BORN OF FIRE (1986), directed by Pakistani filmmaker Jamil Dehlavi, was one of several eccentric genre films to emerge from Great Britain in the late eighties (others included Ken Russell’s GOTHIC and Bernard Rose’s PAPERHOUSE). Although its theatrical distribution was quite limited, the film won a couple of awards (at the 1987 Huston and Madrid Film Festivals) and scored a VHS release courtesy of Vidmark Entertainment. These days, alas, it’s been largely forgotten, and doesn’t appear to have garnered much of a cult following.
Peter Firth plays Peter, a flute player afflicted with disquieting visions during a recital. Around the same time an unnamed woman astronomer (Suzan Crowley) discovers strange patterns forming on the surface of the sun during a solar eclipse. She believes a volcanic eruption in a remote region of Turkey is to blame for the sun’s irregularities, and gets in touch with Peter, as he hails from that very region.
It seems that years earlier Peter’s father died clutching a flute in Turkey. Peter travels there and discovers a cavern set into a rock near the erupting volcano. Presiding over it is a priest who knows of Peter and his ancestry; the priest informs Peter that he has a deformed brother residing in the cavern, and that his father died battling a djinn (evil spirit) known as the Master Musician, who lives in a nearby cave. The priest also lets Peter know that his mother, a native Turkish woman, was stoned to death years earlier.
The astronomer woman turns up in the region shortly after Peter. She discovers that she’s the reincarnation of Peter’s mother, whose spirit is being used by the Master Musician. Under the Master musician’s nefarious influence, the woman becomes a sex-mad shrew (this is a bad thing?) and tries to turn Peter to the dark side. He resists her come-ons long enough to take on the Master Musician in a musical play-off. This is the only way to defeat the djinn, who will otherwise use his fiery powers to scorch the Earth…
BORN OF FIRE is reminiscent in many respects of “Mondo Macabro” flavored East Asian fare like MYSTICS IN BALI and THE KILLING OF SATAN, comparisons that adequately demonstrate what’s wrong with this film. As cheap, trashy and exploitive as MYSTICS and KILLING are, they and their like are imbued with a go-for-broke audacity lacking in this overly refined, staunchly British product.
Director Jamil Dehlavi stages many gross and disturbing scenes featuring a fair amount of full frontal male and female nudity, but the film overall is too genteel for its own good. The Islamic mysticism that drives the narrative seems genuine (the film concludes, quite solemnly, with extensive quotes from the Koran), which is a large part of the problem; some down-and-dirty exploitation would have benefited the proceedings immensely!
That’s not to say the film isn’t impressive in spots. The Eastern-flavored music score is utilized quite effectively, as are the locations, most notably a strange all-white rock formation which the heroine at one point stains by bleeding into it. Had BORN OF FIRE contained more scenes like that one it might have been a cult classic in the making, rather than the mildly interesting curio it is.
BORN OF FIRE
Director: Jamil Dehlavi
Producers: Jamil Dehlavi, Therese Pickard
Screenplay: Raficq Abdulla
Cinematography: Bruce McGowan
Editing: Robert Hargreaves
Cast: Peter Firth, Suzan Crowley, Stefan Kalipha, Oh-Tee, Nabil Shaban, Jean Ainslie, Peter Penry-Jones, Morris Perry, Richard Bebb, Ziya Derien, Tamar Eshel, Ismet Arasan