Brainscan | Varied Celluloid

Brainscan

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 22 - 2008
This review was originally written between 2003-2006 and has since been slightly edited. The opinion remains the same as the original posting, but slight errors have been revised or smoothed out.

Plot Outline: Michael Boyer (Edward Furlong) is your average disinterested teenager. He’s bored with the average, and has an obsession with the bizarre and occult. Especially anything having to do with horror. Spending his days watching horror films in his “horror club” at school, which as of recent is threatened to be disbanded by the principal, Michael is looking for something new. Something horrifying, fresh and something to push him over the edge. He finds just that in Brainscan. A CD-Rom based horror game that works through hypnosis. Putting the gamer in a trance that allows them the opportunity to get inside of a serial killer’s mind as he goes on a rampage and commits atrocity after atrocity. Once Michael wakes up, he is blown away. He’s never felt anything so realistic and overall he is terrified of the game… but what is even more terrifying, is the idea that it might not JUST be a game.




The Review
Hey there my fellow VC fans, I guess you guys thought you had seen the last of me – and for those of you reading this months down the line, this single review comes after nearly a year long hiatus from the site. Time has been short and my interests have kept me distracted, but writing has never left my mind and with my tiny “comeback” I decided to go with familiar territory to keep things interesting. Brainscan is a film that I have a little history with. It was the first ever horror film I saw in the theaters, and I think it might be the first rated R film I saw in a theater as well. As a viewer I could always let nostalgia get the better of me and totally neglect any faults that the film may have and call it a modern masterpiece for no reason other than the fact that I like it – but I won’t do that. I’ll tell you up-front that Brainscan isn’t going to be as great for every viewer out there, especially those not quite as forgiving as I am. The technology at the time it was made is a bit prehistoric to say the least. The concept of computers, what they were capable of and what would be affordable for a slightly wealthy teenager seem just a bit “off” to say the least. For a guy who has constantly had a problem with films such as “Hackers” and “The Net”, looking back on Brainscan I have to take things as they are and accept the film for what it is.

With that said, Brainscan might be one of the better horror flicks you’ve probably never seen. Released in the early nineties, around the time horror flicks were really taking a dive in quality and pretty soon in popularity – it was a vehicle for the still popular child actor Edward Furlong, who was still coming down from his successful turn in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and his not so successful turn as the lead in Pet Semetary II. I don’t know what the major deterrent was for viewers with the film and why we’re not all sitting around talking about it today, but I seriously do not believe it’s lack of popularity is due to a lack in quality. Hey, if Hackers can garner as rabid a fan-base as it has now and people actually like it for something more than just silly nineties gibberish – then it wouldn’t take much to spur interest in Brainscan. In a time when every “horror” flick hitting the market was basically just a weak-sauce version of a Friday the 13th flick – and today we really aren’t doing much better – Brainscan was a nice alternative to all the repetitive garbage being cycled around. There actually has been some talk about a possible sequel within the past few years, something I can’t take serious due to it’s lack in popularity and the fact that it has been so long – but I would highly endorse the idea if only to have the original film break back into the market. I truly think Brainscan is a film that deserves a wider audience. You could consider it to be a “cult” film right now, but as far as cult audiences go, Brainscan could have a larger name out there. A current DVD or a special edition would be a nice touch!

Brainscan has a lot going for it, but just never seemed to catch on with a massive fan base. I can’t really wrap my head around it. Considering Edward Furlong doesn’t even really cover it (amongst other flicks) in his bio sheet over at his official website or on the IMDB, I can assume that since it tanked some consider it to be garbage. Compared to Furlong’s work in Pet Semetary II however, I think it is far and away from being his worst film. Even after all the time being spent away from it, having just sat down and watched it the other night it still feels fresh after all these years. Even if the style just oozes with early 90’s grunge rock angst and the lack of knowledge about technology seems like a slap in the face to anyone raised in the technological age. Just what would it have taken to have a voice activated computer-based phone system in the early nineties that was pre-programmed with a voice/personality all it’s on like that of “Igor” within the film? Not to mention the actual possibility of something like Brainscan actually existing… or then again; how do you go about explaining the likes of Trickster!? The simple fact is, you’re going to have to take a step back and not question things too much. It’s a lot better than The Lawnmower Man, I promise.

For horror fans out there especially, I can’t see how this one gets passed up so often. It is not especially gruesome mind you, but to this day the violence (only one scene in particular, but it makes up for a lot) in Brainscan still shocks me. The brutal slaying of an older man in the film is shown in full graphic detail during the first game sequence, and adds to the sick demented feel of such a game. The violence isn’t just senseless, since it adds so much weight to the film. Fleshing out Brainscan as something horrible and graphic, frightening in its cruelty and totally without remorse. Then when it is time for Furlong’s character to continue entering into it – we know what to expect. We understand this horror and we know the character’s fear. As a kid I remember the idea of the game being repulsive to me, and that one sequence really nailed the idea home for me. There is a definite difference between reality and fiction and although that line may seem thin at times, crossing that line takes true willpower, just as much as it takes to deny crossing it. Although, Brainscan really isn’t much of a “message” type of film there’s definitely some intelligence lying in there if you’re willing to give it some credence.

The performances in the film are solid by all. Edward Furlong, who may come off a bit whiny as I have heard it put, is really great in his role. Whether or not you’re a fan of his is something totally different entirely, but I’ve always thought of him as a very talented actor and it’s just a shame to see what has happened to him in recent years. He really could have been a memorable performer over the years had he just stayed away from the temptations of stardom. Such a shame. T. Rider Smith, who outside of this one film roll (he apparently has a few television credits to his name) I am not familiar with, but is incredibly creepy and often times hilarious as Trickster. Although I haven’t seen, at least to my knowledge, anything else by the man I have to admire his work here. He could have been Drop Dead Fred or even a cheap version of Freddy Krueger (well, he almost is) but overall I think Trickster truly lives as his own character. Not a monster without some dignity or morality, and by the end of the film, it’s questionable just how evil he really is. There’s a very large moral debate going on within the film surrounding just about everything, but that’s a whole other paragraph of guesstimates I’m probably not equipped to tackle. I will go out and say that if you’re expecting a clear cut choice in the film about video game violence, on either side of the debate, you’re bound to be disappointed. Brainscan, believe it or not, isn’t really that simplistic of a film.

The Conclusion
So, with everything said, I’m giving the film a very high four rating. There are still some things about it that knock it down from the very top position. Like the slightly dream-like take on technology and what was available then versus what is actually available now some ten or so years later. It does take you a bit out of the things, no matter how much fun it is. So, regardless, I hope someone out there stumbles upon it one of these days due to my hype and they enjoy it as much as I do, because if there’s one American horror of the 90s still deserving some attention, I’d say Brainscan is it.

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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