Fire In The Night (1985)


Fire In The Night (1985)- * * *

Directed by: John Steven Soet

Starring: Graciella Casillas, Patrick St. Esprit, and Muni Zano 

Terry Collins (Casillas) is a small-town girl who works at the local diner. Her problem is that professional jerk Mike Swanson (St. Esprit) is constantly harassing her. The Swanson family "owns the town" and Mike does what he pleases without consequences - until Terry finally decides she's had enough.

The two make a bet, that Terry can throw Mike into the water at the waterfront. If she wins, the tyranny of the Swanson family may finally end. God help us all if Mike wins the contest. He arrogantly doesn't take Terry all that seriously. Naturally, the first thing the Collins family does is go to the International School of Folk Dance. They try to enlist the help of Manolo Calba (Zano) for Terry's training. Of course, he initially says no but eventually agrees. The stage is now set for the ultimate showdown: Terry vs. Mike. Who will get thrown in the water? That just may be the most important question you've ever asked yourself...

Fire In The Night has been described as "a low-budget Karate Kid", and that's not too terribly far off the mark. Perhaps the filmmakers thought they would confuse viewers (and avoid lawsuits) if the trainer was of Philippine origin and the student was a woman. In any case, the film is filled with rough-hewn charm. It's very 1985, and Casillas's line readings are wonderfully flat and carry a lot of the entertainment value here.

Burt Ward is here for a few brief minutes. He appears to be the head of some sort of Karate academy, but wouldn't his best advice be to use Shark Spray on the baddies? We liked that Terry's parents want her to get her revenge and are fully a part of her going to get trained to potentially kill someone. You don't usually see that level of parental consent. Patrick St. Esprit comes close to stealing the show as Mike, the guy who is a total jerkass 100% of the time, all the time. We hate to keep using the word "jerk" to describe him, but really Mike Swanson is the picture-perfect, dictionary definition of what a jerk can, should, and, dare we say, must be. St. Esprit does it well, anyway.

Okay, those are all the positives. In the negative column, there is a definite slowness to the movie, especially around the midway point where there is a dance recital (there's a surprising amount of "folk dancing" in Fire in the Night). It's then that an already slow film almost just stops in its tracks. Director John Steven Soet, who had previously directed a rare film called Skirmish (1981), and has directed nothing since FITN, evidently had some experience and cred in the Martial Arts community, which is a bit surprising considering how little forward drive, intensity, or energy FITN actually contains.

However, though, the charms of Fire In the Night do outweigh its faults (in this case, the charms ARE the faults, or perhaps the faults are the charms). It's best to see this if you're in an especially charitable mood. If you are, the overall stiffness, and things such as blows not coming anywhere near their target, people that look like they are in their 40's playing characters that are supposed to be in their 20's, boom-mike shadows, and the like, will seem delightful rather than amateurish.

Fire In the Night is low-budget, independent filmmaking, warts and all. And there's a lot to appreciate about that.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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