Sony // 1994 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 1st, 2003
An interactive trip to hell.
Michael Bower (Edward Furlong, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) is your typical suburban teenager -- his father is never around, he's dark and depressed, and the kid just loves his computer (a forthcoming documentary by Michael Moore is on its way). At school Michael runs a horror club, but unfortunately the closed minded principal has decided to shut it down. At home Michael spends most of his time either playing computer games or chatting on the phone with his best friend Kyle (James Marsh, The Forsaken). He also enjoys peering out his bedroom window and videotaping his attractive teenage neighbor Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves). While thumbing through his latest issue of Fangoria magazine one day, Michael comes across a new computer game titled "Brainscan," a self-proclaimed master of interactive terror. Always looking for a cool new way to waste time, Michael orders up a copy of Brainscan. Upon its arrival, Michael tries out the game and finds it to be a complete rush. The premise (which uses some kind of light pattern to sort of "hypnotize" its players) is that you're able to murder someone in cold blood in a very realistic setting. So realistic, in fact, that when Michael awakens from the game he sees on the news that an actual murder has taken place in his neighborhood -- and it was the same guy Michael killed in the supposed "game!" Understandably freaked out, Michael soon runs into Trickster (T. Ryder Smith), the game's host, a cadaverous freak who prods Michael on to play the other three discs of the game. It seems that there were witnesses to Michael's supposed crime, and they must be taken care of. To make matters worse a suspicious detective (Frank Langella, Cutthroat Island) is hot on his trail. As the crimes begin to mount, Michael finds himself running for his life...and his sanity!
After watching Brainscan, I pondered momentarily on Trickster, the film's resident monstrosity. Appearing to be a cross between Ronald McDonald, the rock group Poison, and an ill looking Kate Moss, I was fascinated by the character -- in some alternate reality, could he have been the next Freddy Krueger? Alas, we'll never know since Brainscan is a movie that features all the trappings of the early 1990s horror film: cheesy, prehistoric computer graphics; a plot that revolves around a CD-ROM game; and poor Edward Furlong who -- along with Macaulay Culkin -- reached puberty and watched his acting career all but blow away. Those looking for a true horror movie will most likely be disappointed -- instead of a slasher flick, Brainscan is a thriller featuring a few elements of horror thrown in for good measure. The gore is kept to the bare minimum and the coiffed character of Trickster (played with a lot of wild eyed enthusiasm by T. Ryder Smith) isn't half as interesting as he should be (a corpse-like version of one of the Ramones doesn't cut the butter as scary). One thing that the film does get right, however, is the feeling of detachment and dread that often accompanies the suburban landscape of America. Had the film focused on Michael's loneliness and isolation and less on the murders, Brainscan might have really been something special. As it stands, the film is a mish-mash of genres (cop flicks, crime thrillers, monster movies) and none of them work particularly well. Character actor Frank Langella (who should know better) has all the warmth of a frozen enchilada, while Edward Furlong overacts by screaming his lines at the top of his lungs (sample dialogue: "GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE! AHHHH!" This is followed by flailing arms and an exit from the room). There are more holes in the plot than there are in Baghdad, but I guess that's to be expected in this kind of genre. What's not expected is how technologically advanced Michael's 1994 computer is, even in 2003. I don't know about you, but when I was 16 I wasn't allowed to have a TV in my bedroom, much less a computer that jumps at my every command. Wherever he got that piece of equipment, sign me up!
Maybe this film's tagline should have read: "an interactive trip into horror mediocrity."
Brainscan is presented in a 1.85:1 transfer with anamorphic enhancement. Columbia has done a decent job of making sure this image appears clean and free of any major imperfections. While there are some inconsistencies in the image (some scenes appear far too soft and the image is never as sharp as desired), overall fans will be happy to see this film in its first ever DVD/widescreen presentation. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. Eh. This sound mix is neither here nor there -- though it's free of excessive hiss or distortion, there isn't a whole lot to it. The dynamic range is sometimes strong, though most of the time this audio mix is front heavy without a lot of punch. Then again, did we really need a rollicking 5.1 mix on a movie about a killer video game? Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.
Seeing as Brainscan wasn't a monumental horror hit, it doesn't take a computer geek to figure out that this disc is going to be nearly bare bones. The only extra features included on this disc are a few theatrical trailers for other Columbia chiller titles.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailers