Tuesday, August 21, 2018

BRAINSCAN (1994) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code:
Rating: R
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: John Flynn
Cast: Edward Furlong, T. Ryder Smith, Frank Langella, Jamie Marsh, Amy Hargreaves 

Brainscan (1994) is not a film I remember liking all that much when I saw it in th 90's, a bit of a creepy murder-mystery that incorporates horror gaming into it by way of a CD-ROM (a what?) video game called Brainscan, these techno-thrillers from the nineties rarely hold up in my opinion, so let's see if a re-visit changes my mind. The main guy here is a lonely horror-obsessed teen named Michael (Edward Furlong, Terminator 2) who when he was younger was involved in a horrific car accident that left him with a gimpy knee and took the life of his mother, which we see during a nightmare scene at the start of the film. He is left alone at his suburban home by a father who is completely absent from the film aside from a phone call, at school he's he's a misfit with only one friend, the like-minded Kyle (Jamie Marsh) who shares his love of gore films and scary games.

When Michael reads about the newest horror video game in the pages of Fangoria he orders the game  and when the disc arrives in the mail he pops it in the virtual reality game, which appears to connect straight to your synapse via a series of lights and sounds emitted from the video screen, it's a strange bit of sci-fi, though not as far-fetched as the gaming/steeo/TV/computer set-up this kid has in his room, it's incredibly elaborate and expensive looking, and not something I think could have even existed in '95. The gaming experience is awesome, Michael is overwhelmed by how realistic the game looks and feels, the voice of a devilish character named the Trickster instructs him to enter the home of a stranger and to stab him death, which he does, then telling him to take a souvenir from the crime scene, so he hacks off the victim's foot. He awakens from the simulation convinced this is the most realistic and violent video game he has ever played, but his elation is short-lived when the local news reports on a murder in his neighborhood, he recognizes the crime scenes as the murder he committed in the game! 

The previously unseen Trickster (T. Ryder Smith) then emerges from the TV into reality in a way that brought to mind an iconic scene from David Cronenberg's Videodrome, the villainous character resembling a vamped-up rockstar, not unlike Sami Curr from Trick Or Treat (1986), who encourages the reluctant Michael to continue the game or face real-life consequences, which eventually results in Michael killing his best friend Kyle.

While all this weirdness is happening we discover that Michael has a crush on the girl next door, Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves, Blue Ruin), it's a bit of creepy, stalker-ish sort of crush as he videotapes her through her bedroom window, but the two begin to grow closer after the death of his friend. Det. Hayden (Frank Langella, Dracula) is the cop investigating the spate of murders, he starts to put the pieces together and Michael fast becomes the prime suspect, As the film plays out Michael is coerced into more deadly-gaming by the Trickster with the detective closing in on him. 

Brainscan clearly was pushing hard to create a franchise horror villain in the Trickster, trying to tap into the lucrative teen market, despite having a R-rating, by mixing in youth culture elements like gaming and horror, you know, for the kids. Despite this the character of Trickster is pretty cool, but Edward Furlong is his usual whiny self, he was just an annoying kid, and if you've read any of the interviews with the director of this flick he felt the same way about him. 

The special effects are a mix of practical and early digital, the practical stuff is good, but the digital stuff mostly doesn't hold-up. The Videodrome-esque introduction of the Trickster is pretty cool but other stuff shows the limitation of early digital FX, the same sort of stuff that has hamstring techno-horror like The Lawnmower Man from the same era. What does hold up is the make-up effects from Steve Johnston and crew did for Trickster, underneath that make-up T. Ryder Smith does a great job, wryly cracking a few jokes and generally being a fun villainous character, even if it feels like Freddy Kruger-lite, he's still a charming demonic figure.

Poor Frank Langella doesn't have a whole lot to do here, his cop character is largely underplayed, riffing with his partner at times, having some interaction with the gamer-kid, but it's a thankless role without much to chew on. I did like Amy Hargreaves as the girl-next-door, she seemed like a real sweetie, but Jamie Marsh is absolutely annoying as the stereotypically dippy horror/metal fan, which is always insulting to me.

Brainscan (1994) is not some lost gem of 90's horror but it is a movie that has grown on me a tiny little bit with time. I remember watching it for the first time in a hotel room during a layover in Minneapolis back in the 90's when it first arrived on cable, I hated the rather obvious attempt to create a franchise villain along the lines of Freddy Krueger, feeling it was more 976-EVIL than A Nightmare On Elm Street. Watching it now I still feel that way, but would maybe say it's more 976-EVIL by way of Trick Or Treat, better than the former and not as fun as the latter, replacing the satanic rocker and metal music with the Kruger-lite Trickster and a horror themed CD-ROM game. No, it's not essential 90's horror but I found it entertaining in a dated sort of way, I definitely took more of a shine to this time and think there's fun to be had here for others as well, but don't expect some great re-discovery, just a goofy good time.

Audio/Video: Brainscan arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory horror imprint Scream Factory, there's no mention of a new 2K scan so this might be the HD master we previously saw airing on the now extinct Fear.net years ago, regardless the image is 1080p HD and framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. The image is solid, black levels look deep, which is great since the film is largely dark, and colors and skin tones look good, it doesn't have any wow-factor, but it's solid. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix, it sounds good, dialogue and the George S. Clinton (Cheech & Chong's Still Smokin') score sound good, plus we get good 90's tuneage from the Butthole Surfers, Primus, White Zombie and Tad among others, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Extras begin with a new audio commentary from the assistant to the director Tara Georges Flynn, who is the son of the late director, who worked as an assistant on a few film and was around during the filming of Brainscan, I was okaym I only tuned in for a few minutes, saving it for a rainy day. 

Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (screenwriter of Sleepy Hollow) shows up for a 14-min interview discussing how Jaws got him into horror, writing screenplays for Bryson Entertainment whom he describes a even lower tier than Troma, writing the original script for Brainscan which did not include the the Trickster character, which he describes as the studios attempt at a franchise character.  

Broadway stage actor T. Ryder Smith who played Trickster shows up and discusses getting the role which initially was only to be a voice on the phone, he speaks about an early design for the character which didn't make it to the final film, and what it was like sitting in the make-up chair and having to really over-act to get the emotions through the heavy make-up appliances for the character, and touching on his co-star Edward Furlong who he says was dedicated but going through a tough time in his life.

Fans of FX should dig the interviews with special make-up effects supervisor Steve Johnson and special make-up effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson, who discuss an early more demonic looking version of the villain before going with a more rockstar look. There's some interesting discussion of this being a mix of practical and digital effects, and some of it works and some of it doesn't, and it was interesting to hear Johnson's view on digital vs. practical FX, they weren't exactly what I expected. There's some cool VHS behind-the-scenes footage as well, including a cool Trickter/Michael hybrid that wasn't used in the final film, but shows up in a deleted scene on the disc as well. Schoneberg and Johnson also tell a funny story about trying to cross the Canadian border without work visas as the studio was trying to save a few bucks, and how that went awry. On a note that has nothing to do with the film I couldn't help but think that Andy Schoneberg looks a lot like Cory from Pawn Stars. 

Composer George S. Clinton shows up and begins by discussing his origins as a singer-songwriter, being spotted by Cheech & Chong who approached him to do the score for Still Smokin', and saying he doesn't remember how it came to be he worked on Brainscan exactly. He talks about liking the futuristic themes of the film, and how the isolating themes of the film have become reality. 

That's it for new features, but the disc is buttoned-up with 8-min of behind-the-scenes footage shot by the FX crew, a fun vintage BTS stuff that includes skits with actor T. Ryder Smith  in character as the Trixter and Edward Furlong as himself, good cheesy fun. There's also a deleted scene of the unused abomination monster, trailers and galleries. Considering this has not been branded a Collector's Edition this thing is stuffed with extras, very cool. 

The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of 2-sided artwork, the a-side featuring the original one-sheet artwork, the reverse side featuring a pedestrian image of Furlong from the film. The disc features the same key art as the sleeve. 

Special Feature:
- NEW Audio Commentary with assistant to the director Tara Georges Flynn
- NEW  A Virtual Debut – an interview with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (14 min) HD 
- NEW Talking With Trickster – an interview with actor T. Ryder Smith (14 min) HD 
- NEW Merging Realities featuring interviews with special make-up effects supervisor Steve Johnson and special make-up effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson (19 min) 
- NEW Musical Virtuosity – an interview with composer George S. Clinton (11 min) 
- Trickin’ With Trickster: Vintage Behind-the-Scenes Fun on BRAINSCAN (5 min) 
- Deleted Scene (2 min) 
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage (8 min) 
- Teaser Trailer (1 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- TV Spot (1 min) 

- Behind-The-Scenes Photo Gallery (1 min) 
- Still Gallery (2 min) 

Brainscan is a fun watch in a dated 90's sort of way, it's not the greatest but it is entertaining. Scream Factory did good work with the extras on this one, adding some additional value to a film that didn't remember all that fondly, regardless the stories behind the making of it are pretty interesting, even if the film is only so-so.


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