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Like if Jenny Holzer wrote film reviews. The Parallax Review is a website dedicated to dissecting movies in terms of cultural context, ideology, aesthetics, and more. From Stalker to Hackers and beyond! Run by your girl, @okaythanksmaria

Ghost in the Machine (1993)


This review is part of a series: 31 Days of Horror Directed by Women.

Ghost in the Machine is a sweet, sweet piece of early 90s techno-thriller ass 🍑. I can't emphasize enough how upset I am that I'm only now seeing this film. Yes, it belongs in that oft-maligned subset of 90s films that depict computers and the 'net as gateways to all sorts of silly, digital mayhem. Time has minimized the 90s techno-thriller into little more than a funny footnote. Of the genre, only The Matrix and maybe Hackers have managed to avoid feeling like irrelevant artifacts of their time. Ghost in the Machine, however, is worth more than a footnote. It's a fun little horror movie with impressive practical effects, classic 90s characters, and a view of technology that could easily translate to an episode of Black Mirror.

Josh (Will Horneff) is your typical 90s kid with that floppy, middle part haircut we see the boys of TikTok donning today. He likes to mouth off to his mom (Karen Allen) and knows enough about computers to run a neat little phone prank with his friend, hustling grown adults out of their money. Trouble starts when his mom stops into Datanet to get some software that will automatically digitize her address book. She takes the software but leaves her address book at the store, and of course some total fucking nerd (Ted Marcoux) grabs it and decides to use it and his hacking skills to start murdering folks. The details really don't matter, but suffice it to say, thanks to an MRI machine and a very early depiction of the Internet of Things, our address book killer is able to move digitally. He is the ghost in the machine.
 
Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)


Now, on a basic level, this is a pretty typical slasher movie, sans, um, actual knife slashes. Each victim the killer takes is one step closer to his ultimate prize: Josh's mom. So it's up to Josh, his mom, and her hacker love interest (Chris Mulkey, AKA Norma's awful husband Hank from Twin Peaks) to stop the killer before he destroys them all, digitally. Conceptually, this is not that interesting. What is interesting is the way people die in this movie. Though the film does have some goofy CGI scenes (I'll get to that), all of the actual death and destruction is done with practical effects—and they're really gnarly! The murders are fun to watch because seeing ordinary objects like an oven or a microwave or a hand dryer suddenly turn deadly is eerie as fuck. This movie ends up functioning like a bloodier version of that Disney Channel classic Smart House, sans the Stepford Wife aspect.

The limitations of 90s technology can certainly render Ghost in the Machine...a bit schlocky, I'll admit. On a scale of The Lawnmower Man to The Matrix, the two CGI scenes in this movie fall somewhere in the middle. It didn't bother me much, really, and in fact had a quirky vibe I'd put on par with the CGI Bob head blob in Twin Peaks: The Return, episode 17. If you go into Ghost in the Machine expecting a bit of old school CGI flair, it’s not going to bother you, either. Especially because the film is effective at showcasing other, more charming qualities inherent to that decade.
 
Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)

 
Speaking of charm, there’s something really funky about the way white children treat their parents on American TV shows and movies. My god, if I ever talked to my parents like Josh talks to his divorced single mom I’d have been slapped into next Tuesday. Regardless, this is an aspect of white culture that I can get behind, simply because it’s fun as hell to watch. Besides mouthing off to his mom, Josh likes listening to rap music (of course he does) and his best (only?) friend is black. He and his friend engage in various suburban 90s kid things like playing laser tag at an arcade and paying their hot babysitter $37.57 to flash them a little cleavage. I really only want to highlight their friendship because it allows me to comment on the fact that Josh’s black friend (played by Brandon Adams, who you will most certainly recognize as that one black kid from every 90s thing ever) has a fucking incredible house. And yes, that house is firmly rooted in a mid 80s/early 90s architectural design aesthetic. It is *chef’s kiss* divine. But I digress.
 
Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)

 
The strength of Ghost in the Machine lies in its simplicity. There really isn’t a ton of techno babble until the very end, and by that time I think anyone watching this in 2020 and beyond understands perfectly that the scary thing isn’t a serial killer that can move through code and wires. It’s that all of our goddamn shit is connected to a bunch of servers in various warehouses all over the country and we’re voluntarily creating a surveillance state in order to protect our Amazon packages from being snatched from our doorsteps. This movie (and the Disney Channel classic, Smart House) is interesting because it speaks, however clumsily, to the time we’re living in right now. It’s the Internet of Things, 90s edition. You could easily make a remake of this film (and they arguably did it in 1999, in the Disney Channel classic, Smart House) today and not much would need to change, actually. 

Like I said at the beginning of this review, I’m upset that no one ever told me about this movie. It’s 90 minutes of well-executed horror, with some quality performances and a delicious array of Just Nineties Things that will pull at your nostalgia strings. So I’m telling you because no one told me: watch Ghost in the Machine. You won’t regret it! And if you’re up for a double feature, feel free to follow it up with that Disney Channel classic, Smart House.
 
Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)


Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Ghost in the Machine (1993)
 
Ghost in the Machine (1993)

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