Friday, February 20, 2015

The Brain

The Brain
Ed Hunt

Jim (Jim Majelewski) is a trouble maker who has blown up one toilet too many at school. He’s sent to an institute run by Dr. Blake (David Gale). Dr. Blake runs a self-help television show called Independent Thinkers. He isn’t interested in independent thinking, he’s interested in taking over the world. His accomplice is a giant alien brain that can control people. A few can reject the control, but they suffer powerful hallucinations and even worse, the wrath of the killer brain. Jim and his girlfriend, Janet (Cynthia Preston), finds themselves on the run from a monster that can attack their minds at any time.

Witness beautiful winter in Ontario.
The Brain plays out like a Canadian Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Our teenage heroes experience a warped reality that toys with them, until the monster brain finally moves in for the kill. The final third settles in to a more traditional monster on the rampage story. There is also an undeniable Videodrome (1983) vibe, especially early on, when Jim is subjected to a television based experiment that starts erotic but quickly turns to horror. The film contains some muddled subtext about the evils of mental institutions, and misunderstood teenagersThe horror and the subtext never quite gel as well as they could, resulting in a movie that falls short of its potential.

The Brain doesn't forget to have some fun with its horror. The monster isn’t content to just play with its victim’s minds, it also enjoys strangling them with a ropy spinal cord, and chowing down on them with pointed teeth. The brain is a big rubbery slimy practical effect and most of the time it works wonderfully. It only fails to convince during the rushed climax. The Brain knows that its main strength is in its bizarro mind attacks, so it keeps them coming at a steady pace. There is a solution to defeating the monster that is telegraphed early on that I initially found weak, but in retrospect it's a perfect emulation of 50s monster movies.

This is your brain on teens. Any questions?
David Gale, playing off of his infamous role as Dr. Hill in Re-Animator (1985) is suitably creepy. After that film became such a cult success, I thought he would be featured more in The Brain, but he's used sparingly. It felt like more time was devoted to his henchman, Verna (George Buza). Jim is supposed to be a punk kid, but his destructive antics early in the story seem to happen for no reason. It makes it difficult to be on his side once the evil brain targets him. I think just a little more background on why he’s such a delinquent would have gone a long way towards salvaging his character.

The Brain is a fun monster romp with some decent effects. It is never as witty as the premise lends itself to be, but at the same time it never descends into the depths of comedy-horror that plagued low budget films such as this throughout the late 80’s. The Brain isn’t a smart movie, but it is an entertaining one.

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