Saturday, January 26, 2019

Brain, The (1988)

... aka: La mente (The Mind)
... aka: Manipulations
... aka: Satanic Brain

Directed by:
Ed Hunt

Prior to achieving cult fame, actor David Gale was mostly a New York stage actor who'd only occasionally land a low budget film role, most notably one of the male leads in the bizarre but not particularly good proto-slasher SAVAGE WEEKEND (1979), which spent three years on the shelf and went through several titles changes before someone bothered to release it. When Gale wasn't on the stage, he primarily did soap operas to pay the bills and had guest sports or semi-recurring roles on nearly every single soap being filmed in the New York area, including The Edge of Night, The Search for Tomorrow, One Life to Live, Another World, The Secret Storm and Ryan's Hope. It wouldn't be until he landed the role of Dr. Carl Hill in Stuart Gordon's breakthrough hit Re-Animator (1985) that his career trajectory completely changed. Suddenly the press were proclaiming him the next big horror star and, as a big fan of the genre and an admirer of actors like Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, Gale more than happily pursued that.

But, as fate would have it, Gale wouldn't live to see any of that really come to fruition and passed away unexpectedly in 1991 right as he was starting to cement his place within the genre. During the brief window of time from the late 80s until his death, he did at least manage to appear in around half a dozen horror films, including reprising his role as Dr. Hill in the first Re-Animator sequel and playing bad guys in both SYNGENOR (1990) and The Guyver (1991). He also ended up in Canada playing yet another bad guy, and yet another mad doctor, in The Brain. In a 1991 interview with Gorezone Magazine, The Brain is described as the one movie the actor would just assume forget. He calls it "one of the worst experiences I've ever had" and goes on to elaborate that by the time he arrived on set "the morale was zilch," the shooting conditions "were horrible" and the director "had no vision whatsoever and barked his orders."

After her powder puff starts smoking, her teddy bear starts bleeding and things in her bedroom start moving around all on their own, high school girl Becky (Susannah Hoffmann) is attacked by both tentacles and clawed hands that burst out of her walls and TV set. When her mother comes to help, one of the tentacles wraps around her neck and starts strangling her. Becky attempts to cut it off with a pair of scissors only to discover her jabs have gone right into her mother, killing her. A giant brain then bursts out of her mirror, grabs her with its attached spinal cord and throws her out of the window. Did Becky go crazy and hallucinate these events before murdering her own mother and then taking her own life, or is the giant brain monster for real?

We then meet teenager Jim Majelewski (Tom Bresnahan), who's quite the little smart ass. Despite possessing "one of the highest I.Q.'s in [his] entire high school," Jim is channeling all of his energy and intellect into causing trouble. After getting caught blowing up the john with the old sodium-down-the-toilet trick, Jim's parents are dragged in for a conference where they're informed that Jim will be suspended and thus not graduate if something isn't done to curb his behavior right then and there. Mr. Woods (Kenneth McGregor), the principal, has the perfect guy lined up to help whip Jim into shape: a world-renowned psychologist and behavioral expert who has already supposedly helped countless teenagers. Perhaps he's the one to give Jim a much-needed attitude adjustment?

The shrink in question is Dr. Anthony Blake (Gale), who runs the Psychological Research Institute and is a local celebrity due to hosting a popular public access show called "Independent Thinkers," which he's hoping to soon take to a nationwide audience. And as Jim's mother points out, "Dr. Blake wouldn't be on TV if he wasn't any good!" Once Jim shows up at the institute he's greeted to zombie-like people shuffling through the corridors, a crazy muttering something about aliens and Blake's unfriendly assistant Varna (George Buza), who takes him back to Blake's lab where nurse Vivian (Christine Kossak) attaches electrodes to his head. That information is then fed right to a, uh, giant, living brain that Blake keeps in a vat of green liquid.

The brain is also the mastermind behind the TV show and is transmitting hypnotic waves over the air to make people go crazy and kill. Resisting the brain's hypnotic waves causes hallucinations, which is precisely what happens to Jim when he imagines the nurse coming out of a TV monitor topless and the brain heading toward him. Jim proves to be too smart and strong willed to be brainwashed so easily and angrily storms out. And just in time to miss the bit when the giant brain leaps on the nurse, devours her whole and then grows in size to an even larger brain with eyes and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. However, even linking up with brain the one time is enough to make Jim suffer some of the side effects.

On his drive back home, hallucinations cause him to flip his car and almost get blown up in the process. He has more hallucinations that cause him to lose it at a burger joint until Blake's assistant comes in with a syringe, injects him with a sedative and drags him back to the institute. That doesn't sit too well with Jim's sweet, virginal ("I'm not gonna do it till I get to college!") girlfriend Janet (Cyndy Preston), who decides to break into the place to bust him out. From then on out, Jim and Janet are implicated in several killings and must run from the cops, while we get to see just what effect Independent Thinking is having on its viewers, like making a woman to cut her husband in half with a chainsaw. Eventually Jim must crash the debut nationwide showing of Blake's show before it causes more damage on a global scale. "Surrender. Join the wave of the future."

While the premise is undeniably ridiculous, this never quite gets there explaining just what's going on (we're basically left to assume some kind of attempted alien takeover) and the running-up-and-down-stairwells-100-times finale could have been better, this is still good cheesy entertainment. One of the most criticized aspects is the design of the brain monster. But I ask you, is it even possible to design a giant brain and it NOT look just a little bit silly? Of course not! I actually thought they did a pretty good job on it all things considered. There's the occasional bit of social commentary / satire and the story at least contains some interesting ideas about popular entertainment being used to brainwash / control the masses, though none of that is satisfactorily fleshed out.

While Gale is the biggest draw for horror fans, this isn't the best showcase for his talents, he's often shoved to the side and only appears sporadically. Likewise, Preston is OK but not used to the best of her abilities and can be seen to much better effect in the same year's Pin. However, this does prove to be a good showcase for the male lead, who's in nearly every scene and somehow manages to be appealing despite being handed a potentially unlikable / abrasive character. Most of the other smaller roles are amateurishly played, though the "actors" don't get enough screen time or dialogue to do any real damage. As long as you don't go in expecting Cronenberg, there's plenty to enjoy here. And despite Gale having a terrible time making this, and Gorezone insisting it was a career low for the actor, this isn't even close to the worst film - horror or otherwise - that he appeared in.

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