GHOST IN THE MACHINE is the second movie directed by Rachel Talalay, a behind-the-scenes New Line Cinema person who went from assistant production manager on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to production manager on part 2, line producer on part 3, producer on part 4 and then director and story provider for FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE. She followed that with this and then TANK GIRL and now she’s a very successful TV director who has done Supergirl, The Flash, Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc.
Back in 1993 when this came out I knew she was the FREDDY’S DEAD lady but I thought this looked really stupid: a dead killer’s soul gets into a computer and he can control machines? How does that make sense? Finally watching it 23 years later it turns out I was right, it is pretty stupid, and it doesn’t make much sense. But it was worth my time.
Terry Munroe (Karen Allen rocking Dana Sculley hair) happens to catch the eye of a serial killer (Ted Marcoux, DARK BLUE) shortly before he gets into a car accident (he giggles as his car slides upside down through a graveyard) and then is getting an MRI when there’s power surge and becomes a GHOST IN THE MACHINE(s). In my opinion MRI technology has gotten worse, because he gets scanned and given great power in less than a minute. Mine took a couple hours, cost me $6,250 and still didn’t make me into a magical being living inside computers and appliances.
But that’s what happens to him, and he’s obsessed with Terry so he messes with her bank account, calls her house, chats with her son (but the screen calls it “E-MAIL”), faxes her files and arrest records to people, also goes after the contacts in her digitized address book and kills them one by one by controlling the electricity to overload their kitchen appliances to cause fires and stuff. The funny thing is that some of this stuff would actually make sense now that there is “Web 2.0” and so many more things can connect to the internet or are at least digital. But back then, no, I don’t believe that a hacker could turn on your oven or retract your swimming pool cover remotely.
The killer met her when he was working at Computer Universe. In my opinion he was absolutely terrible at customer service even excluding the stalking and murdering.
#1: He grabs a kid’s hand and then sensually licks his fingers.
#2, he does a really, really poor job of hiding that he’s creepily spying on them:
But his boss has more to answer for than not firing him for being a creep, even after catching him in the store after hours with the lights out sniffing things. While he was alive, this guy was called “The Address Book Killer” because he would steal people’s address books and kill everybody in them. So that makes it even more weird that when demonstrating a scanner to Terry the boss randomly asks if she has an address book. For some reason she does, and lets him scan it. Reckless endangerment there.
The fun part of the movie is its aggressive nineties-ness. This includes the old technology that they pretend can do way more than it could back then, and the extremely crude CGI used to depict the ridiculous idea of the electronic killer somehow giving himself a physical body made of floating particles (see also the end of TRON LEGACY). Of course, it wouldn’t be a 1993 “cyber thriller” without a virtual reality scene, so there’s a part where the killer attacks inside a virtual reality arcade game. Things like this did exist at the time, but they didn’t let you keep your actual face!
The funniest dated part is Terry’s son Josh (Wil Horneff, THE SANDLOT, BORN TO BE WILD), who’s about 13 or 14 years old and has a hilariously large gap between how cool he’s supposed to be and how cool he actually is. He wears giant clothes and a backwards Stussy hat, says “yo,” has an Arrested Development poster and an electric guitar in his room, brags about being a hacker, and in his free time hunches over a pile of like 30 Oreos while listening to D-Nice on a tiny radio:
When he hears the big plan to defeat the villain in the final act he says “Excellent. I can’t wait to ice this skeezer.”
He’s also a little perv. He calls his friend Frazer (Brandon Quintin Adams from THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS and the kid version of the BAD video) and tells him “I was just searching around on my computer and I found this great sex program… I’m tellin you, this girl is so fine. I call her butt an onion because it makes you wanna cry.”
Is it just me, or does the art on this “Love Corral” program look like Aeon Flux? This first one, of a sexy robot lady who exposes her animated boobs, could just be a copycat:
But the odd furniture design and color choices are reminiscent of that style as much as the more obvious aspects of the character design. And check out this other one:
I don’t see the name Peter Chung on the credits, and I haven’t found any reference to him having worked on this movie, but I’m pretty convinced. Anyway, whoever did it it’s a surprisingly good drawing for this type of in-movie computer shit. I’m impressed. Not sure it would be a very fun game, though.
But back to how fuckin “cool” this kid is. He pulls down his pants, pulls up his boxers and tucks his shirt into them when he sees his hot babysitter (Shevonne Durkin, RAGE AND HONOR, LEPRECHAUN 2) and tells her how “fine” she is (“Waddya say, uh, Friday night, you and me? It’s gonna be large!”).
Later he pays her $37 to show her cleavage (not sure why she does it), and he and Frazer clutch pillows to their crotches while they watch.
His dog seems to be equally horny. I swear I’m not making this up: there’s a scene where the dog sees a commercial about a dog, so he climbs up on a table and starts air humping.
I did not need to see that in my opinion.
Later Josh is supposed to be a really great son, so he gives his mom a pep talk about how she used to protest in the ’60s but now she doesn’t even dress well.
As ridiculous as GHOST IN THE MACHINE is, on a technical level it’s very slick and well put together, with a noticeable influence from Talalay’s time on the ELM STREET series. Lots of nice crane and steadicam shots and although yes, there are some digital animations of what it looks like for information to travel through a network (a primitive version of BLACKHAT), there’s also stuff like the camera moving along a wire above what I’m pretty sure is a very elaborate model town.
The first big kill scene is an elaborate special effects suite like an ELM STREET dream sequence. Somehow the killer causes a fire in the microwave that explodes, sends electricity through the kitchen, pops a box of popcorn, rots a bowl of grapes and turns a man (Richard McKenzie, BIRD)’s face into a disgusting mass of pulsating blisters. It goes straight into an actual dream sequence of the man’s funeral, where the coffin goes into a hatch during the memorial service to be cremated right there, but then something goes wrong and the burning corpse pops back out and is catapulted at Terry.
That’s not the only kitchen scene though. There’s also the one with the unattended baby crawling and reaching for a bottle, in danger from a boiling over pan, a butcher knife, an electric knife, an iron, etc. I’m convinced this scene is based on the Baby Herman cartoon at the beginning of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.
Later the babysitter is electrocuted by a malicious dishwasher. Her last act as checking herself out in the reflection of the refrigerator while reading Dirt magazine and grooving to a Kool Moe Dee song from In Living Color playing on a small TV.
And there’s a pretty funny gag at the end of a long, drawn out sequence where Terry’s asshole boyfriend Elliott (Jack Laufer, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) is in danger of being horribly killed working on a crash test. He manages to survive a catastrophic accident, goes into the restroom to splash water on his face and then when he turns on the hand dryer a giant plume of fire shoots out and burns him up.
This perverted killer also uses the same tactics that today’s internet creeps use. He calls multiple police units to the house – “SWATs” them, they’d say now – and they’re overzealous and shoot the place up, giving Grandma (Jessica Walter, PLAY MISTY FOR ME) a heart attack.
The script is by William Davies & William Osborne, who had written TWINS, THE REAL MCCOY and STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. Davies later got into animation (FLUSHED AWAY, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, PUSS IN BOOTS) and Osborne did THE SCORPION KING.
Anyway, this is a silly movie but it warned us about the cyber. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly do-able. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing, but that’s true throughout our whole governmental society. We have so many things that we have to do better, Lester and certainly cyber is one of them.
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.