Suggested Audio Candy:
 Animal Alpha “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
 The Trammps “Disco Inferno”
 The Prodigy “Firestarter”
Every child loves flames. From the first moment you fire up a bunsen burner at school or watch your in sheer awe as your father flips burgers at a family barbecue, their seductive dance mesmerizes you, or at least it has me. I inadvertently burned an old run down liquor store to its foundations with two accomplices when I was ten after setting up our own secret gentleman’s club within its derelict grounds and lighting candles to illuminate our new meeting place. Turns out, torches would’ve been a far shrewder choice and, alas, our hideout was no more. Never an intentional arsonist, fire has nevertheless spellbound me all my life. It is such an intelligent entity; it spreads rapidly and with single-minded purpose, stopping at nada until it gets what it desires.
Flames have perpetually serenaded horror aficionados with their macabre promenade, with Hammer and Amicus studios leading the charge and implementing them habitually. Indeed my first example of fiery fatality belongs to that very epoch. Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man followed police officer Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) who, while investigating a young girls disappearance, got himself involved with a pagan sect led by Lord Summerisle (a wonderfully campy Christopher Lee), who bust out a bonfire of hair and eyebrows of kindling to lure Howie into his bizarre sect.
If that wasn’t persuasion enough, how do you like these apples. Britt Eckland, sans a lick of clothing, prancing around without so much as a flicker of rhythm, and still making it arousing. I remember a burning sensation in synchronicity with her flailing and, for a couple of minutes, I envied that sturdy door frame. The real flames weren’t introduced until the celebrated closing scene as Woodward’s wood became fire wood. In a wonderfully cruel conclusion, the bobby burned inside the wicker effigy of the title and the Pagans went back to their business of serenading one another with lutes and prancing round a maypole wearing goat heads.
There was plenty of heat in Joseph Ellison’s 1980 video nasty Don’t Go in the House which reflected on the psychosomatic effects of child abuse as a young man, scalded by his sadistic mother, lured women back to his house and detained them in a steel basement where they dangled, naked and perspiring until such time as he decided to give them a scorching.
The scene which stood out for Keeper involved one such oily vixen who hung there defenselessly as he fired up his flamethrower and charred her bare flesh until she resembled that one barbecue sausage which slipped through the grill. Originally titled The Burning, Ellison’s film may not have been a classic but it was a dark, morose little piece worthy of greater plaudits than it ever received.
As we vacate the frying pan, it’s time to jump straight into the fire, courtesy of another movie bearing the title The Burning. This one should be familiar to you all as I mention Tony Maylam’s slasher behemoth at every available opportunity. Being a caretaker is a thankless task at best, even more so when you’re not blessed with dashing good looks or a melange of social skills to fall back on, like poor old Cropsy. Already resembling Rocky Dennis’ second cousin before the candle was even lit, he had to endure callous pranks while attempting to get his overbearing head down in his private quarters. It all went horribly wrong and, before Cropsy could gather all his rare baseball trading cards, it all turned disco inferno.
The resulting scorching of the title left him looking suspiciously similar to The Toxic Avenger so he logically retaliated by trimming the numbers at summer camp with his trusty shears. There weren’t actually any fiery dispatches on exhibit during Maylam’s fine slasher benchmark, but Cropsy did get opportunity to briefly light up an old rundown mine shaft. You’d think he would have had his fill of fire, after all a shark attack dupe would never swim offshore with a raw prime rib strapped to their thighs to even the score would they? I guess the moral of Cropsy’s tale is that you live by the flame, and ultimately die by it too.
Of course, you cannot mention flames without a nod of the old fedora to Fred Krueger. For his tireless services to pedophilia he was awarded a bigger roasting than Justin Bieber from hordes of riled parents. What the lynch mob didn’t foresee was that the frazzled fuckwit would then commence taking his frustrations out on a whole host of randy teens, all within the snug confines of his elected dreamscapes. To be fair, Freddy started out pretty intimidating, but it wasn’t to last. The great Robert Englund stopped receiving the service he deserved and the series went up in a puff of smoke, with progressively impotent sequels merely intent on cashing in and turning the once illustrious Freddy into an enormous pair of fucking clown shoes.
Andrew Fleming’s Bad Dreams was similar in many ways to A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors, but far less widely observed. It concerned a seventies cult who committed group suicide via fire at the behest of Richard Lynch. Harris, the leader of the cult, then tormented our hapless Cynthia as she woke from a thirteen year-long coma and fucked with her therapy group too. Lynch had the prefect look for the part of Harris and showed up at regular intervals looking like Krueger’s skin graft spotter. If you haven’t watched Bad Dreams, I suggest you give it your consideration.
Renny Harlin’s Prison was a superior chiller from 1988 that doesn’t get nearly enough love. It featured an early performance from a young Viggo Mortensen and told the story of a vengeful spirit wreaking havoc in a maximum security prison. Harlin’s film was mean-spirited, excessively bloody, and thoroughly enthralling, so it’s bemusing that it only recently received the DVD release it warranted. The scene in question featured a dude ensnared in his cell as it gradually overheated to unbearable levels. His cries became more frantic until his whole body combusted, leaving our last nerve jangling precariously.
Spontaneously some people have been known to combust and burst into flames for no apparent reason. This particular ailment hasn’t had the most comprehensive representation in modern cinema but, in 1987, Tobe Hooper gave us Spontaneous Combustion and changed all that. Part of an ill-fated three film deal with Cannon, this didn’t perform well theatrically and was swiftly consigned to video store bargain bins, where it languished perpetually. The most memorable thing about it was Brad Dourif’s wild-eyed turn as our pyrokinetic lead, whose parents had been guinea-pigs for atomic bomb testing, leaving him with a less than desirable birthright. One memorable scene amidst the middling madness involved a cameo by John Landis, who rubbed our twisted firestarter up the wrong way and received grilled knee-caps for his insolence.
Stephen King’s Firestarter also tackled pyrokenesis, this time endowing infant Drew Barrymore with the power to generate a blaze with her thoughts alone. Mark L. Lester’s slight movie which ranked in the mid-echelons of King translations about a couple who participated in a powerful medical trial, gaining telekinetic abilities and then being gifted a pyrokinetic offspring. Not the family to be fucking with then.
Absurd was Joe D’Amato’s pseudo-sequel to the infamous Anthropophagus: The Beast and was met with similar revulsion by the censors, sharing a spot on the 39-strong list of horror outcasts in 1983. It amounted to little more than a decidedly low-rent Halloween but was worth a view for a few brutal dispatches if nothing else. The scene in question involved one wretched victim’s head being introduced to a gas oven, rather forcefully I might add. It could have been worse; Anthropophagus wouldn’t even prepare his meat before chowing down, resulting in some chronic food poisoning and a terrible case of the runs.
Michael Myers had some first-degree burns to deal with in Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II after finding himself up against crack-shot Dr Loomis who took a break from trouncing his high score on Duck Hunt to put a pellet in each peeper of the advancing killer. After upholding his 100% hit ratio, the combustible gas tank was mere child’s play and The Shape went up in flames faster than Cheech and Chong. Pleasence, on the other hand, escaped with a few negligible burns on his beautiful face.
Necromancers harbor a distinct disliking for fire as attested by Elondra Sharack from James W. Roberson’s lost treasure Superstition. She perished at the stake for her transgressions but not before chanting her intention for sweet reprisal. The townspeople they got off lightly as she waited three hundered years to take action, by which time they’d all have lived long happy lives and died in their sleep. I never really could fathom such a threat: “In hundreds of years, I’m going to make a lot of people unrelated to you in any way pay for what you’ve done.”
On the flip-side, flames could be a coven of witches’ best buddy, as was the case in Jack Starrett’s seventies drive-thru flick Race with the Devil. After running, hiding, and partaking in some very breathtakingly choreographed fight scenes for the duration, Roger and Frank had to explain to their wives that they weren’t going to make it to Wally World after all. The cackling hags eventually penned in their RV and commenced the “you’re royally fucked!” dance as they finally caught up with the slippery twentysomethings. An exceptionally bleak conclusion that sticks in my mind years later elevated Starrett’s movie above much of the fodder doing the rounds at movie houses during that epoch.
I always preferred Max Jenke to Horace Pinker as he looked that much more squalid and less like a retired pro-wrestler. At the commencement of James Isaac’s The Horror Show, Jenke gave officer of the law Lance Henriksen the slip, carved off his partner’s arm at the shoulder, and left him swinging from a chain like a piñata. It was a tough gig for a black dude being given the partner role in the eighties and invariably never ended well. Jenke was foiled on this occasion but frazzling him in the chair proved to be a laborious exercise as he took the volts straight to his member and laughed off the first few thousand. Damn right he got wood; the ultimate “fuck you” as he practically came with glee. Of course, his frail human casing eventually gave way as the high voltage eventually set him ablaze and squandered a darned tooting erection.
A thought should be spared for those unfortunate bone-lickers of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust after having their abodes set ablaze by terrible tourists. What the fools didn’t consider when torching their village was that they were creating a colossal barbecue for the cannibals to slow-roast their hacked off limbs at a not so much later date. Not the most intellectual approach it has to be said. They may as well have stripped off and climbed straight into their cauldrons. Actually, I wouldn’t have minded that.
Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell threatened bank teller Alison Lohman with a fiery demise for its entire duration after she unwittingly contracted gypsy Ebola during a routine shift. Mrs Ganush gave her plenty of chances to come good on that loan but did Lohman listen? Like fuck did she. Instead of helping out a poor frail old lady with her dying wish, she was too busy having phone sex with Justin Long and planning a round of naked dodgeball for the weekend. Did she perish in the hell flames for her insolence? I can’t divulge such information but I will say this: I wouldn’t want to be in the bank queue come Monday morning.
One final thought and I couldn’t dream of wrapping up without sparing one for my old pal Windows from John Carpenter’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece, The Thing. Alas poor Windows, poor deluded Windows, quivering away in the corner after Palmer had deep-throated his skullcap. Spare a thought for poor old Windows, as well as Garry and Childs screaming like banshees on that “Fucking couch!!!” as MacReady continually stalls the flamethrower. I feel for Windows, truly I do. Having already passed his blood test with flying colors he should have been released from active service to go roller skating with Nauls but instead had to suffer the indignity of a thorough tonsil licking. Meanwhile, Nauls was furious, so much so, that he simply walked off set. Nobody has ever seen him since…
So there you have it, just a few reasons not to play with fire kiddywinks. It’s now up to you to maintain fanning these flames; any other scorching scenes you desire to share can provide the kindling we need to keep this blaze burning.
Burn Baby BURN!
It’s hot in the city tonight
and seems like a pity to fight
Instead I propose
we light up the rows
dance naked like freaks of the night
I never much cared for the cold
MacReady tells me it’s fool’s gold
The heat is more neat
sounds right up my street
I’d much prefer then just to scold
It’s time now to get these wheels turning
and watch a few films with Bruce Dern in
then strike me a match
and light up my thatch
as I feel like a little log burning
I’ll fan every flame I discern
then pass you the torch for your turn
as our furnace gestates
I suggest we vacate
with the parting words burn baby burn
I feel rather happy we’ve bonded
I passed you the flame you responded
here comes the fire chief
and he’s grinding his teeth
I told you we should have absconded
This cell suits me down to the ground
can you believe what I just found
this cheeky young blighter
only found a full lighter
I’m burning this sucker right down