Interface (1984)

This is one of those films which creeps up on you and then surprises the heck out of you.

I’ll admit that you never know what you are going to find when you watch some movie you just dug up on a routine search.  Most of them are routine, a few terrible, and a small percentage of them are exceptional.

And Interface is one of the exceptional ones.

Now I found it while I was out looking for Hacker movies after I watched Open Windows, although I didn’t find it in that search and actually dug it out of a rare movie site’s collection of science fiction films.

Synchronicity.

And I couldn’t help being impressed by the cover illustration of a man in an absolutely insane mask, or by my first glimpses of the film when I found it on Youtube, with its Hackers wearing weird sci fi masks and speaking (through built-in voice filters) with classic robot voices).

It was like a cross between Liquid Sky and Battlestar Galactica.

But an even bigger surprise was in store when I finally sat down to watch the film.  I had no idea what to expect from the rather vague comments I’d found, but Interface proved to be a surprisingly coherent little comedy thriller, with a wacky romance and some absolutely absurd plot twists.

There’s a mysterious hacker circle at work on a small college campus, which has been tracking down the people they think are the bad guys and playing pranks on them — mostly by throwing white paint all over them.

Only their latest prank — an attack on a drug deal — goes very, very bad, five people end up dead, and the circle suddenly realizes that it is logical for them to actually kill the evil people out there instead of just playing pranks.

And, what’s more, they actually have this confirmed by “The Master Process,” the program they created to logically assess all their actions.

Meanwhile, Bobby Wilkerson, graduate assistant to the college computer professor, Dr. Rex Hobson (Ph.D.), has a sweet little side business he’s running, hacking computers to make his clients’ problems go away.  Unfortunately, someone has murdered him, and the Police think Rex had something to do with it.

And it doesn’t help that Bobby’s widow, Amy, shows up and demands that he tell her all about the Computer Club Bobby belonged to.

Which is a bit of a problem as the college doesn’t have a computer club.

The next thing you know, Rex keeps getting dragged down to the police station, Amy keeps showing up and pointing a gun at him, and he’s forced to go on the run wearing only a towel.

And it just gets crazier from there…

I was even more surprised to learn that this film was actually made by students at the University of Texas Arlington.

Their teacher, Andy Anderson, convinced those students working on short film projects for his class that, if they pooled all their resources, they could instead make a feature film.  While a student tried to direct the project, after one day, Andy had to take over to get the job done.  After all, a lot of students had put a lot of effort into the project.

The truly surprising thing is that, despite this being a student production, the cinematography looks solid, the editing is reasonably good, and the sound, while not perfect, is far better than most no-budget films of the Eighties.

Obviously these kids learned something at Arlington.

It’s hard to assess as any copy of the film you are going to find was sourced off a VHS tape — and usually from a badly worn VHS tape which got played over and over again at some Mom and Pop video store.  It looks a bit grainy, but I honestly have no idea what a good print would look like.

And we know VHS was a low-density format anyway.

And, yeah, we know that the acting isn’t going to be perfect as this is a school film.  But for the most part it is serviceable enough, and we actually have Lou Diamond Phillips in a bit part as a thug, and Lauren Lane of The Nanny playing the gun-toting Amy.

Also starring here, as the circle of computers in the Hackers hidden lair, is the Trash-80 (sorry, for you who never worked with them before “TRS-80”) model 12, Tandy Radio Shack’s business model which was distinguished by having two eight-inch floppy drives instead of just one like the Model 2.

That’s a little over One K of data storage!

Although I suppose it is possible that they are running in terminal mode, linked to the campus mainframe.

Mind you, that still wouldn’t give you a staggering amount of computing power by today’s standards.  All I can say is that it’s pretty impressive that they could run “The Master Process,” which gives its logical answers in natural language, on such unpromising hardware.

Another familiar “star” here is an early Fifties, bullet-nosed Studebaker Commander.

You know, the car Fozzy Bear drives in The Muppet Movie?

As this is Amy’s car, it stars in a long series of car chases before it finally runs out of gas.

And yes, there are wild car chases in this school project.  And squibs used for the many gunshot victims.  It seems amazingly ambitious when you remember where it came from.

Now I had no idea about Interface‘s origins when I watched it, and even now it is a little hard to process.  Several of the people involved went on to work in the film industry, and even if Andy Anderson hated the film, it is incredible what they accomplished.

This is a goofy, fun little thriller, with an insane sense of style (carried out on a shoe-string budget).  A lot of reviewers hate it, but frankly, if you can accept how silly the technology on display is by our standards and just go with it, then the absurd humor and weird sense of style makes this one a joy to watch.

It seems a shame that no one ever released even a good VHS rip onto a commercial DVD, but who knows?  Maybe Mill Valley will release a Fifty movie cyber films box.  There are a lot of terrible cyber thrillers out there from the Eighties, and we all know that Mill Valley usually only had one or two good films in each box set.

But trust me, this would be one of the good ones!…

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