(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Ghost in the Machine
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: A serial killer’s soul accidentally gets uploaded to the internet, enabling him to keep his killing spree going by controlling electronics and murdering people with microwaves.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Full of practical gore effects and hilariously dated technology, Ghost in the Machine will make you nostalgic for the days when no one understood how the internet worked.
Horror was in a weird place in the early 1990s. In 1996, Scream would come along and usher in a new era – but before that happened, the horror genre was trapped somewhere between the ’80s and the future. Which is how we got movies like Ghost in the Machine, a horror pic about a serial killer who inexplicably ends up on the internet. The killer is known as the Address Book Killer, and that alone can probably clue you in to how dated this movie is. Who the hell has an actual address book anymore? And I’m not talking about a list of contacts on your phone. I’m talking about a physical book that you used to write addresses and phone numbers into. We had one in our house when I was growing up, before digital technology made it redundant. But back in the early ’90s, address books were a big deal. So much so that a character in this movie even says, “Don’t you hate it when you lose your address book?” Boy, who doesn’t? Am I right?
The killer (Ted Marcoux) is on his way to bump off his next victim, a single mom played by Karen Allen, when he ends up in a car accident during a thunderstorm. The killer is rushed to the hospital and loaded into an MRI machine. While hospital techs are scanning him, lightning strikes some electrical conductors, causing a power surge that somehow sucks the killer’s soul into the MRI machine. That’s pretty goofy, to begin with, but that’s just for starters. Having his evil spirit uploaded into an MRI somehow allows the killer to now access everything that’s electronic. And since so much stuff is electronic in our modern world, that means the killer can be anywhere and everywhere.
Free from his bodily prison, the killer once again goes after Allen’s character and her annoying “cool” son played by Wil Horneff. But first, the ghost in the machine begins targeting some of Allen’s friends from her address book. This leads to a series of delightfully gruesome kills, the best of which involves a microwave that gets so hot it causes a victim’s face to bubble and boil, as if he’s a walking pot of skin soup. Since this was the ’90s, all of this make-up work was done practically, and that’s always a treat.
But there are plenty of digital effects here, too. Digital VFX had recently broken out in a big way in the early ’90s thanks to movies like 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but Ghost in the Machine didn’t have Terminator 2‘s budget. As a result, any time the film tries to throw some VFX our way, it’s shockingly bad. In fact, it’s so bad that it crosses over into being charming. There’s a sequence set within a virtual reality game that has to be seen to be believed, and since there are no videos of this online (at least that I can find), I went ahead and took a screenshot to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about here.
That’s cinema, baby.
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