Released in 1994, Brainscan is a fun little early ’90s time capsule. It has a computer game premise. It has shameless advertising for Aerosmith’s 1993 album Get a Grip. It has a soundtrack featuring the likes of White Zombie, Butthole Surfers, Mudhoney and Primus. And watching it today will make any person who grew up during this time feel all warm and nostalgic inside. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but the film is a million times better than it has any right to be.
On the surface, Brainscan seems a bit like a mash-up of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome – as written by R.L. Stine (the ’90s Stephen King for kiddies). Brian Owens and Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay is certainly an enjoyable enough, twist & turn-filled narrative, but it feels like an R-rated episode of Eerie, Indiana (at best) or Goosebumps (at worst). On the page, it could certainly go either way. But director John Flynn actually managed to emerge with an atmospheric, surprisingly immersive work of cinema.
Having apparently not learned his lesson from James Cameron’s Terminator 2, Edward Furlong tangles once again with computer-generated evil, here playing Michael, a teenage loner with a dead mother, a father forever away on business and an unrequited crush on his neighbor – Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves). He was also in a car accident as a child and he still suffers from nightmares of the ordeal regularly. He has a badly scarred knee and walks with a limp as a daily reminder of the incident. He ultimately finds solace in the world of horror (as well as spying on his neighbor like a modern day Norman Bates).
One day his best friend Kyle (Jamie Marsh) reads an ad for a new game experience called Brainscan in Fangoria, so Michael calls the 1-800 number. Within a day Michael is giving the CD-ROM a spin (which he inserts into his computer, but plays on his TV with a remote). He is instructed to stare at the screen and complete his goal within the time limit. Cut to a nice POV sequence showing gloved hands on the move, guided by an unseen voice towards a sleeping murder victim in waiting.
After dispatching the man and cutting off his foot, Michael wakes in a cold sweat, shaken by the reality of the game experience. Of course, at this point the audience is ahead of the film, knowing full well that Brainscan is no simulation, and that the murder actually took place. However, the script doesn’t stay complacent for long, introducing the inexplicable demonic murder-guide Trickster (T. Ryder Smith).
Suddenly Brainscan becomes much more than a sleepwalking murderer flick. The Trickster convinces Michael that he left behind a piece of evidence and he can only retrieve it by playing the second disc. Michael’s bad situation gets progressively worst with each level of gameplay.
Frank Langella plays Detective Hayden, who is investigating the neighborhood murders. His role is a minimal one, but Langella is such an enjoyable face that he can fill any role beyond its writing.
While the film is quite enjoyable overall, it is definitely not without its flaws. For instance, the token love interest, Kimberly, is fairly pointless and her relationship with Michael isn’t explored in the least bit. Her purpose seems to be to appear in lingerie or semi-nude throughout the film with a “dunce” look on her face.
Though, the biggest flaw has to be the film’s ending. SPOILER ALERT! At the end of the movie we learn that Michael didn’t actually kill anybody. He awakens to discover the whole experience was just the game. It’s a total cop out and a complete slap in the face for anyone who took the time to watch it. However, it is refreshing that the wrap-up doesn’t suggest that Michael is, or needs to be “cured” of his obsession with horror.
Brainscan’s story isn’t going to blow your mind, but it is decent enough. It’s not exactly scary but there are a few tense moments and some decent action. There are also plenty of laughs, which are mainly courtesy of The Trickster (who’s an odd combination of Freddy Krueger, Mick Jagger and Beetlejuice). As stated before, you will probably find the ending a bit disappointing, but hang in there through the credits for a more satisfying twist. Brainscan isn’t a great movie by any means, but it’s still quite an entertaining one that’s more than worthy of a revisit.
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