I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Nomads

tn_nomadsOne year before PREDATOR, two years before DIE HARD, John McTiernan wrote and directed this unusual thriller about ghostly demons or demonic ghosts. (Actually I thought they were ghosts, but the back of the DVD calls them demons. So let’s split the difference.) NOMADS stars Lesley-Anne Down as Dr. Flax, recently moved to L.A. One night after 32 hours on shift she sees a patient covered in blood, babbling in French, so crazed that they have to cuff him. He’s played by “Pierce Brosnan, the star of REMINGTON STEELE like you’ve never seen him before” according to the trailer narrator.

His name is Pommier and as he’s convulsing he whispers to her, then bites her ear, wounding her bad. After a few moments of shock she tries to cut the tension with gallows humor, saying “Well, looks like he got me there, didn’t he?” But then Pommier dies.

mp_nomadsThis whole opening, including her casual co-worker conversation with the surgeon while getting her stitches, is classic. It just has that feel of a crazy fuckin night, some co-workers with their we’re-in-this-together camaraderie, looking out for each other and trying to get through their shifts. Like ER, which was totally ripped off from NOMADS. Same amount of syllables and everything. They just took the ghosts out to cover their tracks.

It’s kind of like a DIE HARD opening too. It shows you the L.A. setting, its heroine is a skeptical outsider to the city, and it shows people going through something pretty routine not knowing they’re about to crash head first into some crazy shit.

The crazy shit is not even getting bit, it’s the visions she starts having, the flashbacks to Pommier’s last few days alive. She starts to know things she shouldn’t (for example French). She tries to figure out the meaning of what he whispered to her. So her story starts taking a backseat to his. He and his wife have moved into a new house, then it gets vandalized. He notices an A-TEAMesque van outside his house so he follows the people inside it. He also happens to be an anthropologist, so he takes photos and studies their lifestyle.

You all remember how in the ’80s there was that huge problem with satanic punk gangs in all the major cities? Me neither, but they’re in too many movies to be made up. So I live in fear that one day they will return to reclaim the streets. This particular gang is led by Adam Ant. Pommier follows them all over the city, trying not to be seen by them. When one of them (Mary Woronov) does notice him taking pictures she goes right up to him and does a sexy dance on top of a car. He just keeps snapping like a fashion photographer. I’m not sure what that’s all about, but I like it.

The filmatism is strong, lots of real standout McT scenes including a tense one where he hides under a parked car and waits helplessly with their feet right next to him, not sure if they really don’t notice him or if they’re fucking with him. There are plenty of weird sound tricks and atmospheric shots. I like the one where he’s running away from the camera but his breath sounds like it’s right up against it. And it’s a nice night shot overlooking downtown L.A. from the hills. Also of note: he knocks a dude off a building and it looks just like when Hans Grueber falls off the Nakatomi.

I always meant to see this movie, just because it’s McT. Now when I finally watched it I was sick and in kind of a tired daze that might’ve prevented full understanding, but also contributed to the hypnotic effect of the movie. I’m not sure I get why it’s so important that the ghosts fit the pattern of nomads (for example they make the point that L.A. used to be desert and nomads live in the desert). I mean isn’t the crucial detail that they’re ghosts, not that they travel alot and don’t have a permanent mailing address?

The music by Bill Conti is pretty crazy, sometimes really good and sometimes going off on ’80s keyboard rock tangents. Not timeless, but then neither is the use of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” in DIE HARD and you don’t see me complaining about that.

You know, while writing this review I thought of a “what if?” scenario. Remember how Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast to play the Predator, but it didn’t work out? Well, what if instead of that he had been cast in NOMADS? After all, this is a movie where the hero is French for no particular reason. This would be the perfect accent-explained role for Van Damme. The movie wouldn’t be as eerie but would have more action and would be funnier, and more people would know about it. But that’s okay, things turned out the way they should’ve.

Anyway, it’s no PREDATOR or DIE HARD, but it’s a solid debut that makes you wonder why he never wrote anymore movies after this.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 at 11:23 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “Nomads”

  1. I gotta admit that I had no idea that this movie even existed.

  2. Definitely going to see if this is available in Australia. Love McTeirnan, Predator is on constant rotation on my DVD player/iphone. I probably prefer it to Die Hard because it has an alien in it, though the alien never went on to have Bruce’s career. I’d love to see the alien make a comeback in something like The 6th Sense, “I can see dead people. Bwahaahahahah” (meant to be approximating the laugh the alien copies in Predator)

  3. Saw NOMADS years back (when only available in out of print VHS languishing in mom & pop stores) and the one word that comes to mind is……Interesting.

    It doesn’t really work, but fuck McTiernan did have there a really cool idea: Gang of nomadic ghosts who endlessly roam the world through the netherworld of streets and backwoods highways. Good ending too, or at least the intention of it.

    Problem is, they’re represented as wannabe-spoiled-rich-punks who confuse The Clash with Blondie and rebel by roaming the mall parking lot after hours in their shag van. Not exactly the best representation of ancient nomad hunters.

    Vern I’m surprised you didn’t mention that before becoming quite an influential action cinema filmmaker, McTiernan was an Anthropology student or Major or something. That probably explains NOMAD. Shit he even gave himself an Over-the-Phone cameo as the “Professor” giving exposition.

    What I wonder is, what did Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon see in NOMADS to decide to hire him to helm a Schwartzenegger actioneer? Was it his thematic ambitions or coming close to making Brosnan be a convincing Frog?

    So NOMADS isn’t good or bad. Just interesting.

  4. Vid Oden’s testiklar! All hail Vern!

    I too was mysteriously unaware of this film, and now I’m really happy to not be anymore.

  5. Sadly, the having no idea this movie existed happnes a lot to me here, wait, not sad, awesome!

  6. Finally, a movie with the courage to shine a spotlight on the evil eskimo spirits terrorizing our city streets and upper class cul-de-sacs. I saw this earlier this year, and between the leather bar costumes and the constant interplay between doctor seizing head, camera spinning, and Brosnan turning faux-French to stalk Adam Ant, thought the movie wasn’t hitting on all cylinders. I liked the idea, but thought the film just meandered way too much.

    However, there were a few scenes that held me. Vern, what did you think about the scenes with the nun? I thought those had the best atmosphere—at least, before they turned into a shot for shot reimagining of “A Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It’s definitely a freshmen effort, and I can see why having a fever would help it go down easier. Still, you’ve got to give credit to a film that warns, “Be careful, or Adam Ant will haunt you forever.”

    Which, considering his career nowadays, is all too likely. Oh, and thanks for the McT background RRA.

  7. Rented this on VHS years ago, in Australia (from a 7 to 7, not to be confused with a 7/11), so it WAS available in Oz at one time. Had some great stuff, the attack in the hospital, throwing Tick Tock from The Crow over the ledge. The final shot was awesome, that is one that just stays with you.

  8. I like how Pierce slowly ingratiates himself with the punks as if he were Sigourney Weaver with the mountain gorillas, assuming of course that mountain gorillas like bumpin’-and-grindin’ to Ted Nugent guitar solos (and who doesn’t?). Also, ladies, I think you get to see Pierce’s junk for a few frames, so break out that slow-mo.

  9. More Adam Ant, please.

  10. I vaguely remember seeing this film in the ’90s. I most remember the mood, and that I kinda liked it but that it didn’t quite gel. But for some reason I do remember the jumping-on-the-car bit.

  11. Wow, I didn’t think anyone had seen this except me. I always liked it, though I could never explain exactly why. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it had just enough weird elements to make it stick (like when Brosnan realizes Adam Ant is posing for him as he takes his covert pictures across the street). I also liked Slam Dance more than I can explain. Maybe Adam Ant has some kind of hypnotoad like power?

  12. Caught it on tape when originally released and never forgot having seen it though I remember almost nothing about it. The “feel” of it far outlasted the “memory” of its parts.

    Which is more than I can say for 90% of James Cameron’s oeuvre.

    In fact, I haven’t liked any of Jimmy’s shtick since the sulphuric acid bath that is ALIENS. I think I get why geeks chant his name – I just can’t relate to any of the praises whether they be about his technical know-how, which amounts to throwing more money at it, or his so-called storytelling abilities.

    (this last paragraph brought to you by AVATAR)

    Anyway, McT showed real promise for about 15 minutes and RED OCTOBER was the work of a ridiculously confident, classy, emergent master. Anyone know what he’s up to nowadays?

    SirV

  13. McT is in jail.

    Which begs the question: Will he get raped in the showers for LAST ACTION HERO?

  14. Hey Vern. Did you review this on VHS? Because it lacks your signature “Reviewed from VHS” logo at the bottom, but netflix tells me that it hasn’t been released on DVD yet. I did save it in my queue though.

  15. No, it’s on DVD, region 1 and everything. It’s just out of print so I guess they must not be able to get it. There are plenty of used ones for sale cheap online if you want it real bad.

  16. Hey Jsix, I saw “Nomads” earlier this year through Netflix. They should have it, but it might be one of those rare titles where they need to look six states over in order to get it for you; if you’re willing to wait, you should get it eventually. Unless it went out of print, like, right away last month. Hell, maybe it disappeared due to hanging out with LA ghost gangs for too long. Hopefully it’ll come your way soon, one way or another.

    And then my friend, you’ll be haunted until you’ll have to stand . . . or deliver.

  17. Well fuck. Before I just kiiiiinda wanted to see it.

    Now that I can’t I reaaaaally want to see it.

    Thanks Vern, and Bad Seed keep up the E.J.O. references. Or should I say L.D.P.?

  18. A teacher of mine n high school worked on this film. She said that McTeirnan originally intended this movie as a remake of… “Blade Runner”. The nomads were the replicants, and the main character didn’t know they were a replicant (or Nomad).

    And then a few years later, I worked for the guy who posed for Pierce Brosnan’s body for the movie poster. I cannot escape this film.

  19. Finally took this one in today and found it a unique experience that doesn’t quite add up to a classic.

    Two reasons: the first is that the framing story seems a tad unnecessary and keeps taking us out of the action just to show someone else watching the action. Why? Its not like her character gets developed or anything, she’s just watching the same thing we are.

    The second is that as weird and creepy as the concept is, the actual punks just aren’t scary. We never learn enough about them to really get a feel for what their powers and goals are, so instead we have to settle for being scared of them because they wear sunglasses and leather and live in a van. Meh. Punks are scarier if you play up the angle that they defy social conventions and as such can create instability and chaos in the world. So the graffiti bit works, but the whole chasing angle kinda falls flat.

    On the other hand, the bit with the nuns is scary as shit. Nuns are way scarier than punks.

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