Nerding Day: Vibrations 🌭

Before the Wachowskis grease-orgied techno into irrelevance in The Matrix Reloaded, Hollywood gave us one bona fide masterpiece about it. That’s right, we’re talking about the 1996 straight-to-video classic, Vibrations

… a.k.a. CYBERSTORM. It was a movie with no idea what it was or how to market itself. Its taglines ranged from “Redemption Is The Best Revenge!” to “FEEL THE LOVE… FEEL THE MUSIC… FEEL THE ENERGY.” It was every genre at once made to cash in on the 11th most popular kind of music.

Vibrations stars James Marshall – best known as the ambulatory leather jacket in Twin Peaks – as wannabe rock star TJ Cray. He’s got it all: a supportive cop dad, a sexy girlfriend, and both hands. We know he’s on the hot track because, in a valiant attempt by the filmmakers to “show don’t tell,” we see a newspaper headline exclaiming “Local Band on Hot Track.”

They’re the sound that locals are looking for! Assuming they’re looking for an opener for George Thorogood at the Pennsylvania State Fair. TJ has a big gig tonight, and there will be an A&R rep in the audience ready to offer the band a predatory contract they’ll be paying off for the rest of their lives, but what does our Pomeranian-haired protagonist do? He fucks his girlfriend for the rest of the day. They fuck so long he’s late to his own show. To be fair, said girlfriend is played by Paige Turco – April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, III.

While speeding to the gig, he gets behind a pickup truck filled with drunk maniacs who decide to stop him. They swerve around, preventing him from passing, and he honks his horn so hard his entire car breaks down. Maybe. It’s not exactly clear why anything or anyone is doing any of this. The men bash his car with crowbars, pipes, and human feet until one of them steals a nearby piledriver and starts industrially pounding holes into TJ’s car, a cinematic callback to the previous scene.

TJ, silently and with little expression, stays in his car with his hands on the wheel, unable to come up with any acting choices that would make sense in this situation. When the piledriver finally pierces through his roof, TJ waits patiently for it to crush his hands off. “Aiieeee, DUR HUH huh,” he literally says from off camera.

It was quite an overreaction. By the random strangers, not TJ. TJ reacts the same way to everything: just barely not a nap.

So now TJ’s hands live only in future piledriver operator safety briefings. Doctors offer to strap Temu sex toys to his stumps, but how is he supposed to rip out white-hot blues licks to the top of the local hot tracks with these?

Now, a weaker hero would fall into a depression spiral, run away to New York City, and develop a drinking problem while sleeping on the streets and panhandling. But not ours, who has the drive and strength of will to – oh, wait, that’s exactly what he does.

We’re already through the first act of this afterschool special about the dangers of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, and there are no signs of Vibrations, much less a Cyberstorm. We have 25% of a George Thorogood missing 100% of his hands. But suddenly, while passed out in a box in a rave hovel’s basement, he awakens to the inspirational sounds of 1996.

He stumbles upstairs into the bright lights, moaning lady samples, and tragic fashion of a full-blown techno party where he bumps into none other than Christina Applegate, a working actress who definitely turned down other parts to be here. “My character’s name is Melissa, but you can call me Anamika, which is Sanskrit for Person Without a Name,” she explains, while probably thinking, “I could have fucking been in Coneheads.”

They have a meet-cute where he saves her from sexual assault by catching a knife in his rubber hand, and she takes him back to her place. She lives in a magical New York brownstone filled with one-dimensional characters from all three walks of life. Let’s meet them!

First there’s Geek, whose name will save everyone a lot of time. He invents super devices, like a mega subwoofer beyond all audio science, and speaks fluent Computer.

Then there’s Simeon. He’s wearing a sleeveless flannel pullover, steampunk goggles, shin-length shorts, and what appears to be a glove on his head. He says “you’re creating a negative energy zone,” within moments of us meeting him. He’s meant to be a free spirit, but in the ’90s that meant charming sex pest.

They also have a sassy landlady named Zina with the best New Yawk accent someone from Michigan could come up with. She’s the classic independently wealthy welder archetype. “Get this goddamn piece of trash animal out of here,” she says about the handless wino Christina Applegate brings home.

Anyway, there’s a long sequence of TJ hitting rock bottom and realizing he needs to dry out because this movie knew techno fans would want to see a solid hour of misery before the cyberstorm hits. So with nothing left to lose, TJ finally lets Simeon explain techno. And he does so beautifully.

Now we’re neutronically mutilating the cosmos. TJ wants to get in on the Sound of the Future. But how? His hands are Troma props. So he gives up for the 5th time in this movie. But then inspiration strikes when he sees a player piano! Maybe he could make music again! Aw, if only he had a tech genius and a master welder t– OH MY GOD.

Together, the team invents CYBERHANDS, which look like something Elon Musk would call “Cyberhands.” Except these filmmakers thought of something Elon Musk would never consider: can you fuck in CYBERHANDS? Oh, fuck yes, you can.

We’ve been on this journey with TJ for over an hour. We’ve seen him at the top, we’ve seen him at his nadir, we’ve seen him use his robot fingers on Christina Applegate. It’s all been building up to this: his creative rebirth. His shedding of his frail human form into a being of pure synthesizer! With all the inspiration of vibes and all the power of Generation X, the generation without a name, TJ is reborn as DJ CYBERSTORM.

Maybe you’re like me and you were wondering how this movie, a film where the lead actor wears one expression and nine wigs, could afford this absolutely fucking sweet rave cybersuit designed by special effects legend Stan Winston. Well, the reason is simple: the producer had it in his basement. He’d commissioned it for a horror movie in the ’80s and wanted to get some more use out of it! That’s actually the origin story of this project! A man with James Marshall’s phone number remembered had a robot costume! Everything that led us here was even dumber than you could have possibly imagined!

Anyway, DJ CYBERSTORM is an instant hit, and that means it’s time to bring Neuromancer Live on the road. He heads out in a van to tour with the real-life bands above, and if you recognize any of their names, click here to qualify for senior rave discounts.

Cyberstorm’s name rises up the tour poster lineup as his popularity builds, the normal way to communicate success we’ve all agreed upon, and what do you know, his scrappy international techno tour is scheduled to stop in his podunk hometown! What a perfect way to wrap up the lingering plot threads from Act 1 and introduce a jealousy subplot between Christina Applegate and Paige Turco. This is immediately abandoned because remember those easily identifiable maniacs in a describable truck who crushed TJ’s hands in a world where police exist? The screenwriter suddenly did, and they’re working security at the concert tonight.

This forces our hero to make a difficult decision. Cyberstorm or Revenge? I’m sure TJ, now that he’s cleaned up, made friends, found love, and discovered a purpose in life (the same things he had at the beginning of the movie), will make the right decision. And he does. He chooses both. He decides to murder them in cold blood… as Cyberstorm.

This is when we discover Vibrations is not the Save the Last Dance of rave movies. It is the Halloween III: Season of the Witch of rave movies. Remember Chekhov’s subwoofer from earlier? Here’s TJ’s elaborate trap: he wheels a speaker next to the basement green room, connects the subwoofer to it, lures these Beavises and Buttheads inside with the promise of snacks (a powerful siren call indeed), and barricades them inside.

It’s even shot in first person like a slasher movie. During his set, while he’s fingerblasting the audience with tranducing primal vibes, DJ Cyberstorm triggers the subwoofer, and shakes them to death with those block-rocking beats. It’s exactly how Freddy Krueger or Jason would have killed concert security guards, only updated for Generation X, the generation without a name.

Fortunately, the criminal justice system is spared the indignity of having to coin the term Mobycide when he sees his dad and Christina Applegate in the audience and arbitrarily decides, nah, maybe he won’t commit multiple murders today. The Ted Nugent roadies get arrested, he lives happily ever after, the end. Nobody learned anything!

By any standards, it’s a violently pointless series of unrelated events scored by Lithuania’s most affordable Herbie Hancock impersonator. But amazingly enough, this wasn’t Michael Paseornak’s first movie as a writer. He has script credits on Meatballs III which is not the one where an alien helps the hero win a boxing match, but the one where a dead porn star gets one last chance at Heaven if she can go back to Earth and help the hero get laid. Michael also contributed to the scripts for the Lorenzo Lamas action classics Snake Eater and Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster. But this, Vibrations, was his first solo writing credit. It was also his first time as director. And obviously his last in both capacities.

In a normal world, he would have sunk into obscurity like a rave DJ with a no-hands gimmick. But this is not a normal world. Michael Paseornak went on to become President of Lion’s Gate Film Productions. He produced John Wick 4, The Hunger Games, and Madea’s Witness Protection. He went on from this embarrassing excuse to fill an old robot suit with James Marshall sweat to become a gigantic success. It seems like there should be some lesson to take away from that, but, just like in Vibrations, there isn’t.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Eric Rion, who also has cyberhands BUT HE DON’T USE EM FOR RAVING! You know what we’re sayin’, ladies! (He uses them for knitting tiny novelty sweaters.)