Arrow Video: .com for Murder (2002) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Arrow Video
Pretty clearly the folks at Arrow Video love Greek director Nico Mastorakis.  From his grungier lower-budgeted fare like Death Has Blue Eyes to the exploitative gut-cruncher Island of Death all the way through the mid-80s with such action-adventure fare as Hired to Kill or Nightmare at Noon, Arrow simply adores the jack-of-all-tradesman working basically outside of the studio system churning out one wild untamed indie after another.  

One area of the director’s oeuvre that hasn’t quite been covered by Arrow yet (until now) are the 2000s which saw the Greek provocateur dabbling in the then-trendy online internet world which was then still in its infancy.  One of many world-wide-web driven horror movies while also being among the earliest of its ilk, the cyberspace thriller .com for Murder is one of the later tier offerings from the filmmaker that happens to have a star-studded cast including but not limited to rock stars Huey Lewis and Roger Daltrey.

Sondra Brummel (Nastassja Kinski) is wheelchair bound after a skiing accident and residing with her architect boyfriend Ben (Roger Daltrey) in his swanky ultra-modern mansion.  One weekend while away on a business trip, Sondra and her friend Misty (Nicollette Sheridan) decide to goof around on internet dating sites for fun to pass the time.  Only minutes into perusing a pornographic dating site replete with oversized boobs bouncing into the digital cameras, a mysterious young man who goes by the hacker alias “Werther” starts making death threats against the two users and soon after a mutual acquaintance of theirs seems to be murdered at knifepoint on one of Werther’s livestreams.  Panicked, the two contact FBI agent Matheson (Huey Lewis) for help, but not if the savvy and deadly Werther doesn’t get to them first.
A distinct product of its time, wearing early 2000s digital video editing techniques and rapid fire cross-cutting upon its sleeves, .com for Murder is simultaneously a reworking of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window involving a wheelchair bound hero who may or may not have witnessed a murder as a bit of a postmodern giallo.  Where the masked and gloved killers of the giallo film are trademark, .com for Murder puts a new spin on both the luxury of the main characters and the decorum of the killer.  

Sporting virtual reality goggles with fingertips adored with rings so that every key typed is connected to a booby trap of some sort, this is kind of an early glimpse into what would or would not become the giallo of the future.  Also an early progenitor of dark web internet horror films ala such webcam fare as Unfriended or Megan is Missing, Mastorakis’ foray into a technology he clearly understands very little of is nevertheless a good trashy time capsule.

Visually speaking, this is one of the better collaborations between Mastorakis and his longtime cinematographer Andreas Bellis who has shot just about everything of his.  No stranger to exploitation, having shot the mother of all grindhouse movies Thriller: A Cruel Picture, his glossy rich 35mm cinematography here represents one of the more polished and colorful pieces of filmmaking the two have done together.  

The electronic score by The Accused composer and electronic violinist on both of James Cameron’s The Terminator films is prototypical synthetic fare of the 2000s, sounding a bit like a rave dance club while at other times veering into keyboard heavy fare.  The film’s clearly overqualified cast is generally good with Nastassja Kinski and Nicollette Sheridan as the young friends who are forced to switch from their carefree night on the interweb into survival mode though rock musicians Roger Daltrey and Huey Lewis turn over decidedly understated performances.
Making the rounds at film festivals before ending up released straight-to-video in 2003 by the director’s own production company Omega Entertainment, Nico Mastorakis’ foray into the digital interweb verse was met with mixed if not outright negative reception.  Cliched at best (blatantly ripping off of The Silence of the Lambs), na├»ve about the world it was plunging into at worst, .com for Murder like a fair number of Mastorakis’ films came and went until the folks at Arrow tossed it a rescue line and gave it a new makeover that likely bettered how audiences originally first saw it.  

Despite the shortcomings, including but not limited to an anticlimactic finale, .com for Murder is remembered more for being an early 2000s cybercrime thriller that happened to have two rock stars cameoing in it.  As a Mastorakis effort, it feels a bit like a mid-90s Abel Ferrara film with just enough of a trashy sleazy vibe to it to leave an impression.  As a transposition of Hitchcock into the internet era its pretty low rent but as a snapshot of Arrow’s favorite B-trash auteur Mastorakis’ “understanding” of the world wide web fans will get a kick out of it.

-Andrew Kotwicki