Horror review: The Lawnmower Man

lawnmowerman

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 12, 1992

By Steve Newton

Boy, they sure did scrape the bottom of the Stephen King barrel for this movie, which takes its name—and little else—from a nine-page story that first appeared in the girlie mag Cavalier back in 1975. It was also included in the Night Shift collection, along with such fine stories (but terrible film fodder) as “Children of the Corn” and “Trucks” (which became King’s disastrous directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive).

But the blatant effort to cash in on King’s name—perhaps pushed by the Oscar-winning success of Misery—has never been so evident before, and at this rate we can surely expect the prime terror and gruesome shocks of Stephen King’s Grocery List.

King’s original story had nothing at all to do with The Lawnmower Man’s focus on virtual reality, the technology that allows the user to enter into a three-dimensional computer-generated environment. As the film opens, obsessed scientist Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan from Remington Steele) is using the technology to increase the intelligence of laboratory chimpanzees, but when his prize test-monkey dies from the side-effect of uncontrollably violent behaviour, Angelo decides to try the process out on Jobe (Jeff Fahey), the mentally handicapped and physically abused man who mows his lawn.

In no time at all, Jobe’s intelligence surpasses that of the brilliant Dr. Angelo, and the side-effects of his drug-enhanced computer journeys allow him to read minds, affect the thoughts of others, and move things telepathically. Also, in a nod to another of King’s cinematic clunkers, Firestarter, a sinister group tries to exploit Angelo’s experiments for uses in war, rather than cures for diseases and disabilities.

As a result, the formerly gentle Jobe turns mean, slaughters all the characters who’ve wronged him, and has wild computer sex with luscious neighbour Marnie Burke (Jenny Wright, the seductive vampiress of Near Dark).

I won’t give away the ending of this mostly bogus cautionary tale—an Altered States for the Nintendo set—but let’s just say it has something to do with all the phones in the world ringing at the exact same moment.

And what could be more terrifying than that?

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