Ever thought sentient water craving fire would make for a batshit crazy disaster movie? So did Andrew Stevens & Jim Wynorski as they wrote and directed Fire From Below. This tonally confusing made for TV movie has plenty to make you laugh and roll your eyes at whilst enjoying some low budget fire effects. It isn’t pretty but they had a go.
The disasters faced
Fire (from below), Fire (in a straight line), Fire (that respects road geography), exploding toilets, poisonous gas, sinkholes, caves of fire and a lovely big corp cover up.
Just desperate to get away from the city, Jake and Karen decide to return back to Jake’s hometown which is situated right next to a digging mine for a nefarious mining company. They’ve been harvesting a pure strain of Lithium to revolutionise the energy sector but are completely unaware of its dangerous combustible properties when it comes into contact with water. Naturally, this happens within the first few minutes of the movie and the seemingly sentient fireball chases after any water it can to consume it and stay alive. Thus everyone is burnt to a crisp.
This leads to the corporate cover up which top dogs body Reign (yes, these names are symbolic) doesn’t agree with so she takes off to the mine to investigate right at the point where hell breaks loose. Poisonous gas is leaking into the sewer system in the town and killing off the residence en mass or simply blowing up their outside toilets (goodbye Bubba – you were vile anyway). This all comes to a head when Jake and Karen are joined by Jake’s science team Toni and Mickey and the local military down at the lake where they discovered their first victim. With the military thinking its a terrorist act, Jake, Toni and Mickey think its a geological event instead. Whilst taking samples, the fire erupts in the lake and causes a giant sinkhole taking Toni, Mickey and Colonel Mark down with the rubble and leaving them trapped in fiery caves underground. While Jake, Karen and General Cook survive and retreat (chased by fire that thankfully knows the green cross code) to think of their next plan.
That plan comes together back at the mine where everything started – which incidentally is also where our trapped trio are also wandering about trying to escape the same set but from different angles. Here Jake and Reign team up and we discover they were previously dating. In a love triangle that doesn’t really get started because everyone is far too secure and hateful of each other, Jake and Reign must now work together with some military officials to plant explosives in the caves, hopefully catch Tony, Mickey and Mark on the way down or up and get everyone out before it blows up. Karen and General Cook watch on from the entrance as they descend into the cave. Will everyone survive? Will the fire chase our protagonists in a responsible line? Will you stop laughing at the movie? Who knows!
Why is it worth watching?
Good question! Fire From Below falls into that so bad its good category due to several key issues.
Firstly, the movie has a tonal issue where Reign gets objectified throughout the entire movie and then comedic deaths or silly things happen to most men who do and Reign doesn’t seem phased by any of their crap. At the same time, half the town have just died of toxic gas poisoning. The military seem to want to be antagonistic whilst also comedically running around like scared girls yet still hold the power although they do very little. It is a very confusing film where the plot makes less sense than the science.
Secondly, there is a wildly inconsistent level of acting throughout. There are specific bit parts that are genuinely wooden to the point of you saying ‘wow’ out loud. It isn’t quite ‘Oh Hi Mark!’ levels but it isn’t far off at times. Then you have most of the main cast who can act and so their decentness jars against everything else that is going on. It gives the movie a very lopsided charm.
Thirdly, the action sequences. Oh my. I will applaud Fire From Below for actually using fire for a lot of the cave related scenes and they work much better as a result. In fact, I’d have taken a campy movie about everyone stuck below ground if that was the production given throughout. It is the ‘fire will chase us directly’ laziness approach that characterises every single effects scene that is the problem. When it strays from that, you know a character is going to die. This issue of rinse and repeat plagues disaster movies big and small but Fire From Below is one of the worst offenders.
So if that sounds like it’ll float your so bad its good boat – you’ll be in for a treat!
The CGI fire is pretty meh. It isn’t the worst I’ve seen committed to film but it is very low budget 2009 era CGI. This means someone learnt one effect that works OK and then abuses it in every scene with a copy paste logic for time and money. When the movie uses real fire in the caves, you can tell its real and the few set pieces they implement real fire works well. There are also some really poor CGI building works of the cave too that look unconvincing in a chuckle and cheers to it way.
Whilst Jake and Karen are relatively stable and that is welcome here, its clear Jake was a bit of an idiot in past relationships. It is clear he did Reign wrong and her only real character progression is to let bygones be bygones. Karen’s character also devolves over time from a useful head of reason to worried wife too quickly and easily too. If anything, the best characters in the movie are Toni and Mickey – the sidekick duo of scientists who bicker like an old married couple. As they reform their friendship in the caves, dragging Colonel Mike around as a third wheel, it is by far the most interesting element of the films character development scenes.
One thing does irk me but also rings true. Taylor Drake, who runs the mining corporation never really shows remorse for anything that happens. Instead, he continues to think about business needs and making money – even when all the damage and jeopardy is going on. He doesn’t meet a ‘just’ end as most disaster movies would give him. Instead, he has a huge bill and is left with no big energy deal. He acts slimy throughout and I have no doubt he’d be off making backroom deals as soon as the credits rolled if he was real. It was interesting to see didn’t really get just desserts.
Phewwweeeee!Bubba entering his outdoor toilet unaware that isn’t his gas…
Three memorable moments
- Jemal’s death by going for a wee outside and setting the fire off…and up… ouch!
- The absolutely stupid bat attack.
- Prodding dead citizens and watching them fall to the floor dramatically in the diner.
The obligatory weird moment
There are so many I could go for. Death by wee. Death by washing hands. Death by running away from bats. However, I’ll settle for the one of the best examples of tonal issues. Early on four characters are on a speed boat and jet ski. The fire ball pops up and chases them around yet the three on the boat seem so unbothered by it, casually asking what it is and maybe they should speed up a bit. They all die after lots of reaction shots where no one bar perhaps the guy steering the ship seems to react appropriately. Sigh.
The drinking game
Is that fireball following the exact same path and road the humans are?
I didn’t have an awful time with Fire From Below but I cannot recommend it to anyone unless you enjoy bad movies. At least there is always something going on, whether it makes sense or feels like the previous scene but with a different backdrop or not. At least some of the comedy was intentional. I think.
Rating: 2 / 5 (Poor)
If you enjoyed Fire From Below, then you may like…
- Combustion – Similarly budgeted but better made gas related disaster movie.
- Sinkhole – low budget disaster movie about kids getting swallowed underground.
- Stonehenge Apocalypse – When I think of unintentional comedy – I think of this.
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