American audiences discovered Pierce Brosnan (AMC just renewed his new series The Son for a second season) in TV’s Remington Steele (1982-’87) which made him a small-screen star.
That early success cost him the role of James Bond—he couldn’t break his American TV contract. Timothy Dalton played Bond in two movies. Brosnan played 007 four times, including in The World Is Not Enough (’99) which memorably (and ludicrously) cast Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.
The Irish-born actor made his big-screen debut in a small role as a vicious hit man in The Long Good Friday (’80), but it was six years before he scored his next film role, second-billed behind the gorgeous Lesley-Anne Down in Nomads. From then on, his career as a big-screen leading man steadily grew.
Few have seen Nomads, however, a fact underscored by Fangoria magazine’s inclusion of the film in 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen list. I recall seeing Nomads in the theater; I liked its originality, particularly a concluding shot I’ve never forgotten. Now on Blu-ray, the film should gain a larger audience, enabling genre fans in particular to check another title off their Must-See list.
Nomads was director John McTiernan’s first film—and the only one for which he wrote the screenplay. So impressed was Arnold Schwarzenegger with the results, the big guy had McTiernan direct Predator in ’87. McTiernan’s next two films were Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, and the filmmaker was out of the starting gate like Man O’War.
Other successes and a few bombs followed before a lengthy lawsuit after which the director was sentenced to one year in federal prison for wiretapping illegalities and lying to federal prosecutors. Released in 2014, he hasn’t made another film; his last was 2003’s Basic (John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson).
Back at the rosy start, McTiernan fashioned a gripping, original horror film, giving Brosnan a stab at stardom beyond the boob tube. McTiernan’s story and script are provocative but uneven. It’s a good thing his visual style rescues the movie from narrative potholes, making a bumpy ride less unpleasant.
It starts with Dr. Eileen Flax (Down), an ER doctor, being awakened to tend a bloody, deranged, violent patient (Brosnan) manacled to a gurney, babbling in what sounds like nonsensical French. Wrenching free, he lunges at the doctor, whispers something in her ear, and falls dead. So much for Brosnan’s big stab.
Eileen learns the dead man was Jean-Charles Pommier, a photographer/anthropologist who’d just moved to the city with his wife, after assignments around the globe. Eileen finds out much more, as she relives the experiences (in a kind of mind-meld with his memories) that sent Jean-Charles to the emergency room in the first place.
Perplexed at finding violent graffiti spray-painted in their new home’s garage, Jean-Charles sets out to the track the perpetrators, a band of black-clad vandals who apparently wander the city day and night, never sleeping and wreaking violence at will. When the images of the mysterious outlaws fail to appear on film, Jean-Charles concludes they are Innuat, malevolent spirits of Eskimo legend. (Preposterous as this sounds on paper, McTiernan invests the concept with genuine dread and the requisite creepiness in the film.)
Once the Innuat are aware of Jean-Charles, he becomes their target. The same is true, of course, for poor Eileen and Jean-Charles’ wife Niki (Anna-Maria Monticelli), leading to a siege right out of Night of the Living Dead.
As I wrote earlier, the script for Nomads is occasionally paper-thin, but strong performances from Brosnan and his co-stars help make up for the narrative deficiencies. It helps that the two most prominent of the evil entities are played by Mary Woronov (frequent Roger Corman and Paul Bartel collaborator) and rocker Adam Ant, both of whom are incredibly effective and convincing without a word of dialogue. Just for fun, see if you can spot another rock star among the actors.
A prime example of style over content, Nomads concludes with one of those memorable final scenes that make even bad movies worth watching. And Nomads is not a bad movie.