Computer Movies: Hackers (1995)

Oh man, you guys, I LOVE Hackers. I was really excited about the idea of computers and the internet without really getting in the the technical side of them. So, when Hackers came out in 1995, I was in. In the theaters watching that with my friends. Man, the Angelina Jolie nip reveal is much more prominent on the big screen. That’s really all I remember from the actual theater experience. Hey, I was 12, gimme a break. I would go on to purchase Hackers on VHS. I can’t tell you how many times I watched it, because I honestly don’t remember, but when the missus and I watched it after we got power back (it had been sitting around from Netflix) I was tossing out lines and scenarios like I had just watched it yesterday. And hell, I still loved it for different and similar reasons.

When I was a kid, I was blown away by what computers and the internet could do, now that I’m older, that fascination has been replaced by a quaint interest in how cool a 28.8 modem was at one time. Or how you had to go to elaborate pay phones in China Town to hack. As far as the story goes, it’s still pretty solid. Fledgling hacker Joey stumbles upon a virus that Fisher Steven’s The Plague has created. This sends him and his friends down a rabbit hole that sets the little guys up against the big guys in a battle of technology with a dundering computer crimes official (related for some reason to the Secret Service, is this really how it was?) trying to chase them both down.

Of course, it’s not a perfect movie and if I was watching it in 2010 for the first time without nostalgia backing the movie up, I’d probably think it was a fun artifact that’s generally pretty silly. All the silliness can be broken down to two individuals and their ridiculous performances: Johnny Lee Miller as Dade Murphy/Zero Cool/Crash Overdrive and Stevens as The Plague. Miller tosses out every line like he’s a Christian Slater-impersonating robot, just shouting and awkward. As a kid I thought he was rad, but I’m older than him now and it just seems crazy. Stevens’ character is just ridiculous. He’s a soda drinking, skateboard riding, trenchcoat wearing, virtual reality game playing little goober who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in the room. I can’t tell if this is a script problem (like, was the scene where he appears on a street riding his skateboard and holding onto a car through sewer steam in the script or a director choice? man that scene was lame, though, again, I though it was cool when I was a kid) or what, but man, he’s pretty bad all around. But, that just makes it SO much easier to hate him.

One other thing that irked me was how ridiculous the law enforcement professionals were portrayed. Now, I get that they’re supposed to the the bad guys in an anti-establishment story like this, but, aside from one dude who thinks the hacker manifesto is cool, they’re just out of control, breaking into peoples’ houses without a care in the world, not caring when Plague is in Dade’s room and smashes his boom box with a bat and using AK-47s to apprehend teenagers. Ah well, I’ll chalk this one up to fun nostalgia with plenty of rollerblades and outdated tech.

Halloween Scene: Scream (1996) & House Of Wax (1953)

Even amongst all this Christmas craziness, I still find some time to check out the occasional horror movie (though not as much as I would like). I made a double feature out of the mostly unrelated Scream and House of Wax on the NetBox the other night and had a good time with both.

I saw Scream back when it came out. I don’t think it was in the theaters, more likely at a friend’s house. At some point, I bought it on VHS andkept it secret from my parents. I wasn’t very well versed in horror at the time, but I liked it a lot, especially Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy (what 13-year-old didn’t?) even though I got almost none of the horror references. I watched it again a few years back with Sam and Megan along with Hostel before heading down to Wizard World Philly the next day. We were all pretty freaked out and  I remember thinking that Scream held up pretty well. After watching it again with even more horror movies under my belt, I’m not sure if I like it as much. It was still enjoyable, but I didn’t buy into it as much this time around. I was left with a lot of head scratching “that doesn’t make sense” moments. For instance, how does Rose McGowan not open the door back into the house from the garage one moment and the killer does the next? Also, what kind of garage doesn’t have a side door? Also, upon further viewing, I don’t really buy Skeet Ulrich and Lillard’s explanation at the end of the movie for why they did it. I know it’s a joke throughout the movie that you don’t really need a motive anymore to be a killer, but why the hell does Lillard’s character do it? I can buy Ulrich’s motive, but Lillard literally says he’s doing it because he’s seen to many movies. Really? You’ve decided to plunge knives into your classmates because you’re seen too many movies? I’ve seen a butt load of horror movies and I don’t feel the need to kill anyone (that’s what video games are for).Plus, it’s funny to hear about how expensive cell phones are, with the cop yelling at Ulrich something like “How can a KID afford one of these?!”Hehe.

Those minor problems aside, it’s still a really enjoyable movie and changed the game for horror. Up until that time, horror was in pretty dire straights after a late-80s slump. Scream brought some heft to the table with a fairly solid story, a fun premise,”master” horror director Wes Craven, a script by the Dawson’s Creek guy, a stable of great actors (I think they all kill in this movie, except for Ulrich who’s channeling Johnny Depp a bit too much for my tastes), plenty of nods to horror fans and, of course, presenting us with “the rules.” Sure, older horror fans knew that you never screw, smoke, do drugs or say “I’ll be right back,” but those of us who were more impressionable at the time hadn’t figured it all out. I will say that, while I didn’t remember many of the scenes and movies referenced in Scream, I always remembered those rules. Heck, I actually wanted a few more. Maybe Craven, Williamson and Kennedy can get together and write a book/make a few YouTube videos. They’re making a fourth Scream right? I smell a potential tie-in! For some reason (and I hate when they do this), only the first Scream movie is available for instant watch on the NetBox, which is a bummer because I want to watch 2 and 3 again. It’s been a while since I’ve seen 2 again and I’ve only seen 3 one time (gotta love the Jay and Silent Bob cameos).

Up next was the original House of Wax movie, starring Vincent Price. I had seen the 2005 remake which is most well known for murdering Paris Hilton (for what it’s worth, I think she actually did a good job in the movie), but the two movies are completely different. The original stars Price as a man who runs a wax museum. His business partner burns it to the ground and Price is assumed dead, only to return with a much more macabre-oriented museum with wax figures that look suspiciously like people from the neighborhood. The remake revolves around a bunch of kids whose car breaks down in a town seemingly overrun with wax figures. Anyway, I’m a fan of anything Vincent Price is in, I’m still making my way through the MGM Vincent Price DVD box set I was given when I was still a lowly researcher at Wizard. We’re also fraternity brothers in Alpha Sigma Phi, so there’s that. I even included the man in one of those “What three people would you like to have dinner with?” essays that helped me get into college (Jimi Hendrix and Chicago columnist Mike Royko were the other two, for what it’s worth).

House of Wax continues my huge levels of enjoyment whenever seeing Price on screen. He plays his usual awesome self, you know, the seemingly normal guy who’s going a little bit crazy. This time around SPOILER WARNING, Price uses his thugs-turned-artists (one of which is Charles Bronson) and his own skills to kill people so he can cover them in wax and put them up in his brand new chamber of horrors (he doesn’t have good use of his hands since the fire). He killed the guy who tried to burn the place down and goes after his girlfriend. That’s where things get troublesome, because that woman’s roommate recognizes her dead friend in the museum. Eventually the cops catch on and there’s a manhunt. While watching it, I was continually struck by how similar this movie is to Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959), though the characters’ motivations for turning corpses into art are completely different.

You might have noticed from the poster that the movie was originally filmed in 3D and much like my viewing of the My Bloody Valentine remake, I watched it without the aid of the third dimension. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the movie because it would have too many “whoa, look what’s flying at the camera NOW” moments, but those are few and far between. I actually forgot the movie was even originally in 3D until the opening of the new wax museum where there’s a dude smacking those paddleballs around at the audience. I bet that was pretty cool in 3D, but you’re not really missing much (not like, say Friday The 13th 3D, which is a bummer when not in 3D). Also, just check out how rad that poster is? This one’s definitly worth a look and makes me want to open a movie theater like The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin or The New Beverly in LA so I could show movies like this as they were originally intended. Anyone looking to hook that up in Orange County NY? I’ll be your manager, no probs.

Halloween Scene: Serial Mom (1994)

3:53:36 am

Oh John Waters, you lovable scamp. Only you could turn a lovely housewife played by Kathleen Turner into a hilarious murdering psychopath. Kudos. If memory servers (and it very likely doesn’t) this is the first horror-ish movie that I ever watched on tape from beginning to end. I had this friend named Jeff Kurt whose parents were way more lax when it came to rental choices (or maybe his older sister got it for us, I can’t remember). Anyway, we stayed up and watched it and I laughed my head off. Kind of like I do when characters get hit by buses in movies and TV shows.

Tonight is the first time I’ve watched since probably 1994 or ’95 (when I was 11 or 12, yeesh) and I loved it. First off, I had no idea how recognizable the cast is. You’ve got Scream’s Matthew Lillard (who I loved in that movie), Law and Order’s Sam Waterston, Katheleen Turner who still looked pretty good in 1994, Ricki Lake who would go on to entertain me during days off school and summer vacation with her crazy talk show and finally, Justin Whalin who you might remember as one of the Jimmy Olsens from Lois and Clark The New Adventures of Sueprman (which I LOVED as a kid).

12 year old me also had no idea who John Waters was (well, maybe in the most basic sense). I haven’t seen a ton of his movies (I liked Cecil B. DeMented more than Hairspray, but Serial Mom the best). I’d like to think the dark sense of humor he displayed here would go on to effect me in a good way (I was the only one of my friends who didn’t want to leave the theater when we snuck in to see Very Bad Things, the sissies). So, thanks for that John and Jeff Kurt’s parents.

Now, the movie itself features Turner as what seems like an ultra-sitcom-like housewife whose married to Sam Waterston and has horror fan Matthew Lillard and boy crazy Ricki Lake as kids. Everything seems okay until the cops show up asking about obscene phone calls. Sam and Kathleen say they don’t know anything about it. We then find out that Kathleen is in fact the one making the calls (it’s a hilarious scene).

From there, she goes on to kill more and more people for silly reasons. Lillard’s teacher thinks he’s too obsessed with horror movies. Heck, she’s making the obscene phone calls because the woman took her spot in a parking lot. She also ices a dude who stood her daughter up with a fire poker through the chest (his liver gets stuck on the edge).

Eventually, the police start to take notice, which is great because in a lot of horror movies, the killer seems to avoid any and all contact with the law. In fact, the cops have a pretty good idea it’s her early on. Even the kids and husband get freaked out until they find Lillard’s buddy (Jimmy Olsen) hasn’t been killed even though they thought he was the next on her list. Instead she was stabbing his neighbors to death, seemingly for eating chicken in a sloppy manner. Later, the police are waiting on the proof that she’s the killer while they’re in church (which is also hilarious as this huge line of cop cars rolls through town). Also of note, at this point, the town is freake dout and terrified of her. They freak out after she sneezes on a baby at which time Lillard and his girlfriend help her escape. They’re really excited about the fact that she’s now bigger than Freddy and Jason. Anyway, this lady comes into the video store that Lillard works at and she’s mean, so Turner gets into her house and kills her with a roast.

Kathleen then sees Jimmy Olsen watching her and gives chase in the middle of the day, running after him with a huge butcher knife. THEN she steals a delivery truck and chases him down. To get away Jimmy Olsen makes his way into a packed punk rock club (L7’s playing). The funniest part (and I’m not sure if this is intentional or not) is that it’s in the middle of the day! Have you ever seen a concert that starts before dark? It made me laugh pretty hard.

So, she gets caught and ends up defending herself. At some point the people in the town stop being disgusted and start supporting her (including her family, of course). It turns out there’s no actual evidence so she gets off scott free and goes on to kill a woman of the jury for wearing white after Labor Day with a pay phone. That juror? Played by Patty Hearst! Look her up if you don’t know who she is and feel ashamed. Truly crazy! Oh and she’s also going to be played by Suzanne Sommers in the movie. Hey, remember Step By Step? Hot, right?

I really like how Waters flips the script, making such a big deal out of the case and turning this absolute nut job into a local hero. He really smacks you in the face with this satire of “celebrity trials,” public perception and how the media and public can make these crazy killers into celebs. But besides that, the kills are pretty enjoyable and I can’t think of another female killer in a movie that has that crazy “I WILL kill you” look better than Kathleen Turner. Man, that’s a weird sentence.