“HorrorVision”: The internet’s hate and anger comes to life in this Full Moon feature

By on July 9, 2016

Our new Night Flight contributor Josh Hadley takes a look back at HorrorVision– the 2001 Full Moon feature is now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — and even e-mailed one of the screenwriters to ask him to re-evaluate the film’s technology-gone-berserk storyline.

In HorrorVision — co-written by J.R. Bookwalter (of Robot Ninja and The Dead Next Door fame) and Scott Phillips (who you may know from The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes) — we see what happens when a computer “entrepreneur” who runs a sex website stumbles upon “Horror-vision.com” (a website that kills all who come across it) and then becomes part of a conspiracy to stop a sentient “web demon” named Manifesto from taking over the earth and controlling men’s minds.

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J.R. Bookwalter (right) and friend

The character Bradbury (James Black) rants:

“The government and the religious right have been so worried about TV violence, pornography and the war on drugs they let the dangerous ideas slip by. Technology has reached a point where a lonely man in a remote cabin can share his bitter contempt on a global scale. Bullied teenagers could spill their angst-ridden guts for millions to see. All that hatred is finally cleaning house. The web created itself, born out of humanities isolation and despair.”

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Watching this fifteen-year old digital video horror film in the context of what the internet means to us now in 2016, it becomes even more crystallized how ahead of its time HorrorVision may have been in 2001, despite the fact that there were some obvious budget shortcomings.

Directed by Danny Draven, HorrorVision is an amazing time capsule for those of you too young to remember the internet of 2001 or what a DTV (Direct To Video) flick was before Netflix: dial-up modems, porn consisting of still photos, and Quicktime as the best video provider (I almost laughed out loud when a character claims “I have a Quicktime of it”).

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Sometimes the movie can’t help but look hopelessly outdated, but even screenwriter J.R. Bookwalter (who we contacted via e-mail) agrees with us that it’s worth a second look:

Bookwalter: “Technology moves quickly! (Laughs) Back in 2000 when the movie was made, we had zip and floppy disks, SCSI ports, and all this stuff that no longer exists. I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I’m not surprised to hear it looks dated… we tried our best to make it look futuristic on a meager budget, but it was a very ‘by the seat of our pants’ production, especially since it was the first of the shot-on-DV stuff I produced for Full Moon. As far as the themes, I’d have to give screenwriter Scott Phillips and director Danny Draven credit for that… Danny was into the whole ‘cyberpunk’ scene, and Scott added a lot of the irrational, paranoid fear of the internet, which he would probably admit comes from not really understanding technology to begin with. (Laughs)

That “paranoid fear” of technology that Bookwalter speaks of is very much part of what makes HorrorVision work and “fear” is the correct term for what drives the film.

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In fact, its original title was “Fear.com” and two years after HorrorVision there was the moronically-titled “Feardotcom.com,” which this movie shares only surface similarities. HorrorVision‘s low budget approach actually works better than the polished studio film.

This fear of technology is also seen in various 80’s horror and sci-fi movies along the lines of 1986’s Terrorvision — about satellite television — so this is hardly a new trend, but it is worth noting that, as the technology changes, so does the alarm caused by emerging tech.

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Bookwalter: “Hollywood generally bungles every movie every made about computers, with the possible exception of Colossus: The Forbin Project, which has yet to happen. Danny and I were both computer junkies, so I think we had a better sense of how they worked and what might make them threatening, although we still took a lot of creative license with them, of course. It also helps the movie was made with little interference from Full Moon… once the script and casting was approved, we just ran off and made it on our own, so it didn’t really have the typical sensibilities of their other flicks from that era.”

Speaking of other flicks of the era, Bradbury’s rant about a sentient (and malevolent) internet reminds us of a similar and less-focused rant by Spider (Henry Rollins) in 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic:

“This causes it! This causes it! This causes it! Information overload! All the electronics around you poisoning the airwaves. Technological fucking civilization. But we still have all this shit, because we can’t live without it.”

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The point HorrorVision makes — with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the forehead but it makes it nonetheless — is that the only way to avoid Manifesto is to give up all technology, but in doing so, the movie asks, aren’t we then giving up part of what we have become as people in the process?

We asked Bookwalter what was it about the late 90’s/early 2000’s computer and internet boom that made for such a fertile breeding ground for movies based on fear of technology?

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Bookwalter: “Charlie Band had a great piece of conceptual art with a monster coming out of a computer screen for the title Fear.com, and he was the type of producer who was always quick to jump on a trend. I think when Apple debuted the iMac in 1998, it really blew the doors off the relatively small personal computer market up to that point, so consumers became more savvy about technology. The time was right!”

“I was originally supposed to direct The Mummy Reborn as part of Charlie’s Filmonsters (horror for kids) series, but when sales of the first two didn’t live up to expectations, I was tapped to direct Fear.com instead. In early 2000, I got a call to come in and talk about it, but then he blindsided me with a pitch for a sequel to Witchouse, which had just done unexpectedly good business in the wake of The Blair Witch Project.”

“So off I flew to Romania for a month, and Charlie was happy with how it turned out, which led to a deal for four shot-on-DV flicks. I suggested we resurrect Fear.com, which he decided to re-title HorrorVision, and had originally planned to direct, but wound up being so busy prepping the other movies I handed it off to Danny Draven, who was itching to direct a feature and related to the material better than I did.”

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The only actor in HorrorVision you might possibly recognize here is James Black (he starred in a single episode of just about every TV series since the 90s), who gives the best performance of the film as the awesome Bradbury.

You may perhaps also recognize Brinke Stevens in her 5 minutes onscreen, otherwise the acting is pretty standard for a DTV film of this type.

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The FX are good for what they are, but what truly sets HorrorVision apart is its unique take on the topic of technology gone berserk, and the pretty damn cool monster that “Manifesto”… um “manifests” as (or you can just say ‘to hell with it’ if you just want to see an internet monster kill people, because HorrorVision has that in spades too).

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Made in 2001, the themes in HorrorVision are surprisingly more pertinent than they ever were, and Bradbury’s speech — about the hate and anger of the internet coming to life — is scary in the age of Donald Trump, to say the least.

Check out our feature on Josh’s Night Flight-inspired 12:01 Beyond and visit the blog and the Official 12:01 Beyond store. Also, check out Josh’s latest shows “Lost In The Static” and “RadioDrome” on Jackalope Radio, and the archives of his weekly column, “Sanity Is Razor Thin.” He’s also on Patreon.

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About Josh Hadley

Josh Hadley is an analog warrior writing for the varied likes of Fangoria, Hustler, Delirium, Cashiers du Cinemart and many others. He's a veteran of low-budget television and producer of the many products including the 1201 Beyond brand (http://www.1201beyond.com/) and the 1201 Beyond TV program for the OSI 74 channel. Flying through the night with a VCR and the perspective of a Luddite, Hadley zigs while others zag and takes you along for the ride. He's based out of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.