Karl Hochman is a technician in a computer store. He is also known as the "Address Book Killer" due to his habit of stealing people's address books and proceeding to murder anyone listed in...
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Karl Hochman is a technician in a computer store. He is also known as the "Address Book Killer" due to his habit of stealing people's address books and proceeding to murder anyone listed in the book. Terry Munroe and her son Josh come into the store to purchase software, and a salesman uses Terry's address book to demonstrate a handheld scanner. Karl obtains the book, and while driving to Terry's house that night in a thunderstorm, his car runs off the road and lands upside down in a cemetery. While Karl is undergoing an MRI at a hospital, a surge of lightning courses through the building, and Karl's mind is transformed into electrical energy. Karl uses the electrical grid and computer networks to continue his killing spree. It is up to Terry, Josh, and computer hacker Bram Walker to stop him before it is too late.Written by
Rebekah Swain (email@example.com)
Everyone of a certain age has VHS memories. You know the ones I'm talking about - those hazy, barely remembered evenings of mediocre pizza and even more mediocre straight-to-video horror films. Films that you simply couldn't resist as they stared at you from the shelf with their box-art that promised more than the cassette inside could ever hope to deliver. Ghost in the Machine is one of my hazier VHS memories.
I know I saw it when it made its way to video stores in the early 90's, but the details had long faded, like an old newspaper, or Eddie Murphy's career. I couldn't remember much of it, though one image had stayed with me - the bodies of a murdered family sitting together on a couch. After re-watching the film for the first time in almost twenty-three years, it's hard to see why that moment stuck with me - it's not really spectacular, or particularly gruesome - but it's NOT hard to tell why the rest of Ghost in the Machine didn't stay with me at all.
That's not to say there's isn't fun to be had with this sci-fi supernatural thriller, but the proceedings do have an unshakeable cheap, straight-to-video flavor. Rachel Talalay - director of the most wretched of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, Freddy's Dead - is responsible for this one. This was her sophomore effort, and it came only a couple of years before she obliterated her big screen career with the epic box-office bomb Tank Girl. She was then banished to directing random episodes of Ally McBeal for the next couple of decades. It seems she's found a groove in TV direction lately though, working on Doctor Who and Sherlock... but I digress. Let's get back to the movie at hand.
Ghost in the Machine was almost certainly green lit when hungry, drooling executives noticed The Lawnmower Man scraping in those Pierce Brosnan bucks and decided they wanted a piece of the early 90's tech-thriller pie. The plot centers around an individual known as the "address book killer" (yes, seriously). He crashes his car during a police chase and dies on the operating table. Since this happens in the middle of a lightning storm, naturally his consciousness inserts itself into nearby electrical equipment, leaving him free to continue murdering with the help of his newly acquired powers to jump into computers and dishwashers and stuff.
Ghost in the Machine was made in an era when the public at large was still unaware of the impending societal paradigm shift that would come later in the decade. I'm talking about the rise of the internet, of course. As a result, the script is filled with hilarious talk of hackers, and nonsensical computer discussions that would make even the most tech-illiterate grandma of today giggle.
What it does manage surprisingly well, is to tackle themes of technological fear. The personal computer was still a relatively new thing, and the idea of bringing something with so much unknown power into the home is a very real concern. We do it all the time now in the form of new cell phones and the social networks they connect us to, but there is always that worry we're messing with something we shouldn't be. It also played on the fear of the online stranger - the catfish - before it became the tangible boogeyman it is now. There are scenes where the young protagonist receives threatening messages from the killer, and in some ways these themes make the film more relevant now than it was upon release. Bargain bin fodder like Ghost in the Machine usually ages for the worse in all aspects, so kudos to the writers for making something so forgettable somewhat prescient... I guess.
There are also some interesting special effects on display. Sure, much of it is terrible 90's CGI, probably stolen from The Lawnmower Man's cutting room floor, but there are a few moments of cool practical work. The camera zooms in and out of machines on a microscopic level as the villain causes mayhem, and a ridiculous scene involving a microwave is impressively gruesome.
That's where the good stuff ends. The cast aren't given much to work with. Karen Allen plays the concerned mother with a Dana Scully haircut, Rick Ducommun appears as a nerdy goofball, and Chris Mulkey is a knight in shining armor that's as boring as a budget airplane meal.
It's all very bland, and I guess that's why it's gone mostly forgotten. The 90's-isms are embarrassing rather than charming, the story had already been done in other similar films, and it never really goes far enough. One thing I do wonder though, is if this film had any influence on the Final Destination series? Lists of people dying accident-like deaths at the mercy of an unseen supernatural force? There are enough similarities for me to believe it. But similarities to marginally better films aside, it's unremarkable at best. Maybe I should have left it as a VHS memory... like that dead family on the couch.
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