Yes kids, it's time for Horrorhead, a fortnightly column where grossout chaser Annalee Newitz talks about the dark intersection of scifi and horror. Tonight I'm going to a "special advance press screening" of cell phone horror flick One Missed Call because I'm so starved for new scifi-horror that I'll take anything — even a haunted technology movie. That's why I wound up seeing The Ring so many times (haunted videocassette — so analog!), Pulse (haunted Sprint network), and even Poltergeist (they're here! in the television set!). Don't even get me started on the haunted Web site thing (even one of the Hellraiser movies is about an MMO — or is it IN YOUR MIND?). And now there's One Missed Call, with its spooky mobile phones that kill you.
I want to call all these movies scifi because they're about technology doing strange things, which is pretty much the ultimate B-movie scifi plot. But of course then the whole ghost element gets in the way because homicidal spirits of drowned girls or neglected girls or raped girls or you-fill-in-the-scary-girl-thing are not the same as the smooth evil voice of HAL telling Dave about how he'll never open the pod bay door. And yet HAL and the drowned chick from The Ring have a lot in common.
I'd go so far as to say that the horror represented by the scary girls of haunted-tech flicks equals the fear of HAL and every other psychotic AI like say the one in Virtuosity (remember when the interwebs were haunted by Russell Crowe? how did they fit his hunkitude in those pipes?). What's the difference between a so-advanced-it-might-as-well-be-magic AI like HAL and a special-mental-powers-beyond-the-grave mutant girl whose spirit lives on a VHS tape? Pretty much nothing, except one pretends to be science and the other leaves it up to the viewer to decide.
After all, if you wanted to look at The Ring as scifi you really could. Before the psychic kid becomes a ghost, she has awesome mental powers that are right out of X-Men or Heroes (both of which are firmly scifi). Plus, scary girl's mom takes her to doctors who do tons of scientific tests on her, so there's your science, bitches. She has a power that can be measured by science, but not explained by it. Just like HAL, whose madness could never have been predicted by Grace Hopper or other famous computer science nerds.
Haunted technology even has a long and fertile tradition in real life. Sarah Winchester, who built the crazy Winchester Mystery House in Silicon Valley during the late nineteenth century, believed that she was haunted by ghosts in the Winchester Repeating Rifles that killed a zillion natives in the West and made her husband a fortune. Guns are a perfect technology to haunt, if you think about it.
Videodrome, David Cronenberg's mid-1980s scifi flick about haunted televisions, also includes a haunted gun. Or perhaps these televisions and that gun are just controlled by some kind of demonic "broadcast signal" with a pseudo-scientific origin. One could say similar things about the abysmal flick Event Horizon, about a haunted spaceship. Or is it just a ship inhabited by an evil alternate dimension whose properties can be explained in fake sci-babble? What difference does it make? It's all magic; it's all about how technology is mutating us and turning our future selves into something so techno-strange that it's as if the next generation will be monsters.
So I'm going to see One Missed Call, and I'm going to pretend that it's science fiction because whether it's ghosts or Cybermen taking over our bluetooth headsets it's all the same basic stuff. Whether or not it's good stuff . . . well, I'll tell you that in my review tomorrow.