This was brought to me by a friend who thought the HDD had died. Turns out it was infected with a rogue antivirus that apparently had issues with it's own installation.
Regardless of the boot type (normal, safe mode, safe mode w/net, safe mode w/prompt) the box boots to a plain gray screen with a working cursor but no targets for it. The desktop never develops and neither is the user presented with the expected hijacking info. The three-finger-salute (CTRL.ALT.DEL) has apparently been disabled. Booting with usb media works but the network adapters have apparently been shut down so something like hitman kickstart doesn't function.
I only figured out what was on it by removing the HDD and used MSE on a clean box to scan it and remove the rogue and it's attendant trojan downloaders.
Any ideas how to work around this? My rocket science isn't launching at present.