The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man (1987) is weird comfort food. I find myself craving every now and then, like a favorite meal. I first saw it when I was twelve, and nostalgia tends to tint objectivity, but I think this movie only improves with age. They don’t make them like this anymore, with that distinctly 1980s blend of bleak social commentary, schlocky spectacle, and self-aware humor that remembers, first and foremost, to entertain.

Over the years, it’s become my ur-text for a sleazy future of trashcan fires, black markets, station hijacking, and vicious game show hosts. And if you squint at it a certain way, it’s a genuinely frightening portrait of America’s appetite for violence. Thanks to one of the most inspired casting decisions ever made, The Family Feud’s Richard Dawson plays the ringmaster of televised bloodsport with terrifying charisma. But the real villain is the crowd. They just want to watch people die.

The entire film hinges on a small moment after Schwarzennager refuses to bash in the head of a large man dressed like a Lite-Brite who sings Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro while he electrocutes his victims. (That was such an enjoyable sentence to write.) The crowd begins to boo, tentative at first—then they gather steam. And Dawson looks at the bloodlust on the faces of these old ladies and nebbish accountants, and he looks scared. Because these people want to watch a murder, they don’t care who. And when Schwarzenegger starts righteously slaughtering the baddies with razor wire, a chainsaw, explosives, and a belt-fed weapon while delivering clunky one-liners, we’re cheering too. We’ve become the crowd.

And somewhere in my brain, my sense of The Running Man is soundtracked by this song by Bremen, which captures a nervy end-of-days energy of midnight sirens and searchlights sweeping the sky.

Bremen – Entering Phase Two

Second Launch | Blackest Ever Black, 2011 | Bandcamp
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