Interface takes me back to the days of those “Big Box” in-a-plastic-tray oddball obscurities of yore that one happened upon a couple-of-years-after-the-fact of its release courtesy of one’s obsession (moi) of exploring the breathing-their-last-breath mom n’ pop video stores in the nooks ‘n crannies of strip malls. Just one look at that Pinhead-esque (Hellraiser didn’t come out until 1986!) villain peppered with wires . . . well, an early ’90s rescuing of this Vestron Video-imprint from the $1.00 cut-out rack was a non-brainer.
Speaking of brains: Creatively — in terms of the concepts running through its Pons connector — Interface is an SOV-styled cyberpunker with Cerebrum and Cerebellum to spare. In terms of everything else: it’s a decent could-have-been-a-concept-to-an-award-winning short that, with the proper execution of the film disciplines, could be a revered, cyberpunk-version of Equinox, THX-1138, and Dark Star — three analogous student short films so impressive, additional funding was provided to the projects for expansion into feature films.
Instead, with Interface, we ended up with a very special, but not-very-good, but still cool to watch-for-the-ideas “ancient future” (before the Wachowski’s The Matrix in 1999!) obviously influenced by David Cronenberg’s “body horror” classic Videodrome and John Badham’s cyber-forefather WarGames. If writer-director Andy Anderson (in his debut effort) had been a-few-more-years Tinseltown advanced in his career with A-List representation — and not a University of Texas at Arlington film student at the mercy of volunteer acting and film students — and made a “David Cronenberg’s Videodrome meets John Badham’s WarGames” meeting pitch — in conjunction with his villainous concept art and the tagline: “It’s not just another fantasy game. These players are serious . . . dead serious,” we’d be discussing a film that Variety proclaimed “. . . is an all-new, groundbreaking feature film from Andy Anderson, a new voice in sci-fi.”
Sure, Interface is notable for providing Lou Diamond Phillips his first film role (as Punk #1 in the film’s opening scenes) among an inexperienced University of Texas-student cast, and while seeing Lou in his debut may pique your interest, there’s a lot more, very special moments — in spite of the strained acting and ill-timed comedic moments — that makes this early cyberpunker worthy of a watch.
As you can see from the two, embedded clips below, Anderson was way ahead of the cyber-curve — with women making-out with TV sets before Cronenberg thought of the idea. And we love, based on the voice-synthesizer preferred form of commutation by the members of the Circle, that Anderson’s a fan of the pinnacle of ’70s Frankenstein-as-a-computer flicks: Colossus: The Forbin Project — okay, maybe it’s more of an ’80s MTV-video voice-synth-thing, but we still dig it! Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!
And yes, these clips are washed-out and muddy — the same goes for the full-length upload we’ve found. But that’s not ineptitude: the image is the result of multiple VHS rental-replays. The film is, to be honest, well-framed with solid camerawork. And kudos to Chief Production Designer Betty Burkhart (who also stars as the cyberbandit Futrista) for the obviously-up-against-the-budget art design.
These clips give you a tease of the story: Upon the murder of his prized student and teaching aid — who’s running an on-the-sly computer scam — computer professor Dr. Rex Hobson and his students discover (Before there was a “dark web”!) the Circle of Logic (an actual circle of TRS-80s and Commodore 64s — complete with wireframe vector graphics), a vigilante computer cult comprised of masked members who go by the names Xardon, Manborn, Olympius, Eveton, Futrista, Orion, and Modem — and worship the “Master Process” (think TRON’s MCP “Master Control Program”).
However, the cult is no longer content in righting the world’s wrongs via hacking and altered passwords (think of Micheal Douglas’s “Circle of Judges” in 1983’s The Star Chamber, sans computers; in fact that film is foretold in the more-violent frames of 1979’s Delirium): they’ve resorted to serial murder-by-computer. Another cult target is The Prankster, a clear-masked and cloaked vigilante that commits theft-by-computer while setting-up stings on drug dealers (one of which in Lou Diamond Phillips in his debut). Another student on the Circle’s CRTs is Bobby, who, like cinema’s most-likeable computer nerd, David Lightman, hacks the report card database to change grades — only for profit. (In part of the films comedy (?), the before-his-murder, geeky Bobby is bullied by one those thirty-year-old teenager trope-types: a college football star with one of the worst receding hairlines ever suffered by a college student). In addition to the prostitute murder-by-remote-television, our college baldy-boy has his police record tweaked with a “rape charge” and, after destroying his life, the Circle dispatches him — in a world where an “Enter” key can accomplish miracles — by electrocution-via-telephone.
Yep, the Internet back in those “ancient future” days past, is pretty scary, even if one learned their murder-by-computer tactics from a chalk board.
One of those University of Texas student-cast members, Lauren Lane, who stars here as our heroine Amy Witherspoon, worked her way up the Tinseltown chain to main cast roles in NBC-TV’s Hunter (1989-1991) and L.A. Law (1992), as well as a six-year run as C.C. Babcock on CBS-TV’s The Nanny. Our male lead, John S. Davies, who stars as computer science professor Dr. Rex Hobson, Ph.D. (and worked on Anderson’s 1986 feature, Positive I.D, and his third and final film, 1998 Detention) ended up in Robocop (as Chessman, for the fans who go a-lookin’), appeared in multiple episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger during its seven-season run, and worked alongside The Rock in the 2004 remake of Walking Tall. (You can learn more about Davies’s career at his official website. What a career! And it all began with Interface.)
G.D Marcum, a member of the camera crew on Interface and Positive I.D. — as well as the Fred Williamson movies South Beach, Steele’s Law, Thee Days to a Kill and Night Vision — became a director in his own right, with his lone-feature film, Through the Fire. That film, while also known as City of the Living Dead: Part II in some quarters (and dedicated to the zom-maestro), has nothing to do with Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead.
In December 2019, Interface was double-packed with another 1984 Vestron Video release, Soul Survivor, for sale on Amazon Prime. Uh, oh. Emptor the Caveat alert!!! Thanks to user J.L Host, we know to not let the fact that both films are Vestron releases on a single disc, fool us into thinking it’s an official release: it’s a single-layered, grey-market DVD-R — with all the ubiquitous quality-control issues for the R-format — with two films compressed onto a single-disc; as a disc only has enough space for one film. This is one time we’d appreciate a public domain, VHS-to-DVD box-set rip by the fine folks at Mill Creek (a “Cyber-Mania” set). Amazon sells VHS-ripped DVDs, as well, but the quality of those rips are unknown: beware.
But wait! In a case of the ultimate, celluloid irony: we found a very clean, 2019 You Tube rip of Interface, courtesy of Jackson Yoemans, which he discovered at the shop of our buds out at Seattle’s Scarecrow Video. Thanks for the efforts in persevering a lost film, Jackson!
So, yeah . . . Tinseltown. You can keep your major studio cyber-drivel with The Net and Disclosure. We’ll take Andy Anderson’s George Orwellian-cum-Commodore 64 debut — as well as Steven Lovy’s Circuitry Man — any day of week, and twice on Sundays. Domo arigato, Andy, for a fun film!
Update: March 24, 2022: Clinton Rawls contacted us regarding his friendship with writer-director Andy Anderson. You can learn more about Clinton’s wares at Comics Royale.com. A fan-based site, Clinton takes foreign-language Bond comics, many which were unofficially produced, and translates them into English for the first time for the enjoyment of the Bond community and fans of the ’60s and ’70s spy craze. It’s a very cool labor of love you should visit.
“The way Andy explained it to me: He got his students at the University of Texas at Arlington to look at the budgets for their various short films, and to also consider all of the work they put into the films: pre-production, storyboarding, etc. He convinced them that if they were able to put their budgets together, that they could make a feature film. That’s exactly what they set out to do. I believe a student wrote the script, the crew was made of students, and a student director. They set out to film during the winter break between semesters.
“They filmed one single day before (I’m not exactly sure why) it became clear that the student director wasn’t going to work out and couldn’t complete the project. With all of that money in place, actors cast, equipment and locations secured, sets built, etc., Andy stepped-in on day two of the production and took over directing the film so that the students wouldn’t see their hard work go to waste.
“I got the impression that Andy wasn’t terribly proud of the finished product, and he rarely claimed it as one of his films. In fact, someone joked that they had tracked a copy of the film down and were organizing a screening. Andy was not amused. He told them, ‘If you’re going to do a screening, have a bunch of beer and make it a fun time, but don’t look at it as one of my serious films.’
“That said, Andy was incredibly proud of all the students who went on to have careers in the business — getting their start on the film. In addition, the film played at a film festival in Germany before its purchase by Vestron for release. As result, Interface earned a profit on home video and Andy was pleased, as it allowed him to make his next feature film: Positive ID: a film he was proud of for the rest of his life.
“Sadly Andy died in 2017, and the loss was felt by many. He had a great body of work, some of it in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his short films were especially wonderful. He was a great teacher and friend.”