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September 18, 2011

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 8: Ghost In The Machine

As far as I can tell, Rick "Art Weingartner" Ducommun survives this movie!
In nerd society, it seems we're always nostalgic about our childhood years and our late teenage years.  But there's something to be said for those in between years of our not-quite-teenage years.  Nothing from them actually looks good in retrospect - especially to those of us who have to claim the early '90s when the likes of Vanilla Ice and Saved by The Bell ruled the world - but there's just something so charming about it all anyway.  We were innocent, but teenage rebellion was starting to rise up in us...we just didn't know it yet.  So, when we look back and see that time period, we remember it as the time when we would make a face that looks like this.....
....because we're about to see this.  (And only this.)
Enter Ghost in the Machine, a ridiculously dated cyber-horror film that was made when cyber-horror films were still in their infancy. (Though it's still predated by Demon Seed, which has it beat by 16 years!)  This 1993 thriller stars Karen Allen of Raiders of the Last Ark, Scrooged, and Starman fame (even though her star was slightly outdated by the time the film came around) as a single mother who loses her address book at a computer store and proceeds to totally freak out.  After all, her whole life is in those tattered pages inside an oversized leather carrying case.
Worse for her, the dude who works at said computer store happens to be a fella who is known by the name "The Address Book Killer", who enjoys stealing address books and killing the people in them....and he promptly scans said address book into a computer.  Can you imagine that?  Someone storing contacts and information IN a computer?  I'm sure there were people in the audience in 1993 who acted like Derek Zoolander and Hans at this revelation....
Anyway, the address book killer - a creepy blue-eyed dude played by a dude named Ted Marcoux - promptly dies in a car crash and manages to transfer what could be called his soul into the fine city of Cleveland's power grid before he dies.  Which means he can control computers and all electrical appliances and everything else of the sort for the next 70 minutes of movie.  With the world as his digital playground, said killer begins to pick off Allen's friends using things like microwaves and dishwashers, which I did not know came with a "DIE" setting.
There's an unwritten rule about technology that states that any technology used in a film will probably appear outdated within five years.  There are exceptions, but Ghost in the Machine is NOT one of them.  I mean, look at "special" effects like this....
or this.....
or this....
....and then consider the fact that this movie came out 6 months AFTER a little movie that relied on CGI called Jurassic Park did.  
Now, it'd be silly to assume that Ghost in the Machine director Rachel Talalay had the same resources that Steven Spielberg did.  But you gotta think there's something in between those two examples that this film could have strived for.  These effects were dated when the movie came out.  (On a side note, I feel kind of bad for Talalay, a female director who got the chance to direct a franchise horror film (Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare) and a comic adaptation (Tank Girl) around this film...but never directed another feature again after the three misfires.  Alas, Talalay has used her abilities for a career in TV, so that's a positive ending to her story thus far.)
To those of us in today's computer-based society, the film's bigger problem is its presentation of computers and what could be called "the internet"...though i don't think I ever heard that term used in the film.  I remember what computers were like in the early '90s (thanks to the Tandy computer that inhabited our farmhouse basement...we were hip) and Ghost in the Machine isn't too terrible in that regard, but looking back it's just so distractingly silly.  It doesn't help that the main things we see the film use computers for are a) Address book scanning (decently represented), instant message style e-mail (very weird) and the pre-teen son using a program called "Love Corral".
Yeah, that's out of style these days. We have real porn.
But here's the thing: if you can get past just how dated the film is (which is a gigantic chore, I will say), there are some really fun moments.  The few kills we get have a lot of fun showing us just what Mr. "I'm in the computer and control all electrical things" can do to set up the victims, and there's a legitimate Final Destination vibe to the film at these times.  One moment involving a toddler and an oven had me actually yelling at the screen, which was a good example of how playfully destructive the film was able to be.
And, as I stated in the opening, there's that ridiculous "I remember the early '90s!" charm that I just can't resist.  This film is so early '90s that I half expected Zack Morris to walk on screen, freeze the movie, and say something douchey.  From the wardrobe to the technology to the soundtrack of rap music that didn't use swear words or n-bombs, it reeks of early '90s-ness.  The cast helps sweeten that deal too, with the very '90s kids (including Brandon Quentin Adams, who was immortalized as Fool in The People Under the Stairs!), Ducommon of The 'burbs fame, and - most fantastically - Shevonne Durkin, whose career peaked when she starred opposite Warwick Davis in Leprechaun 2.  I'm pretty sure Ms. Durkin was on of pre-teen The Mike's favorite sights in that film, and getting reacquainted with her here had me making that face that Fool is making up at the top of this review.
Ghost in the Machine is not a good movie, and is certainly one of the most outdated movies I've ever seen.  Yet I found myself content while watching it, and not just because I could make fun of how old it was.  This is a fun little movie, as stupid as it is, and I'm willing to give it a little bit of a pass because of that.  If nothing else, it's an interesting period piece that's totally early '90s cool.  Totally.
And, Shevonne Durkin, if you're still out there somewhere....please marry me. I promise that I'll run the dishwasher.

1 comment:

R.D. Penning said...

It truly is a bad movie, but every time it is on... I can't stop myself from watching it.