TORCHLIGHT (1985) Cautionary anti-drug tale focused almost exclusively on the dangers of freebasing cocaine.

torchlight_usposterTheme Song:


“All the Love in the World,” by Carly Simon. Something about this song isn’t as bothersome as you’d think it would be.

Interesting Dated References: Going to very swanky and intimate after-parties to do hard drugs, as opposed to nowadays where you simply do hard drugs in the bathroom at a bar or in the alley. Freebasing-centered drug culture.

Best Line: “Don’t make me defend my art.”

Social Context: Cocaine. The problem with Torchlight is it’s so focused on a specific method of abusing cocaine: freebasing. There’s hardly any mention of traditional cocaine abuse, and they put way too much effort into showcasing what’s involved in a freebase kit.

In the press release for Torchlight, they even mention that “freebase kits” were available in the retail marketplace. Really? You could go out and buy them in a kit?

Summary: This is a hard one to start talking about. There’s so much awesome and well-used potential in this movie, but it all fails to culminate into something phenomenal. It’s almost there, though, and in the world of Betamax, that’s good enough.

Steve Railsback, man. Do you remember when he was Charles Manson?

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He’s out there. He’s intense and he’s got a thousand-yard stare like the best drunken ‘Nam vet, which makes him hard to take as a romantic lead in a 1980s movie centered around freebasing cocaine.

In scenes like this, we’re supposed to believe Jake (Railsback) is totally sober and just a little eccentric, but he actually comes across as totally out-of-his-gourd high on drugs the entire movie because awesome Railsback is so over the top spaced out.

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Okay, so Jake is a successful architect looking for the next big thing. He meets Lillian (Pamela Sue Martin), an artist, on the job site and immediately asks her out creepily on a date. Then there’s a photo montage where we’re supposed to know a year has gone by and they are married and in love. At one point there’s an ear piercing fetish scene where Jake makes sexual innuendos as he jams earrings into Lillian’s’ unpierced ears in a loving and erotic way. Yes, I’m serious. Since Lillian is an artist, she takes Jake and his actor friend with the perm to an art show. During the entire scene, guess who is lurking in the background looking at the bad 80s art?

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Ian McShane, man. That’s right. Remember when he was Al Swearingen? Of course you do. So McShane is playing Sidney, the shady drug dealer who is basically trying to sleep with Lillian.

In order to do this, he invites everyone to an after-party at his house. What about the 12-foot sliding glass door? You know how much a custom 12-foot sliding glass door costs?

Come on, Ian McShane freebasing cocaine? Has there been a finer moment in film? So, this is going exactly where you expect. Jake gets all into freebase and Sidney pushes him right along. The whole time there’s a huge homoerotic element to their relationship.

My girlfriend hates it when I do this as well. Lillian continues to judge Jake for not being able to control the drug that she introduced him to. She even makes him go to counseling. Jake continues to be more odd and homoerotic with Al Swearingen. Then there’s a weird scene in which Jake goes to some type of orgy at Sidney’s.

Absolutely answering the door taking a big giant fucking pull from a freebase. While there, Sidney forces some girl onto the bed. He says she’s been making problems and he needs her to do “this one thing for him.” Then someone hands him what looks like a medical bag. I think maybe he’s trying to give the girl an abortion, but it’s never really made clear. It’s obvious something was scrapped from the script or got cut out here.

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Jake attempts sobriety, cries and buries all his drugs, gets paranoid and points a gun at the out of doors, gets sober, then does drugs at a party. It’s all here, folks, exquisitely overacted very intensely by Railsback.

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Lillian leaves Jake and moves out. A few weeks later she goes back to check on him and finds the house full of crackheads. After that, we fast forward a few months and she is now a successful artist. Like that’s even possible. People who want to be successful in art (visual, musical, or poetic) should stop chasing childhood dreams and learn that the world sucks. Your sole purpose for being alive is to provide a spot for other people to stomp on. Lillian sees Jake living in his car. They exchange some words about giving it another go, but of course that isn’t going to happen. And then the movie ends, but we all had stopped paying attention because Ian McShane hadn’t been on screen for the last 20 minutes.

Torchlight is awesome. Railsback and McShane are a great team. Interestingly, Pamela Sue Martin cowrote the script which was allegedly based on some of her past experiences with a boyfriend who was probably really fun to party with.

Poster and Box Art: Oddly, the type treatment on Torchlight shows powdered cocaine. Freebasing had already gone out of style by the time this got to video and so they tried to include a powdered cocaine appearance in the film’s marketing. In a way, I still wish freebasing was popular like back in the day. It seemed so much more exciting and dangerous. People and their drugs suck nowadays. Pill popping and the like, how boring. I like when drugs involved a kit. It makes you feel more like an artist. No, heroin does not count as a kit, so don’t try to argue with me.

Availability: A DVD is available, but it’s $25.00 for some reason.

3 comments

  • Guess I’m the only one who likes this movie.
    It subtly shows how getting involved in smoking crack can and will screw up your life.
    I’m happy that PSM got away from her ex before he dragged her down to

  • Back in the early/mid-80s in DC, “freebase kits” were available at our local head shops, and were even advertised in our local music/alterna-rag (Unicorn Times).

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