Ghost in the Machine

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.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 at 12:08 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Ghost in the Machine”

  1. That’s funny, just last night I watched that era’s other “the electricity in your house is possessed and wants to kill you” movie, 1988’s PULSE, starring Joey Lawrence. Obviously, there was no internet, so the idea of interconnectivity wasn’t even a thing yet. An evil spirit just makes the electrical cables spark with that blue optical lightning every movie had back then and fucks with the electrodes and diodes and whatnot with some cool melting microphotography that adds a note of body horror to the proceedings. It’s not a particularly good movie, but it sounds like it’s aged better than GHOST IN THE MACHINE just by not dealing with aspects of the cyber that now seem incredibly dated and preposterous to our modern eyes.

  2. You gotta love the 90s and their “Computers can do EVERYTHING, every kid is a hacker and video games will go straight from 16 Bit home consoles to virtual fucking reality!!!!!” enthusiasm!

    (Also I hope this review will either lead to one of TANK GIRL or HACKERS.)

  3. Oh, and which D-Nice album? I’m guessing TO THA RESCUE but CALL ME D-NICE is the connoisseur’s choice.

  4. I remember this one being stupid fun. I fondly remember the climax dealing with a giant magnet and it pulling the kid pants-first towards it. I wonder if that still holds true and is like JOHNNY MNEMONIC even better now because of it being a time capsule? I don’t see myself spending the time re-watch it so I’ll keep the fond memories going rather than ruin them.

    I caught PULSE on Sci-Fi Channel way-back-in-the-day when they played things I’d actually want to watch (on a Saturday when they played random shit). Don’t remember much about it, the cover to the VHS was cool though.

  5. Wow, DIRT magazine. I think that was launched by the team behind the early-1990s SASSY as a counterpart magazine for teenage boys. That must have been a tough demographic to please, as I seem to think it only stuck around for two or three issues. They were giving away the first issue free-with-purchase at comics shops, which is how I got ahold of it. It remember it being occasionally amusing in parts, and it marked the first time I ever heard of Spike Jonze – I think his name was on the masthead as the magazine’s art director or something.

    Vern, if you want to pursue the computers-can-do-anything genre, take a look at ELECTRIC DREAMS, from way back in 1984. It’s a sometimes funny and sweet and sometimes creepy and always goofy take on the theme, directed by Steve Barron – his first feature after making the “Billy Jean” and “Take On Me” videos, and before his run on the TNMT series. It should have more of a reputation than it does.

  6. I remember seeing this movie in the theater because Schindler’s List was sold out. I also remember thinking it was cheesy but well done.

    I also remember that I felt that part of the climax of Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines stole this movie’s concept of leading the electronic villain into a giant super magnet. Spoiler. For both.

    Anyway, for a fun time, go into the comments section of this movie on IMDB and read what all the pervs have to say about that babysitter. (Who was admittedly hot to a 15 year old boy watching this).

  7. Sidebar: the VR game sequence reminds me way too much of that dumb sequence in Disclosure where Michael Douglas has to get the fils in the archive, then robot Demi Moore avatar shows up to delete the files, but everyone has their face. That is all.

  8. ELECTRIC DREAMS has to be the stupidest accidental invention of AI. Spilled champagne on a keyboard = sentient computer? Oh brother.

  9. Hahahahahaha I remember how dumb this was but it makes me happy to relive it through Vern’s account. The hand dryer flame thrower made me laugh out loud in the theater.

    Winchester, you were ready to see three hours of holocaust but settled for horror schlock instead? That would never happen today becuase Schindler would be on 5 screens 30 minutes apart.

  10. It´s funny that 90´s “mumbo jumbo technology” like Virtual Reality that was part of a lot of cheesy sci fi action films at the time, has come back. It was the clunkiest piece of tehcnology imaginable. And let´s not talk about the Virtual Boy. Also the fact that it is somewhat affordable and functional feels crazy. I´ve heard that RESIDENT EVIL 7 is quite rad in VR. Which is something you wouldn´t say in the 90´s. Well, “rad” they would say a lot, but not about Virtual Reality.

  11. Really Shoot? Because I heard current VR gaming is totally tubular TO THE MAX!

    I don’t know a single human being who owns a VR-headset but I sure do know of a lot of journalists who got one for free who tells me how amazing it is (not saying they are bribed mind-you, just they are the only ones who have one and are interested in it). Every gamer I ask are not interested in it in the slightest.

  12. Yeah, I am not sure the demand is there, even though the technology is. I does look from what I´ve ,ironically, seen from other persons point of view certainly better than that vector graphics that looked more like a spreadsheet than graphics back in the day.

  13. Maggie–

    Sadly, subsequent attempts to replicate that experiment on my part (though usually substituting Miller High Life for champagne) have not reached the same results.

  14. I remember laughing my ass off during the crash test thing. Being a fan of horror movies and a slashers, even I knew this movie was bullshit.

    Pulse was a movie I used to watch when I was a kid and enjoyed it but haven’t watched it in probably two decades. Kind of curious. I always liked how that one didn’t explain what was going on.

  15. man i love so much that you are doing this right now cause i just bought a whole VR setup and i’m about to start taking it out to bars and shit to let people try it! in the 90s i was a kid but i already knew enough about computers that i relentlessly mocked the “hollywood” understanding of technology. i also knew the limits of “virtual reality” at the time, which made the whole VR obsession and magical thinking associated with it even more hilarious to my know-it-all scoffing teenage self… my friends must have hated me, as the “actuallys” and mansplanations flew fast and furiously…

    anyway that being said VR is awesome now, but not really practical for home use for the average person, so ive decided to evangelize by taking it out into the world :O

    also i dont know if its possible to find, but fox had a VRsploitation show called VR 5. penn jillette played the leads landlord :O i remember having that mix of excitement-because-its-a-show-about-stuff-im-into/i-know-they-will-fuck-this-up-hard-and-i-will-be-disappointed that was so so so common back in the 90s.

    i dont know if im better at self curation now, or if there are actually less entertainment products that just straight up insult my intelligence the way that so much did in the 80s and 90s?

  16. ron- don´t overuse the VR. You might turn into a demi-god that consists entirely of light. You´ll be unemployable, for two reasons. First, you can´t handle physical material labour and secondly nobody likes a smartass.

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