Here is Netflix’s description of the 1996 film Vibrations:
Rising rock star T.J. Cray gets the shot of a lifetime — an audition with an A&R man — but on the big day, a carload of drunks smash into his car, and his hands are severed. Soon, he drops out of the business and becomes a homeless drunk, until one day when he wakes up to a pulsing beat in an abandoned warehouse where a “rave” party is in full swing. There, he meets Anamika (Christina Applegate), who helps reinvent T.J.’s career.
There is a lot going on in that paragraph. A lot. And the crazy thing is, even with all the moving parts in those three fantastic sentences, it doesn’t even scratch the surface. This movie is insane, and so offensively 90s that it probably has a 4 Non-Blondes poster in its bedroom. (Example: At one point Christina Applegate’s character gives a long, philosophical explanation of Generation X, and that is somehow the fifth or sixth most 90s thing that happens.)
My good Internet friend (read as: person I’ve never met) Celebrity Hot Tub brought this film to my attention a few days ago, and we both became so overjoyed that we watched it over the weekend, opened up a Google doc, and examined it the way scientists would examine a glowing space rock: awe, excitement, curiosity, etc. On the following pages, please find our analysis, some screencaps, and a scene where a dancing robot plays techno music at a rave. This one is a doozy.
CELEBRITY HOT TUB: VIBRATIONS was produced by Tanglewood Films, a company which, according to IMDB, only made four other films, none of which was longer than 29 minutes. The best of those (I’m guessing) is Bob 3:13 which is three minutes long and had an estimated budget of $120. That sensation I’m feeling right now? Immense confidence in Tanglewood Films.
One other thing before we dive in – this movie came out in 1996. James Marshall had already played Private Downey in A Few Good Men four years earlier, and Christina Applegate had been on Married With Children for nearly a DECADE. This career timeline makes no sense whatsoever.
DANGER GUERRERO: Agreed on the timeline. This would be like if Alison Brie dropped everything during her Community hiatus to make a low-budget movie about an alien who loves dubstep. Which, for the record, I would watch. Many, many times.
Two other quick casting notes: One, James Marshall’s girlfriend is played by Paige Turco, best know (by me, whatever) as April O’Neil in the second and third Ninja Turtles movies. And two, this is something that showed up during the opening credits, and I swear I am not making it up: “Special appearances by U 96, Fierce Ruling Diva, and Moses On Acid.” We are 90 seconds in and this is already the best movie I’ve ever seen.
CHT: We open with a long shot of a police car driving up to a garage, where our protagonist, TJ CRAY, and his band are playing. While the rest of the band is wearing comfortable, casual clothing, TJ has decided garage practice requires him to bust out the leather vest. This shows us that he is a) driven and b) an idiot. The policeman is TJ’s dad, LIEUTENANT CRAY. I already want to watch the renegade cop movie about LIEUTENANT CRAY.
Lieutenant Cray shows TJ that his band has made the front page of the paper, under the headline “LOCAL BAND ON HOT TRACK.” So now we know this movie takes place in SimCity. I bet TJ’s downfall comes when he decides to cut funding for hospitals. Then sixteen tornadoes hit.
DG: I think my favorite part of the band bros scene comes after rehearsal, when they’re standing around in the driveway shooting the sh-t and talking about their upcoming gig. I say this because at the end of this conversation TJ tells his bandmates that he’ll meet them at their gig in about an hour, and one of them replies, “Lemme guess. Does this have something to do with your wiener?”
We quickly find out that he was referring to sex, but I was kind of hoping TJ had lots of other, non-sexual wiener-related obligations. Like maybe he needed to help his wiener open a checking account, or take it to speech therapy, or teach it to drive. That would also be a movie I would watch many, many times.
CHT: Maybe I’m old fashioned, but just barging into April O’Neil II’s house and getting almost entirely nude seems a little presumptuous. What if she’s making fajitas? Your nakedness is bound to frighten her and boom! Fajita grease burn all over your torso.
DG: What if, and just hear me out here … what if Raphael jumped out and bonked TJ on the head with the blunt ends of his sais just as TJ was sliding into her bed. And then what if, while he was woozy, Leonardo rushed in and chopped off TJ’s hands with his swords? What if that was how TJ got injured? Via overprotective Ninja Turtle attack.
My point here is that I have some notes to discuss with the writer once time travel is invented.
CTH: Anyways, TJ oversleeps and has to rush to his show. On the way, he’s overtaken by some boozing locals who decide to attack him for almost no reason. At first, it’s just a little garden variety window smashing and tail light kicking. Then somebody gets behind the wheel of a construction vehicle and sh-t gets REAL.
Here is how I imagine the conversation in the Drunk Truck after TJ is left for dead. All names have been made up because I am lazy.
DILLON: Did… did we really just kill a stranger?
BRADD: Holy sh-t holy sh-t holy sh-t holy sh
PLARRY: I can’t even wrap my head around what just happened. We cut him off and then all he tried to do was pass us. He didn’t even clip the truck.
MAX: (swigs from bottle, shakes)
BRADD: Seriously, his car just died all on its own and then we turned around and attacked him. The poor dummy didn’t even try to get out. He…he must have been frozen with fear. What the f-ck?!?
DILLON: Just keep driving, Max. Nobody’s going to know it was us.
PLARRY: You don’t know that Dillon! Your prints are probably all over that piece of construction equipment!
BRADD: Yeah, um, how did you know how to operate that anyways? You were really good at it. Almost like it was an extension of your body.
DILLON: You think so? Wow, that’s, I, well, thanks. That means a lot, guys.
And then Dillon stops drinking and has a successful career as a construction worker.
DG: And TJ hunts them all down and kills them with his hook hands in a little film titled I Swear To God I’ll Never Forget What You Did Last Summer (You Cut Off My Hands, In Case You Forgot).
CTH: The only injury TJ suffers, of course, are symmetrical amputations of his hands. Not a scratch otherwise. He’s 9/10 invincible! I’ll admit, I started laughing like a maniac when they unveiled his first prostheses, because they make his arms look about a foot and a half too long.
DG: This movie came out the same year as Happy Gilmore. Between this and Chubbs’ three-foot long arm in that film, every prop person in Hollywood should have been forced to take a basic anatomy class.
CHT: Needless to say, TJ is not thrilled with his newfound handlessness. (Newfound Handlessness, incidentally, would be a great name for a Christian band.) Somehow he makes it to New York City, Gross 80’s Edition, where he immediately becomes a filthy hobo windshield washer with perfect hair.
I have so many questions about this. Why did he pick New York? Were there relatives there he was hoping would take him in but they turned him away, horrified by his handless state? Was the plan really just to be a homeless dude all along? Why are you sleeping in a box inside of an abandoned building? That’s like putting a sleeping bag under your comforter.
DG: This was very confusing, because he kinda just became voluntarily homeless. His dad was worried sick, calling in favors with nearby police departments to look for him, so I’m assuming he had a couch to crash on at the very least. But instead he was all, “WELP, lost my hands. TO THE BIG APPLE!” I really don’t know how his band got on such a HOT TRACK with this kind of poor planning and lack of ambition from its creative mastermind..
CHT: Oh good, the abandoned building is actually Chemical Brothers World Headquarters, where nobody noticed or cared that a stinky drunk was sleeping in a box. It is here we meet Christina Applegate, who seems EXTREMELY bored. Her name is Onamika? Monokini? I have no idea. It’s something that she clearly made up to piss off her mom.
DG: Also, he wakes up mid-concert. Not during the setup, not during sound check, not as hundreds of zubaz- and silly-hat-wearing aggressive 90s stereotypes walk in and start dipsh-ttedly mulling around, not during the first loud as hell techno song. NOPE. Mid-concert. My man was druuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunk.
And we learn something about Molokini or whatever in this scene, too: she used to bone the middle-aged manager of the club, but has recently broken it off. Why, you ask? Well, presumably because she is piping hot and he is the sleazy owner of an abandoned warehouse that is used for raves and as a drunken wino hostel. But also because she says, and I quote, “Check out the energy, it’s just not there.” SPIRITUAL WOMAN OF THE 90S. DRINK!
CHT: Perfect hair hobo comes to Enemigo’s rescue after two Tough Guys In Slacks accost her. A switchblade is pulled, but, fortunately, TJ’s hands are STAB-FRIENDLY! This earns TJ a walk home and a meal. Would Christina Applegate offer the same to a valiant hobo with less perfect hair? I think we both know otherwise.
DG: I love her thought process. “Two street toughs just tried to rape me, but this handless, dirty, whiskey-soaked hobo seems okay…”
CHT: Nevermind, this is not such a great deal. Applegate whips together your classic dinner of a tuna fish sandwich…with orange juice. This is about as clear a signal as someone can send that they really don’t want you there. I’m honestly grossed out just looking at this pairing.
You should also know that TJ has a hobo booze of choice: NIGHTSHIP. Best name for a hobo whiskey or best name for ANY whiskey? I bet Nightship tastes like hardtack and smells like a scurvy-riddled Pilgrim.
DG: I must have a bottle of it immediately.
CHT: TJ has now stopped an assault and prevented an entire diner full of people from burning to death thanks to his incredible nerveless hands. It’s almost as if being attacked by the Drunk Truck was the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
DG: AND he got to make a pretty decent “Stumped? I know I am” joke when he was arguing with April a little earlier in the movie. This whole not having hands thing looks pretty okay.
CHT: “Go away or I’m going to boot your butt into the cosmos.” That’s a line someone was paid (ADDENDUM: it’s possible everyone made this movie for free, I don’t know) to write for Christina Applegate to say to TJ, The Hobo She Barely Knows. She clearly can’t understand that TJ needs help, and if she won’t give it to him, NIGHTSHIP will.
NIGHTSHIP: Set sail on a journey of gout.
DG: NIGHTSHIP: Boot your butt into the cosmos.
NOTE: In this slogan, the “Nightship” is a spaceship. Also, do you want to start writing a movie called NIGHTSHIP with me as soon as we’re done talking about Vibrations?
CHT: I hope Christina Applegate got to keep the entirety of her costume from this movie, mostly so she could make sure it was properly burned.
DG: Vibrations, behind the scenes:
WARDROBE DEPT: Christina, here’s your outfit for this scene.
CHRISTINA: Um, another open flannel shirt with clingy tank top under it? Didn’t I just wear that? And why does my character, a spiritual New Yorker who goes to raves in 1996, keep dressing like a grunge fan from 1991 who lives in the Pacific Northwest?
WARDROBE DEPT: Hell if I know. Oh, and the director wants your nips hard again. Like, ROCK hard.
CHT: TJ keeps two memories of home on his person. The first is the LOCAL BAND ON HOT TRACK clipping. The second is a picture of April O’Neil II in her flight attendant uniform; on the back, she’s written “Fly Me! For Reservations Call 555-7956.” Maybe this is just a clever reference to sex. Or MAYBE April O’Neil II is a Transformer who turns into a helicopter. The film is, at best, unclear on this point.
DG: I honestly thought she was a prostitute. I thought that was what the picture and note were getting at — that she, April O’Neil, former girlfriend of a rising star musician, had actually been a hooker all along, and the director chose to reveal it as the main character was going through alcohol withdrawal on the couch of some t-shirt selling rave hippie after losing his hands in a drunken road rage assault with heavy machinery.
CHT: I sort of ignored the character of Simeon up until this point because I was hoping that he had little to no role in the rest of the movie, but that was clearly a mistake on my part, because now Simeon has taken TJ into his terrorpartment and is trying to teach him about techno music. It’s basically “How To Make Music That Sounds Like It Got Cut Out Of Beverly Hills Cop III 101.” Simeon is also the kind of guy who gets laid a lot despite wearing white shorts and denim shirts. The 90s were terrible.
DG: If you are planning to watch this movie on Netflix, and I STRONGLY recommend that you do, this scene is around the 52 minute mark. His explanation of techno music is simply amazing. I am not joking about this. It’s like when Mitch Goosen explain stylin’ in Airborne, but about awful, awful music.
CHT: Did I mention Simeon’s foil is a thick glasses wearing, floppy disk carrying, doofy hair sporting character named Geek? Holy sh-t, this writing.
DG: Did I mention that at the beginning of the movie Simeon is wearing a beanie that extends out from the top of his head and hangs halfway down his back, and that it has a glove on the end? Holy sh-t, the 90s.
CHT: I’d like to pause for a second and talk about the genre this movie belongs to, a rare and special breed that only existed for 10, maybe 15 years, and no longer really exists. It’s the Movie Where Technology Can Do Anything. In the early 90s, everyone was starting to get familiar with computers but not TOO familiar – they were still expensive and probably the kind of thing Newsweek put on the cover whenever they didn’t have any new ideas. Consequently, computers could do absolutely anything in a movie, no matter how physically implausible. That’s how you get your Hackers, your The Net, and, most important your The Lawnmower Man. Vibrations fits right in with this group, because its selling point is Generation X plus motherboards equals MAGICAL TECHNOHANDS!
DG: They really did it. They built him piano robot hands. A geek named Geek with an IBM computer, and a cranky landlady with a welding shop inside her apartment, built TJ robotic hands that take the individual notes he taps out on a keyboard and stores them so the fingers play the notes all together once he loads the program. The science and logistics behind this are fuzzy on their clearest day, but the point is that these two amateurs built a multimillion dollar apparatus in their apartments — in their free time — that would put NASA to shame. Also, it has a blender attachment.
Oh, and there’s a scene where TJ seduces Christina by surprising her with dozens of candles, which means this very specific robotic system that enables him to play music also has a setting where he can load in the movements required to light candles. Of course.
CHT: Also, why hasn’t TJ called his dad or April O’Neil II? Would a “Hello, I’m actually not dead” postcard be too much trouble? What an asshole.
CHT: I’m sorry. Remember when we said they built him robot piano hands? Apparently that was just the beginning of AN ENTIRE ROBOT OUTFIT. God help the poor stunt double who had to get into this hot-ass thing and gyrate around. Somehow, TJ’s new alter ego, “CYBERSTORM,” is so popular that he becomes the headliner on a rave tour. Watching this movie in 2013, you can’t help but think, “Wait, that’s it? That’s the top?”
DG: Here are my unedited notes from this scene:
-HOLY SH-T HE HAS A FULL ROBOT SUIT AND IS NAMED CYBERSTORM
-WHERE DID THEY GET THE MONEY FOR A FULL ROBOT SUI-WAIT I DON’T CARE
-NOW HE IS DANCING IN THE SUIT. HE STOPPED PLAYING AND IS DANCING IN A ROBOT SUIT.
-THIS IS THE BEST SCENE EVER
-NOW EVERYONE IS CLAPPING
-NOW HE IS DANCING AND PLAYING THE KEYBOARD AT THE SAME TIME IN A FULL ROBOT SUIT.
I am great at reviewing movies.
CHT: Good news, though. Lieutenant Cray and TJ have a joyful reunion in a terrible motel room. Experienced police officer that he is, Lieutenant Cray basically asks no questions and leaves.
DG: How do they end up reuniting? I’ll tell you. TJ cranks up a tape of his Cyberstorm performance super loud and waits for someone to call in a noise complaint to his police officer father, who he has not seen in a long enough time that he was able to develop and overcome a horrible alcohol addiction and rise to fame as a cyborg DJ, and is apparently the only cop in town.
I love this movie.
CHT: Ok, seriously, sit down. You’ll never guess who’s working security at the Big Rave in TJ’s hometown. It’s DILLON, BRADD, MAX, AND PLARRY! They didn’t even leave! They didn’t even recognize TJ!! I bet Dillon didn’t even go get his forklift certification!
DG: Another note: TJ is briefly reunited with April before the rave, and the whole time they’re talking she acts kind of shady, like she has a secret. Then it hits me: WAIT. Back when they were humping (when I wanted the Ninja Turtles to come assault him), she asked if he had protection and he just made a joke about guns before stickin’ it right in. CHEKHOV’S PENIS! A classic 90s movie move! He’s totally gonna have a secret kid, isn’t he?!
Nope. She just walks out and is never seen again. Perfect.
CHT: I bet you think there’s going to be some sweet comeuppance for the Drunk Truck crew. Maybe TJ turns up his robot hands to eleven and crushes their throats. Maybe TJ’s dad finally cracks the case and these guys go to prison. Maybe CYBERSTORM RAVES THEM TO DEATH.
Well, it’s almost that last one. But TJ just can’t bring himself to commit rave murder. Also, rave murder is not a thing. And in the end, TJ picks Christina Applegate over April O’Neil II, which is the most awesome 90’s decision a young man could ever face.
DG: This scene has the most heavy-handed editing possible. Cut to TJ. Cut to the Drunk Truck crew. Cut to Christina. Back to TJ. Now to Christina. Cut to the Drunk Truck crew. Back to TJ. Back to Christina IN SLOW MOTION. DRAMA. SUSPENSE. INTRIGUE. RAVE MURDER.
But then he unplugs the box that is pumping high-pitched assault techno into the Drunk Truck crew’s ears, motions to his off-duty cop dad that the security guards were actually the people who were responsible for chopping off his hands, and his dad single-handedly arrests four huge guys in the middle of a rave, and everyone lives happily ever after FREEZE FRAME THE END.
CHT: I will say this: VIBRATIONS showed me that amputees can do anything, if they’re willing to trust people with no medical training. And by anything I mean dominate the mid 90’s rave scene.
DG: Eat sh-t, Darude.