Not too many epic love stories begin with a screening of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, but then again, there aren't many movies out there like Fire with Fire. A delirious, surreal paean to teen love, this film was part of a mid-'80s cycle of teen films outside the John Hughes box focusing more on rebellion against authority, alongside other titles like The Legend of Billie Jean and a previous offering from Paramount, Firstborn. The promotional materials promised this was based on true events, and if that's not marketing smoke and mirrors, well... the mind boggles.
Sent off to a juvenile detainment facility for delinquents in Oregon, Joe (Nightbreed's Sheffer) is separated from his fellow inmates during a team exercise and spies something unusual at a lake: Lisa (Madsen, hot off of Dune and Electric Dreams), a student at a nearby Catholic school, photographing herself floating in the water in a recreation of the John Everett Millais painting "Ophelia." Later the two finally lock eyes when the boys are all hauled into town for a night at the movies, watching a hockey-masked killer slash up teenagers in one of the more interesting reform methods from the '80s. Lisa suggests in class to one of the nuns (Jean Smart from Designing Women!) that, in an effort to better serve the community instead of sending off aid money to Africa, they should invite the boys over for a dance. Soon Joe and Lisa are completely smitten, but their bond doesn't sit well with either the school or Joe's sadistic overseer (Barton Fink's Polito). With nowhere left to turn, they decide to go on the run with law in hot pursuit, leading to an action-packed, gunshot-toting climax at a mountain cabin.
This swooning, melodramatic collision of pulp action and paperback-friendly romance came as something to a shock to theatrical audiences, but the film found a home on TV thanks to a billion or so airings on cable TV for the next few years. This is the kind of offbeat cult item that grabs the attention of anyone who stumbles into it at any point, with Sheffer (rebounding nicely from Voyage of the Rock Aliens) and Madsen making quite convincing young lovers in a story with more than a couple of different Shakespeare plays on its mind. There's also a lyrical score by Howard Shore (taking a break from David Cronenberg movies at the time), a disorienting young supporting turn by D.B. Sweeney before semi-fame in The Cutting Edge and Eight Men Out as another of the juvie offenders. Oh, and the stable of Catholic schoolgirls includes a few familiar faces like a young Kari Wuhrer (King of the Ants) and Penelope Sudrow as one especially uptight teen one year before her legendary "Welcome to prime time" moment in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. And if you're an '80s pop music fan, the theme song by Wild Blue is pretty spectacular and one of the catchiest of the era.
The video history of Fire with Fire is essentially identical to that of Firstborn, released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Olive Films on the same day. At one time it was everywhere on TV and VHS, but when DVD took over, it vanished for over a decade, eventually popping up again as a streaming title on services like Netflix. Fortunately its long, long road back to physical media was worth the wait, as the Blu-Ray in particular is much more satisfying and true to the theatrical presentation than what we've seen before. Though bare bones, it's quite nice and features better framing and far more detail than before, with grain left intact and looking essentially like a solid 1986 film print, with all that entails. Anyone familiar with other Paramount titles from the era should know what to expect (soft, powdery blacks and a mono soundtrack), but apart from some minor flecks and bits of damage here and there (mainly some tiny white dots on the right side of the screen during a little bit of the second reel), this should make any fans of the film very, very happy. Tease out your hair, sit back, and enjoy.