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FANGO Flashback: “NOMADS” (1986)

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The horror genre has a long track record of being a jumping-off point for the careers of many actors and directors. Before helming classic films such as THE GODFATHER and APOCALYPSE NOW, legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola got his start directing Roger Corman-produced horror features such as THE TERROR and DEMENTIA 13.  George Clooney got one of his earliest feature film roles in RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, and before he’d go on to direct blockbusters, Sam Raimi carved out a legacy as a master of horror that began with EVIL DEAD. And for future action heavyhitter John McTiernan, his career as a director began with a trippy little tale of terror called NOMADS.

NOMADS, a 1986 horror-tinged mystery, is a prime example of a film that would serve as a project for two big names on opposite sides of the camera to cut their teeth on. The film was directed and co-written by action movie maestro John McTiernan, who would go on to lens classics films like DIE HARD, PREDATOR, and the misunderstood meta-action comedy THE LAST ACTION HERO. It is also distinguished by the fact that it contains the first lead role in a feature film for future James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan.

The film begins in a busy L.A. hospital, where a madman (played by Brosnan) found ranting and raving on the streets has now been strapped down to a gurney and is under guard due to his erratic behavior. Dr. Eileen Flax (Lesley-Anne Dowd) checks in on the man, who lies beaten and bloodied and keeps jolting up to shout angrily in French. As Flax checks on the poor man, she is shocked when he he manages to partially break from his restraints and get close enough to whisper something into her ear. Immediately afterwards, he collapses and dies. A bit of an odd way to start one’s lead performance, but strange occurrences allow Brosnan to remain the center of the story.

Not long after the encounter, Flax learns from a fellow doctor that the now deceased lunatic was completely clean when he was brought in, and that he was in fact a revered sociologist from France whose name was Jean-Charles Pommier. After making a few attempts to translate Pommier’s final words, Eileen begins to suffer from vivid hallucinations, and ends up collapsing into a coma. Her friends and colleagues are concerned for from the start, but they’re even more startled to find that Flax is experiencing the brain activity of a conscious, functioning human being in her current state. Before long, Flax escapes the hospital, and roams the streets of L.A. in a semi-conscious state.

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While Flax’s body roams, her mind (and the majority of the film’s runtime) is completely overtaken by flashbacks of Jean-Charles’ final days. Pommier and his wife Niki (Anna Maria Monticelli) but a new house in Los Angeles and appear to be excited to start a new chapter in their lives. Pommier in particular is ready to start work as a professor after years of studying the religious practices of indigenous cultures, but his intellectual curiosity is stoked by a group of leather-clad miscreants who keep hanging around his home.

One night, Jean-Charles awakens to find his house vandalized by the heavy metal hooligans, in the form of a shrine to a deceased murderer who once lived in the house. Pommier begins to follow and study this odd group, whom he dubs to be “modern day nomads,” living from parking lot to parking lot. What starts as a makeshift scientific study becomes an obsession, and the slipping sociologist soon stops even trying to hide his observations from the group, who seem equally amused by him. Brosnan’s acting here is pretty naturalistic, and his descent into chaos seems understandable given the extraordinary circumstances he finds himself in.

Once Jean-Charles realizes the true supernatural power of this group of nomads, he does his best to avoid them and save himself and his wife from danger, but his efforts to escape the ancient force that’s marked him are ultimately useless. Burdened with this knowledge, Flax must reluctantly save Niki from the nomads, who are still encircling the house without her knowing.

The film features an intense guitar-driven soundtrack, evocative of the decade from which it comes but still distinctive in its own ways. McTiernan’s flair for tense action and emotionally charged dialogue sequences can be seen here, and knowing the great work he had ahead of him, it’s fun to watch the director earn his bones on a feature debut that’s definitely better executed than DEMENTIA 13.

NOMADS is now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, as well as streaming on Netflix Instant.

About the author
Christopher La Vigna
Christopher La Vigna is a writer, filmmaker, and the newest batch of blood to be welcomed into the haunted halls of FANGORIA. He’s a graduate of Hunter College*, and can be found lurking around any movie theater or comic shop near his person. You can argue about movies with him on Twitter: @Chris_LaVigna
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