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{Blu-ray Review} Have Modem, Will Travel: .com for Murder (2002) on Arrow Video Blu-ray

“The internet is a strange place.”

Courtesy Arrow Video

You would be forgiven for not realizing that the title of .com for Murder is intended as a take on Dial M for Murder, especially given that there is virtually nothing else of that picture in this one, which instead opts to riff on other classics such as Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, Rear Window, and even Psycho in its opening minutes.

As you can probably guess from the title – not to mention the release year – it’s also one of those flicks that is an artifact of a time when our ideas about the internet were simultaneously more paranoid and a lot more naïve. Anyone who remembers these sorts of early “cyber thrillers” will not be surprised to learn that the internet in .com for Murder bears absolutely no resemblance to any internet that has ever existed or ever will exist.

Alongside real relics of the era such as absurd chatroom handles, there are things like speech-to-text-to-speech (for some reason) and the ability to live stream murders as they happen, never mind that in 2002 many folks would still have been on dial-up. The interface is also your typical early-aughts hacker movie interface, with everything from animated text and pop-up cobras to a bog-standard Matrix-y background – and you had better believe there are plenty of “exciting” scenes of people furiously typing.

The plot is pretty straightforward. A woman in a wheelchair (Nastassja Kinski) who broke her leg in a skiing accident is killing time while her significant other is out of town by playing around in the American Love Online hook-up chatroom. There, she learns that he has been cyber-cheating on her, and decides to get a little of her own back by posing as him, only to find herself crossing a serial killer who seemingly uses the chatroom to pick his targets.

A lot of this has to be inferred, honestly, because the serial killer’s motives for targeting “Ben,” who is actually our protagonist, are fairly unclear. It’s like the two cross paths in the chat and immediately recognize that they are the main characters in the movie.

Our hacker villain goes by the name Werther and loves to quote Goethe, calling his victims “Lotte.” He is also an absolute goober. Just, the very model of a goofy hacker serial killer, from his spouting poetry to his hacking in the nude, while flanked by the pickled fetuses in jars that he keeps along the headboard of his bed, as one does.

His motives and pathology are given no greater exploration than when our protagonist suggests that he is afraid of women and “sex-o-phobic” and it causes him to visibly flinch, but he does suffer from persistent hallucinations that suggest guilt over his actions, even if we never see that guilt manifest anywhere else.

There’s a real “battle of the sexes” vibe throughout the movie that never really goes anywhere, honestly. The killer repeats, “Do women have hearts?” While our protag’s boyfriend or husband or whatever he claims that “Women don’t care about electronics, that’s why God created man.”

In remarkably short order, Werther has tracked our protagonist and her sister to the huge, needlessly-automated house that they’re staying in, complete with a voice-activated computer system named Hal (of course). It really seems like the automated house probably played a bigger role in the plot in some earlier draft that is now on the proverbial cutting room floor. There’s even a “Chekhov’s weird rave macro” that inexplicably never gets fired in the final act, despite setting up ample opportunity.

Courtesy Arrow Video

This is the kind of absolutely idiotic film where someone who was literally seconds away from bleeding to death is basically fine as soon as you tie a rag around their wrist. It’s filled with the sorts of editing choices (and plot points) that would only have existed in a movie like this, at a time like this.

To perhaps no one’s substantial surprise, .com for Murder was co-written, produced, and directed by Nico Mastroakis. Regular readers will remember that name from my recent review of Nightmare at Noon or my earlier one of The Wind, also on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

More unusual is the cast that Mastroakis has assembled here. Regulars like Bo Hopkins and Wings Hauser are absent, but in their place he’s got the aforementioned Kinski, as well as Nicollette Sheridan, Julie Strain in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as an online stripper, Roger Daltrey as the largely absent boyfriend, and Huey Lewis (no News, though) and Return of the Living Dead 3’s Melinda Clarke as FBI agents who even drop an X-Files joke or two.

“Y’know, sometimes I think ‘fuck computers,’” Lewis says, despite seeming to work in the computers branch of the local FBI office. “They sure haven’t made my life any easier.”