Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Starring Karen Allen, Chris Mulkey, Ted Marcoux, Wil Horneff, Brandon Quinton Adams

Directed by Rachel Talalay

Take a few moments to think about all of the great films that have yet to be given the DVD treatment they so rightfully deserve and then realize that Ghost in the Machine is now immortalized on DVD. I can say something that very few folks can; I actually paid to see Ghost in the Machine in a theater, and it wasn’t a dollar theater either. I believe that made me one of about three dozen that turned out on opening weekend, which if I recall correctly was New Year’s Eve, a release date that guaranteed box office failure on a near Uwe Boll level.

Made back in 1993 when the internet was just becoming an everyday reality and virtual reality was supposed to be the next big thing… Hey, whatever happened to that whole virtual reality boom? Oh, sure, there’s still some it around, but it’s mostly a novelty whereas back in 1993 when films like this and Virtuosity and The Lawnmower Man were being made, it was touted as something that was going to change the way we live. Ironically, all that virtual reality hype turned out to be a fad based around a fad that never really became a reality.

Anyway, the bastard lovechild of The Lawnmower Man and Shocker, Ghost in the Machine is a digital slasher flick about a homicidal maniac with no discernable personality or any clear motive for his killings aside from being a homicidal maniac whose soul ends up inside of power lines, thus giving him near God-like powers with seemingly limitless possibilities that he then wastes on doing the same old stalking and killing of uninteresting people he’d been doing; namely the lady from Starman, two of the kids from The Sandlot, and the would-be bride of Leprechaun.

Even though Ghost in the Machine was made just a little over a dozen years ago, watching it today it feels positively archaic. It not only feels dated because of the technology involved; it also feels dated because of how little working knowledge the filmmakers clearly had of the technology. One does not have to be proficient with computers or electronics to know this flick gets so very much wrong. One could look the other way if the movie didn’t already suck tremendously so. Everything plays itself so straight in a particularly dull fashion that’s it’s more likely to put you to sleep, but then there will be a truly asinine scene (usually when Karl attacks) that wakes you up from your bored stupor just long enough to make you shake your head at the idiocy.

It should come as no surprise that Ghost in the Machine turned out by a sucky blend of tedium and stupidity since it was directed by Rachel Talalay, who made this stinker after making the total misfire that was Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and before the brain cell massacre known as Tank Girl. A cold shiver just ran down my spine just from typing the words Tank Girl. There it goes again.

Single mom Terry (Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Karen Allen in a “so it has come to this” role) and her son Josh head into a computer store where one of the technicians on staff scans her address book into the computer, an address book she mistakenly leaves behind. Computer store co-worker Karl offers to return the address book to Terry; a gesture that seems friendly except for the fact that Karl is actually a serial killer the media has dubbed (DUM! DUM! DUM!) “The Address Book Killer,” a mass murderer whose m.o. is getting ahold of someone’s address book and killing everyone in it. You’d think he’d be easy to catch since all the cops would have to do is stake out the location of names in the address book he’s currently working his way through and wait for him to make his move. Karl gets into a really bad car wreck while on the way to kill them, and a massive power surge bombards the hospital while Karl is in the middle of a CAT scan, somehow digitizing him and allowing him to free flow through power lines and manipulate electrical devices.

Here is precisely the moment where the movie reveals itself to be a dead zone of imagination. Karl, who isn’t a terribly compelling villain as it is already, immediately taps into the computer where he worked to get that scanned page from Terry’s address book and goes down the list knocking everyone off. No hesitation whatsoever, no awe as to his newfound abilities, all Karl wants to do now that’s he’s a non-corporeal electronic entity is exactly what he was doing when he was a physical being, and his only motivation for any of this is that he’s a homicidal maniac, his only personality trait at all.

This also sets up my second gripe with Ghost in the Machine; it’s really quite stupid, and not even stupid in a fun sort of way. This is just irritatingly stupidity. It wasn’t enough that Karl has the power to move through electronics, so the screenplay has him being able to do things that completely defy the laws of physics to such a degree that it still stands out at exceptionally moronic in a lowbrow techno slasher flick like this. One victim is cooked to death when Karl supercharges the man’s microwave so that the entire kitchen turns into a giant microwave oven. Josh and his best friend are playing a virtual reality arcade game that Karl materializes inside of just so that he can make stupid-looking computer generated scary faces that would only succeed in frightening people that are petrified of bad computer animation. The hotty babysitter gets electrocuted in Rube Goldberg fashion; Josh is nearly drowned when Karl tries to have the retractable tarp cover trap him in the swimming pool; and so on.

The absolute low point is a long, drawn out sequence built around a crash test simulator. You just know that Karl is going to do something to it that causes the guy in charge to get killed. Sure enough, he ends up inside the simulator when it suddenly develops a mind of his own and goes crashing into the wall, but the air bag worked and so the potential victim escapes unscathed and stumbles into the restroom. All seems well until he turns up the nozzle on the automatic hand dryer and gets a flamethrower to the face. The kills in general could best be described as Final Destination for dummies.

Terry and son eventually figure out what’s going on around them and seek help from a reclusive computer genius (underutilized character actor Chris Mulkey in a thankless role that helps explain why the man continues to be underutilized) to help her deal with her circuitry stalker. His solution involves the use of a nuclear collider. Thank goodness the local college has one and minimal security protecting access to it; you know, just like in real life.

Ghost in the Machine takes its name from a famous song by The Police. This movie should have remained locked up. A DVD release just thirteen years later is too early a parole if you ask me.

Special Features
Theatrical Trailers
TV Spot

1 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit

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