Somehow, in our long excursion through the ever-expanding library of horror we never watched Brainscan. Perhaps, I (Lance) never did because the cover art makes the movie look like a 90's CGI driven mess. Never judge a fish by its scales, right?
Brainscan found its way into our world while we were attending our first horror convention, Scares that Care in Williamsburg, VA a couple weeks ago. We shared our booth and hotel with our buddy Tim Mills, who runs the Horror Flicks and Guitar Picks Podcast where he interviews musicians about their favorite horror movies. After an incredibly fun day of meeting awesome horror fans we were beat so we had dinner and crashed back at the hotel. Tim brought a handful of movies and just so happened to bring Brainscan. Stephen and I had never seen it and Tim said it was one of his favorites so we put on our Edward Furlong pants and jumped on the interactive trip to Hell!
The first thing we noticed was the score, written by George S. Clinton, who wrote the scores to Austin Powers movies and the 90's Mortal Kombat movies. The main theme delivers a sense of unease that compliments the visuals and develops a distinct atmosphere as the movie opens. We knew this movie was gonna be special.
Brainscan, directed by John Flynn, follows Michael Brower (Edward Furlong) a tech and horror obsessed latch-key kid. Michael's mother died tragically in a car crash and he saw everything - heavy trauma. His father travels for work and appears to make up for his absence by buying Michael all the latest and greatest tech. Surprisingly, all of the tech in Brainscan doesn't seem ridiculously dated, maybe it's because the tech leans towards the fantastic and less on the realism of the time. Our favorite piece of tech is Igor the computer assistant who does Michael's bidding. Igor captures the magic and potential of a computer assistant that Siri has yet to achieve. You hear that Apple, I know you're reading this, take notes - out with Siri, in with Igor.
As we pop out of the opening dream sequence Michael's best bud Kyle calls to tell him about this radical new advertisement for a game called Brainscan he's reading about in the most recent Fangoria magazine. Kyle is hyped but Michael thinks it's lame. Michael is distracted by the view out of his bedroom window.
Michael, like all 90's teen protagonists, lives next door to the love of his life, Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves). Brainscan does not age well in one glaring area, Michael videotaping Kimberly in her bedroom. The fact that she's aware of the invasion of privacy and has her own secret only adds to the creepiness somehow. Putting the weird voyeurism aside, Kimberly is the attractive popular girl and Michael is the weird, I-don't-give-a-shit outsider, oh so common in the 90's. Will they get together, God we hope so.
After ol'creep daddy is done oggling his neighbor, he decides to check out the ad for Brainscan. Igor dials 1-800-555-FEAR, a voice answers, Michael asks about the game and out of nowhere he is violently wracked by what looks like a seizure or demonic possession. Then returns back to normal, no harm apparently done.
The next day when Michael gets home from school there's a package waiting with a disk inside for the game Brainscan. He puts it in, receives his instructions and is informed that he will be hypnotized into the game.
What follows is one of the best sequences in the movie. We are transported into a Giallo style slasher. First person perspective, leather gloves, home invasion, knife murder, a cat audience, and in our opinion a tremendous soundtrack. Watching it for the first time and hearing "Two of Me" by OLD blew us away. We are huge fans of the band Daughters and this song sounds like if Daughters had a time machine, travelled to 1994 and scored a murder scene, it was perfection. We were so awestruck by the song we paused the movie to look it up. Anyway, the killer then takes a souvenir by cutting off the victim's foot and we travel back to Michael waking up drenched in sweat in his room. He's blown away by what felt like a game to him, impressed with himself for how he played.
Things soon become all-too-real for Michael and we meet the inter-dimensional, stretchy-faced, long-fingered, ridiculously dressed antagonist of the film, the Trickster (T. Ryder Smith). From here on Michael faces his greatest fears, shepherded or maybe manipulated throughout by the Trickster.
The Trickster makes his entrance by morphing out of Michael's TV and as his name suggests he's the archetypal mischief maker found in countless myths: Loki - Norse, the coyote - Native American, and Anansi - African. All these characters play the role of, and revel in, chaos. It's briefly explained that Brainscan interfaces with the players subconscious bringing about an experience specific to the player. Brian Owens (writer) and Andrew Kevin Walker (screenplay) must have been fans of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell because Brainscan is one-way ticket to the hero's journey. Michael must face the darkness inside himself, confront his fear of losing everything he loves, and ultimately endure his own death. By doing this and beating the game, he is reborn into his own life filled with gratitude and enthusiasm.
With all the incredible things Brainscan has going for it it's hard to understand why it was such a failure, both critically and financially, when it was released in 1994. It only lasted 2 weeks in theaters before it was pulled. The concept is built to be a franchise, each movie follows another person into their specific fears puppeted by the Trickster like a psychological version of Saw but much more interesting and less green. The best we can hope for is a serious reboot, so fingers crossed.
Even though we just saw Brainscan for the first time recently it already has strong connection to us. We're two dudes that are buddies forever and we have a pretty awesome memory tied to this rad film. That's what makes the horror genre special, embracing new ideas, facing fears, and finding community around those experiences.
We loved this movie. We're thankful we could bring some super fun art to celebrate it and show Igor and the Trickster some love. We hope y'all dig it!