Vibrations (1996)

Amid the flurry of Beatles movies we reflected on during this third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” with our “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series, this one-watch, utterly forgettable Beatles-inspired sidebar came to mind. Then there’s our memorializing the late Tawny Kitaen . . . and our remembering her work in the analogous, sick ‘n sensitive musician flick, Crystal Heart (1986). (See our “Exploring: Tawny Kitaen” featurette.)

Yes, we said “Beatles” sidebar.

Now, before you start with the comments, let us explain.

Back in the days when Sting of the Police flexed his thespian skills and received positive reviews in his fifth project and first leading-man role in Brimstone and Treacle (1982), and then the lead as Baron Frankenstein in The Bride (1985), the pre-Internet rock press (don’t search for it online, it’s not there) reported Sting would star in the lead of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Inspired by the George Harrison composition from the Beatles’ “White Album” (1968) — Beatles’ friend Eric Clapton — who provided the lead guitar on the classic tune — would provide the soundtrack (it could have been in Circus or Hit Parader, maybe Spin).

The Beatles’ recording appeared on the soundtrack to Withnail and I (1987), a comedy film set in late-1960s London and produced by Harrison’s company, HandMade Films. (I can’t recall if HandMade was involved in the production, again, in that news blurb that . . . is not a figment of my imagination.)

Regardless, that proposed-rumored film, about a famous musician (Sting) losing his hands in a tragic accident (guitar by Eric Clapton), who then deals with the aftermath of no longer being able to create music, was never made.

And to the cinema gods, we thank you.

For meshing John Travolta’s The Boy in the Plastic Bubble with a Beatles rock ‘n’ roll subplot is a film that would send any sane Beatles lover screaming out of their local Blockbuster with blood-soaked hands. So, with that project from hell, finite: we get this Miramax-backed (curse you, Weinsteins) cyberpunk version of the Hands of Orlac, aka Mad Love (1935, but remade in 1961 and 1962), starring a then-hot Twin Peaks and Married . . . with Children alums.

Oh, HBO in the ’90s, when you were too cheap to purchase decent films to justify your excessive subscription rates, we love you for giving us films like Vibrations in between your incessant replays of Dom DeLuise’s Hot Stuff and nobody-asked-for-Bill Murray’s brother in Moving Violations.

Picking up the good vibrations: Daft Punk

Michael Paseornek — who gave us (well, at least me and Sam the Bossman) an always-welcomed Lorenzo Lamas (in the pretty fine 2020 indie, Water) one-two punch with his screenplays for Snake Eater (1989) and Snake Eater II (1989) — makes his lone directing bow with his seventh (and final) screenplay.

In this Ed Wood meets cyber-novelist William Gibson tale — we meet T.J Cray (James Marshall of Twin Peaks, but looking a lot like John Savage, here), an up-and-coming rock star. On his way to an A&R audition, he’s victimized by thugs — and loses his hands in the melee.

With his ability to make music, gone, and his girlfriend repulsed by his plastic-artificial hands (perpetual magnets for sharp, stabbing objects and fire), T.J becomes a homeless drunk. Upon his rescue of a damsel-in-distress outside of an illegal rave (this film is loaded with slobbering-for-fun-thugs), T.J finds sympathy from Anamika (Christian Applegate), a computer artist and the promoter of that illegal warehouse rave, because . . . well, in real life, hot girls always treat sketchy homeless men like a stray puppy in the movies. And, unlike real life street urchins, T.J is — even under the soot and grime — a non-alcohol, six-packed hottie, again . . . only in the movies: where the homeless, sans access to dental care or gym equipment, always have perfect teeth and muscle tone. (Just don’t. I am not making light of homelessness. I was, once, myself. So stow the acidic comments, Cletus.)

Anyway . . . taking up residence in Anamika’s artist-occupied apartment building (the income-to-abode ratio, as with Jennifer Aniston and the Friends gang, doesn’t compute), she introduces T.J to her Wired to Kill-inspired techno-geek neighbor who fits him with his new invention: robot hands, aka cyberhands. Then, fitted with a metallic “cybersuit,” and his piano skills returned — even more efficiently because of the robotics — T.J becomes an international sensation known as Cyberstorm.

And we’d rather go see the Blue Man Group and the Residents. Maybe if Cyberstorm wore a giant eyeball over his head. Or lost his eyes, as well as his hands, and received a set of Steve Austin* eyes . . . and became the internationally known Ministry with the worldwild hit, “Jesus Built My Hot Rod.”

But can he grind on a Hammond B-3 or a Yamaha CS-80? That’s the question.

Yeah, in case you’re wondering: this film’s knowledge of techno, rave, and avant-garde dance rock is utterly non-existent and is nothing but the set design window dressing that it is. (Illegal raves are by word of mouth; raves do not set up 800 numbers.) But if you can get past the dopey characters spewing techno-gobbly-gook, the music of the genre’s stars — who serve as the “sounds” of Cyberstorm — Utah Saints and 808 State, are pretty cool.

Sure, we got Daft Punk out the deal. But Jesus still didn’t build this hot rod — a hot rod that, if we go by the dates on the set-design flyers inside one of the rave warehouse gigs, took three years to transition from the film set to the cable screen. And notice that, before social media: you (apparently) called 800 numbers for the scenster hook-up.

Eh, whatever. It’s all captured in the lens well enough, but the proceedings are pure meh Albert Pyun — if you recall Radioactive Dreams and Vicious Lips. Marshall and Applegate are mediocre, and Faye Grant (TV’s V, Omen IV) and Paige Turco (April O’Neill from the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles franchise) have been better, and in better. And it saddens that Vibrations served the final film of journeyman TV actor Steven Keats (of the films Death Wish, Black Sunday ’77), who died in 1994 (at a youthful 49), just after completing his work on the film (which additionally “dates” the production).

And we dare you to call that number. We dare you. Hey, maybe Jenny will answer. You never know.

https://bandsaboutmovies.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/761e7-vibrations-11.jpg
Screencap courtesy of fellow fan Yum-Yum at House of Self-Indulgence.

As an executive producer, Michael Paseornek would go to great success with Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, the critically-acclaimed Akleelah and the Bee (2006), the Americanized J-Horror The Eye, Punisher: War Zone, and The Hunger Games franchise. And, thanks to Mike, we get this sweet-as-hell box set.

Oh, hell yes, Mr. Paseornek. Oh, yes. We bow.

Even with its shortfalls, Vibrations is a pre-The Matrix VHS classic with a loyal fan base, as these You Tube uploads of the film HERE and HERE, and clips from the film HERE and HERE, prove. If you’re into the techo-rave side of ’90s alternative rock, this will hold your interest.

Now, when is someone making a metal version of The Hands of Orlac with Swedish symphonic metal bands?

Many thanks, once again, to Paul Z. over at VHS Collector.com for the clean images. Be sure to check out his reviews of the DVD and Blu-ray reissues of the lost VHS classics of the ’80s on his Analog Archivist You Tube portal.

* We did an entire week of Lee Majors flicks. Do join us with our “Lee Majors Week,” won’t you?

Speaking of Beatles: Be sure to join us for our three part “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series as we look at 33 films dealing with the legacy of the Beatles.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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