Nomads (1986)

Bikers and hooligans in 1980s Los Angeles are really just ghosts. I don’t know if this makes them better or worse.

Pierce Brosnan plays a French anthropologist who dies at the beginning of the film. However, Lesley-Anne Down, the attendant doctor, somehow gets possessed by his memories. Through hallucinations, Down discovers that Brosnan had come across a group of what he initially believed to be urban nomads, street punks who never slept and just wandered from party to party. Unfortunately, Brosnan eventually learns that these nomads are in fact Einwetok, evil tricksters spirits drawn to locations of violence. Brosnan’s new house happens to be the site of a vicious murder, and now they want him for their own. While Down can’t save Brosnan, she does manage to meet Brosnan’s wife, Anna Maria Monticelli. Down and Monticelli then escape the wrath of the Einwetok as they come after them.

Nomads is a confusing movie, moving between the film’s past and present seamlessly while also mixing in hallucinated flashbacks and causing Down’s character to often relive what has happened to Brosnan, while Brosnan himself at times wanders into pure illusion. Critics reamed it for its problematic structure, but the thing it nails is a creepy, dreamlike atmosphere, fueled by Ted Nugent’s music and full of dirty alleys and distant views of the LA skyline. Unfortunately, the Einwetok are primarily silent, though they attack people whenever possible and loudly dance to music and party while playing with knives, sticks, motorcycles, and whatever else they feel like. They’re all dressed like leather-clad punks, too, so remember that bikers and the urban youth are a real problem, folks.

No, the Einwetok don’t appear to be particularly menacing, even when they’re committing acts of violence. They’re certainly mysterious, but they don’t feel particularly threatening up until they show up en masse. As much as the movie poster wants to claim you’ll be terrified, you won’t be. You might feel dread though; the way the movie is approached, the soundtrack, and the cinematography help build a menace that the evil spirits just don’t match. It’s this sense of dread that made the movie one really important fan: Arnold Schwarzenegger.  You see, John McTiernan directed Nomads, and Schwarzenegger loved it so much, he brought him in to direct his next movie project, a little film called Predator.

Regardless of what you think about McTiernan due to his legal troubles (which is a nice way of saying his prison sentence resulting from his illegal wiretapping of a producer’s phone), there’s a lot in his oeuvre worth watching. In my opinion, Nomads is one of these, even if its problematic and obviously the work of an inexperienced but talented director.  Give it a shot sometime when you want something very ’80s and a little messy.

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