Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Urge To Kill (1989)

The first computer I ever bought was actually a word processor.  This would have been back around 1996, and I had just moved down around the Philadelphia area with dreams of becoming a screenwriter dancing in my head (never mind that any sane person would have moved to Los Angeles to accomplish this goal).  The gizmo was manufactured by Brother, and because I couldn’t afford a brand-spanking-new one, I had to buy one refurbished.  It served me quite well, although for those who have never had to format a document such as a screenplay while you write and edit it (even with using saved templates), you really cannot appreciate the level of effort that went into getting your words out (and that’s even before you can find the words you want to get out in the first place).  I still remember the small monitor, with its type on a background of black, the font like something out of War Games (but orange).  

Which brings me to another issue.  In order to print out what you had written, you had to load each sheet of paper separately into the machine, like a manual typewriter, and God help you if you had a page count over a hundred or so; you’d be there all day.  The typewriter/printer came with one font which came in one size.  If you needed or wanted something different (say, size twelve Courier), you had to order a wheel for that specific font and size which had to be changed out manually.  The documents were stored on hard discs which held literally hundreds of kilobytes (yes, that’s sarcasm) and sometimes had to be split onto two discs if you were verbose (which I tend to be when writing).  And yet, for all that, there was a tactility involved in the process that made it feel bigger than simply putting your mind on paper for people to read.  You were involved in a project, and when you reached the end, you couldn’t help having some small amount of pride (regardless of the work’s actual quality).  The word processor was a tool like anything else.  You were using technology to a large extent, but you weren’t a slave to it.  It makes me wonder how far we’ve really come that the dynamic of this relationship has changed so very much to my mind.  And as much as you may not believe it after watching Sexploitation pantheon member Derek Ford’s final opus, the officially unreleased (but available via Youtube) The Urge To Kill (aka Attack Of The Killer Computer), the film touches on this universal conflict: Man versus Machine/Technology.

Spectacularly christened music producer Bono Zorro (Peter Gordeno) brings aspiring singer Melanie (Sally Ann Balaam) back to his crib to see if she’s really got what it takes to make it in the biz (if you know what I mean).  Zorro’s pad (which looks about the size of a college student’s apartment) is ”high tech” and fully automated, and is controlled by the Central Environment Control System (which Zorro refers to as “C.E.C.S.y” [pronounced “Sexy”]).  But the computer is jealous of the parade of floozies its master drags through the place and decides it wants him all to itself.

The basic premise of the film is nothing we haven’t seen before, and as previously stated, it uses an age-old narrative drive: the humans want to survive, and the machine wants to kill them.  But instead of being something large in scope like the Terminator films or Colossus: The Forbin Project, this movie keeps it personal, like Demon Seed or Electric Dreams.  Even then, there’s nothing all that fresh about this film.  We’ve seen sentient machines that fall in love with their owner/maker.  What The Urge to Kill does that’s interesting is how it personifies C.E.C.S.y.  She (and we’ll just settle on that gender pronoun, since physically the computer is played by a naked woman) appears in flash cuts, staring in direct address to the camera, but her makeup looks like Patty Smyth’s from The Warrior video or Brenda Hutchinson in Liquid Sky (a film I haven’t seen, but the makeup is distinctive).  This personification is implied as being purely visual (like a hallucination or a mental projection), a way to have characters react to another character, even though one of them likely isn’t actually there corporeally.  Outside of governing every function in the house, C.E.C.S.y does manifest physically via a form of telekinesis.  But more than this, she can manipulate the minds of humans, and this is really the crux of the film’s theme.  In a conversation earlier on, Zorro tells chippy Jane (Sarah Hope Walker) that C.E.C.S.y is “just a machine,” to which Jane retorts, “Aren’t we all?”  Later, Jane talks about a person’s mind being reprogrammed like a computer’s.  Nevertheless, for as envious as C.E.C.S.y is, for how much she desires Zorro, there is a physical barrier that is incapable of being surmounted.  This is reflected in the film’s violence.  There’s no symbiosis achieved between technology and flesh.  When the two meet, to paraphrase Lionel Stander’s introduction to the Hart To Hart television series, it’s murder.  

Like so many films with tiny budgets, Ford and company are fully aware of the two things that sell the most: sex and violence, and there’s plenty of both to be had here.  Every woman (even the computer) gets naked at some point or another.  As they get picked off, their ends (no pun intended) are met fairly gruesomely.  Flesh melts off bones, hands are boiled off, an electric toothbrush burns into a character’s head, et cetera.  Make no mistake, this film knows what it wants to accomplish, and it’s all about bodies.  The camera leers at its female characters.  In the first scene, Melanie dances around Zorro’s studio, while the camera peers straight up her skirt and shirt.  The idea of gazing continues in Zorro’s apartment.  The various cameras are given significant closeups as they follow the characters around.  There is the aforementioned embodiment of C.E.C.S.y looking straight at the camera.  In the control room, there is a monitor which is frequently cut to as she keeps tabs on the human characters.  Zorro keeps videos of himself banging various women (most strikingly what appear to be two grannies), and he likes to have prostitutes perform in front of him before joining in, which culminates in two “specialists” from a service called Cat Calls who play a VHS videotape of women mud wrestling while the duo engage in a catfight and tear off each other’s clothes in front of the television.  Everything is looking at everything else in this film, and we, of course, are the ultimate watchers as always, because there’s no one watching us as we watch them (or are there?).  

With all of this in mind, The Urge to Kill is also a film of incredible sloppiness.  Characters enter and exit scenes on a whim.  None of these people seem to have lives or exist in even the thinnest semblance of reality (even if Zorro is a rich, indulgent womanizer).  I’ll give you a few examples.  After Jane pulls Zorro from the hot tub along with a hooker’s forearms, he refuses to believe that C.E.C.S.y is killing anyone.  The clear reaction to this is why doesn’t she just show him the bloody appendages?  A character claims she needs to use the bathroom, but instead strips down and hits the sauna.  Zorro hires two hookers (not the two from Cat Calls, incidentally) and (in a baffling instance of paying for the whole seat but only using the edge) simply takes one to have a bubble bath while the other strolls all over his home.  After they finally realize that C.E.C.S.y isn’t letting them out of the house any time soon, Zorro very casually wants to have a drink and maybe a little sex with Jane (as you do when your house becomes a lethal prison).  And that’s the thing.  Everything about this film is casual to the point of indifference.  On the one hand, this attitude makes the whole dumb affair go down easier.  On the other, it makes the experience a bit of a slog, since there’s no drive to the story and very little tension to keep you interested.  Thank Christ for boobs and blood, huh?

MVT:  It’s crass as all get out, but if it weren’t for the women and their copious, gratuitous nudity, I doubt I could have actually made it all the way through this movie.

Make or Break:  The first two kills are juicy (and naked), and the one is even kind of inventive in a pleasantly unpleasant sort of way.

Score:  6/10 

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