’s psychic bond, you’ll wonder if M. Night Shyamalan was a script doctor. The tone varies from creepy in a good way to silly to creepy in a bad way, when Carlsen tries his sadomasochistic interrogation methods. But despite all its flaws, the movie has a certain kind of charm beyond boobies- it really does feel like an updated Hammer film or silly pseudo-science fiction film like Island of Terror; as the scientists discover the nature of the invaders, and Peter Firth’s set jaw in the face of a zombie-infested London. Not bad fare for a late night.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? Not with all the nudity.
Quotability Rating: Only ironically.
Cheese Factor: Stilton
High Points: Mathilda May
Low Point: Patrick Stewart mimicking Mathilda May
Gratuitous Boobies: My god, it’s full of boobs!