No amount of nostalgia can change the fact that horror hit a low point in the first half of the decade. Technically, Silence of the Lambs mixed crime drama, suspense, and horror elements. Major horror franchises – including Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street – were running on fumes. Aside from the occasional Candyman, Misery, or Jacob’s Ladder, audiences were flocking to psychological thrillers. What horror gave us in early 90s were movies like Body Parts, Brainscan, Man’s Best Friend, and Sleepwalkers. Enter Ghost in the Machine, which paired residual interest in serial killers with Hollywood’s long-standing fear of computers. Not surprisingly, the results were about as impressive as a GeoCities website.
For months, Karl Hochman, a serial killer known as ‘The Address Book Killer’, has terrorized his small community. But when an accident leaves Hochman comatose, a freak storm triggers a glitch in a hospital MRI scan. Somehow Hochman’s consciousness is transferred into an electrical grid. Now his world of potential victims is limitless. And his next target is single mother, Terry Munroe, and her teenage son.
Ghost in the Machine Doesn’t Let Logic or Plausibility Stand in the Way of Cookie-Cutter Thrills
Watch enough movies and you’ll quickly learn that Hollywood thinks computers are magic. There’s a long, proud tradition of Tinseltown screenplays making computers do just about anything required to advance a story. But Ghost in the Machine doesn’t just stretch plausibility – it runs over it and then hits reverse. An MRI machine inadvertently transferring a serial killer’s consciousness into an electrical grid may be the movie’s least objectionable plot point. Once inside the grid our virtual serial killer turns a bathroom hand dryer into a flamethrower and scorches another victim with an eradiated microwave. Later ‘The Address Book Killer’ somehow coordinates a flooding dishwasher and exposed plug to electrocute a naughty babysitter. By the movie’s finale, Hochman jumps from the grid into the real world as a pixelated monstrosity.
An MRI machine inadvertently transferring a serial killer’s consciousness into an electrical grid may be the movie’s least objectionable plot point.
All of this might make for an unintentionally dull and predictable ride. For at least two-thirds of the movie, director Rachel Talalay (Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) does the best job possible with the asinine screenplay. In fact, Talalay actually strings together a few fun scenes of decent – if inoffensive – Rated-R horror. But there’s only so much she can do with a movie about a serial killer living in computers. In addition to its silly plot, Ghost in the Machine follows a cookie-cutter thriller formula. This techno-thriller is a product of its time period, offering no surprises, twists, or turns. On the plus side, Talalay keeps things moving along fast enough to ensure you’re never bored.
Ghost in the Machine’s Pixelated Villain As Convincing as the Poor Effects That Made Him
Poor Karen Allen. The Raiders of the Lost Ark star deserved much better than Ghost in the Machine. As computer-illiterate mother, Terry Munroe, Allen plays it straight and does what she can with the material. She’s about as convincing as one can get yelling about a serial killer hiding in your wall socket. At the very least, Allen occasionally rises above the cliché-ridden screenplay. Ditto for the affable Chris Mulkey, a Liam Neeson-esque character actor who plays the least likely computer hacker, ‘Bram Walker’. Fortunately, in a movie that in no way offers a plausible representation of technology, Mulkey does just fine. In fact, Mulkey as a ‘computer hacker’ may be the movie’s most realistic part about computers.
She’s about as convincing as one can get getting yelling about a serial killer hiding in your wall socket.
If Allen and Mulkey escape Ghost in the Machine relatively unscathed, the same can’t be said for their co-stars. While it’s a little unfair to pick on child actors, Wil Horneff – playing Allen’s teen son – borders on obnoxious. It’s a grating performance underpinned by a poorly written sketch of a teen boy that makes it hard to root for the Munroe family. On top of its many problems, Ghost in the Machine also lacks a compelling villain. As far as cinematic serial killers go, Ted Marcoux’s ‘Address Book Killer’ Karl Hochman, is dull. Like everything else about the movie, the screenplay gives Marcoux absolutely nothing. But his performance is generic and one-note, which makes him about as convincing as the pixelated effects that made him.
Ghost in the Machine May Be The Nadir of 90s Horror
Okay, Ghost in the Machine may not the worst 90s horror movie. Nonetheless, this ridiculous techno-thriller symbolizes everything that was wrong with the genre in the early part of the decade. Despite respectable production values and a mostly competent cast, Ghost in the Machine is a gimmick movie resting on braindead premise. Logic never factors into anything on screen. To her credit, Talalay keeps things moving along, ensuring that at least you’re never bored. And there’s some inoffensive Rated-R gore here and there. But poor digital effects and a borderline obnoxious child actor all but tank this one.