Saturday, June 1, 2019

MINDWARP (1992) & BRAINSCAN SCI-FI DOUBLE FEATURE (Mill Creek Blu-ray Review)

MINDWARP (1992) & BRAINSCAN 
SCI-FI DOUBLE FEATURE 

MINDWARP (1992)

Label: Mill Creek Entertainment 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Steve Barnett
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Angus Scrimm, Elizabeth Kent

In the year 2037 Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, nuclear war has erased the ozone layer and the few surviving members of humanity are split into three distinct groups. In an area known as the Death Zone we have the cannibalistic mutants known as Crawlers, then we have the non-mutated humans survivors known as Outworlders who survive on a diet of small animals and evade the menace of the Crawlers. The third group are privileged non-mutated humans living in protected biosphere-styled cities known as the Dreamers who spend most of their life plugged into a virtual reality simulator known as Infinisynth. It's here we meet a young woman named Judy (Marta Martin) who is unsatisfied with her virtual plugged-in life. She craves a more meaningful connection to her mother who is only too happy to live out her opera-singer fantasies inside the Infinisynth system. This virtual reality aspect the film had a strong flavor of Total Recall (1990), it's fun stuff and predicted the family disconnect of the digital age where everyone is plugged into their mobile devices, gaming systems or blogging about obscure b-movies (wink wink). Infinisynth is a pleasant enough distraction from reality, everyone else seems content to drink their green-slime protein shakes and immerse themselves in the artificial reality of it, everyone that is except for Judy. 

When Judy's mom refuses to unplug from Infinisynth the young woman infiltrates her mother's virtual dream in an attempt to wake her up with disastrous consequences, her actions anger the mysterious System operator who operates Infinisynth, resulting in Judy being exiled from the safety of the city into the radioactive wastelands where she wakes up in a shallow grave. Digging herself out she discovers a macabre collection of crucified skeletons and is soon set upon by the cannibalistic Crawlers, only to be saved by an crossbow-wielding Outworlder named Stover (Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead) who gets the better of the puss-faced mutants. After being rescued Stover shows Judy the way of the wastelands, with the pair hooking-up before being captured by more Crawlers. They're taken to an underground lair where they meet the Crawler's cult leader, a human-skin mask wearing weirdo named The Seer (Angus Scrimm, Phantasm) who plans to breed a new race of Crawlers with Judy, yikes.

Mindwarp was the first of a trio of films Fangoria magazine funded in the early 1990's, it's no great shakes but I think any Evil Dead fans out there are certainly gonna wanna check this out if just for Campbell's participation. It's definitely a more subdued performance than were used to seeing from him, no fast-talking quips or one-liners, he plays it very straight-faced. Marta Martin as our heroine Judy is alright, am attractive presence but she sort of falls into the shadow of Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm. the latter of whom is a very creepy presence as the priest-like leader of the Crawlers, with his dead-skin mask. 


The film is certainly no lost horror classic but it's an entertaining post-apocalyptic watch with some good gore and bloodletting throughout from the KNB FX Group. For a low-budget slice of horror we also get some fun set pieces and ideas, inside the Crawler lair there's a gnarly human meat-grinder, victims go in one end a syrupy red liquid comes out the other, and the Crawler's just love to drink up this grue. There are also mind altering leeches which Stover falls victim to only to vomit them up later, sort of channeling Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The flick has some very fun moments of gore and bloodletting, while not a classic it's at least an interesting footnote of early 90's horror, and the participation of of Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm makes this well-worth seeking out.


BRAINSCAN (1994) 
Region Code: A 
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 liked all that much when I saw it in the 90's at a strange lodge that the airline put us up in after a flight was cancelled due to a severe snowstorm. The wood paneled lodge  sort of reminded be of The Great Northern Hotel from Twin Peaks, the walls lined with mounted heads of deer, but they're kitchen made a tasty burger, which I sat and ate while cruising the free premium cable channels available in my room, which is where I stumbled upon Brainscan. The sci-fi horror film is 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. I'm of the opinion that these techno-thrillers from the nineties rarely hold up in my opinion, but they're usually fun on a cheese-factor level at least. 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, and at school he's a misfit with only one friend, the like-minded Kyle (Jamie Marsh) who shares his love of gore films and scary video 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. The game 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/stereo/TV/computer set-up this kid has in his room, it's incredibly elaborate and expensive looking set-up, and not something I think could have even existed in '95. The gaming experience however 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, to which end 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, recognizing the crime scene as the very same place he committed the murder 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 rock star, 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. Meanwhile 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 with the Trickster, trying to tap into the lucrative teen horror 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 actor, 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 as a metal-fan from way back I found insulting.

While Brainscan (1994) is not some lost gem of 90's horror it is a movie that has grown on me a tiny little bit with time. Watching it now it's a bit of 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: Both of these films have been issues previously on Blu-ray, Mindwarp received a limited edition Blu-ray in 2013 from Twilight Time and Brainscan got an extras-laden Blu-ray from Scream Factory just last year. Both films arrive on a single-disc Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. To my eyes both looked be sourced from the same HD masters provided to both SF and TT by rights holder Sony, but Brainscan looks to be cropped to 185:1 as where Scream Factory presented the film in 1.78:1, so it loses a sliver of information on the top and bottom. Otherwise grain levels, color saturation and density look identical.

Audio on both disc comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with optional English subtitles.  Brainscan has the more impressive audio of pair, highlighting 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. 


No extras on this release whatsoever, just the option to choose the movie and subtitles. If you're looking for bonus content I say go with the SF and TT Blu-ray releases, but know that they'll set you back $20-40 each. However, if you're fine with just picking up the films sans any extras this double-feature from MCE can be had for $12 right now and has comparable A/V presentations, making this a great way to check out these early 90's sci-fi horrors. 
MINDWARP SCREENSHOTS 

BRAINSCAN SCREENSHOTS 

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