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I was a kid, I was blown away by what computers and the internet could do, now that I’m older, that fascination has been replaced by a quaint interest in how cool a 28.8 modem was at one time.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: 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.