Rachel Talalay’s Ghost in the Machine is another silly tale of technology-based carnage. I say “another” because it wasn’t the first film to engage in such concepts., nor the last It’s almost an exotic blend of themes found in films like Wes Craven’s Shocker, Brett Leonard’s The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity, Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive, and (to some degree) even the Final Destination and Short Circuit franchises. Why mention Final Destination? Well, Ghost in the Machine also has viewers anticipating electrical appliance-based death scenes.
While this film is no masterpiece, it ties together our subconscious fears and frustrations with technology and modernity. See, this was really before the advent of cellphone addiction, or even computer and gaming addiction, at least as a widespread phenomenon. In the early-to-mid 1990s, these technologies were even newer and more uncertain. In other words, the anxiety they presented was even fresher, making fertile ground for Ghost in the Machine, and a few of the other technology-based fear movies. By 2021, one needn’t have fallen in love with their computer to depend on one; people tend to have many “devices” considered absolute necessities.
Strengths of Ghost in the Machine
Because the killer, named Karl Hochman (Ted Marcoux), is inside technology, he isn’t necessarily the easiest to beat. For one thing, you won’t necessarily come face-to-face with him, and he probably won’t let you know his plans at the main menu of some computer screen. Then, of course, you’ll have that dynamic where, if you tell others about the threat, people will think you are distraught, if not dangerously mentally ill. Such is part of Terry Munroe’s (Karen Allen) dilemma.
Obviously, Terry would prefer reassurances that her computer is a simple machine and not interested in killing her, along with everyone around her. Though Karl is no Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, of course), the premise allows for some fun, but only if you’re into that sort of thing. If you have trouble suspending disbelief, you probably won’t respect this movie. After all, Karl’s soul gets transferred into computers and appliances after a lightning surge hits an MRI machine as he’s dying in the hospital. That’s not standard Oscar bait, and the movie is largely overlooked today.
I think Rachel Talalay did her best, like Wes Craven with “Shocker”
Due to the story’s implausibility, it easily risks falling to the ground, dragging a remorseful viewer down with it. However, Talalay does know how to make a movie and this one finds its own identity. Also, because of a few clever kills, one needn’t be a complete computer nerd to appreciate this as a horror fan. In fact, one of the biggest complaints one might have is simply that Karl, due to his nature of possessing appliances and computers, doesn’t really become that familiar to the viewer.
Honestly, one could make this critique of Wes Craven’s Shocker and its villain, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi). One might prefer him out of the TV and Karl Hochman out of the computer. Of course, it’s a bit silly to feel all that passionately about either critique.
At the end of the day, Ghost in the Machine won’t seem familiar to all horror fans because, let’s face it, there are tons of horror movies out there it has to compete with for sustained attention. Still, Karl can be there if you need him, and if you’re willing to turn on your device. Hey, at least you wouldn’t need to repeat his name 5 times for him to show up.
What are your thoughts on Ghost in the Machine? Let us know in the comments!