Remember Edward Furlong? Yeah, the good John Connor. He’s in this movie. So is Skeletor, Frank Langella. Today, we’re going to look at 1994’s Brainscan!
Oh, and it also looks like Daniel Craig also plays a scary guy with a stretched out face!
In the 90s, technology was flooding our everyday lives. Computers with the interwebs and the lightning fast 14:4 modems that delivered to us super high contrast colored websites and flying toasters. It was only fair to assume it was going to filter into our movies. Once in the movies, naturally, it was time for it to take over horror, sci-fi, and horscirorfi.
Movies like The Lawnmower Man, and Johnny Mnemonic, and Strange Days… Wait, Strange Days was one of those movies, right? What about Tek War? That was one too, yeah? Hackers! That was one!
Oh whatever. My point is there were all sorts of movies like this that tried to infuse ideas from that brand new scary thing that was happening to all of us – we were playing more video games and getting connected through Alta Vista sites and doing some virtual reality shit. It was neat, and fascinating, and scary as shit! Hollywood took advantage of this and churned this stuff out.
But what, exactly, is Brainscan about? According to the back of the box: “Horror films and computer games fascinate teenager Michael (Edward Furlong), and a CD-ROM that portrays murder from the killer’s point of view combines these interests. The first time Michael plays it, he kills a stranger and cuts off a foot, thinking the events take place in virtual reality. But the next day Michael finds a foot in his refrigerator, and cyber-ghoul Trickster (T. Ryder Smith) emerges from the program and forces him to keep playing — and to continue committing violent crimes.”
That’s a fairly solid premise. This might just work out well for me.
The movie opens with a sweaty Michael having a nightmare about an accident he had when he was a kid. It appears his mom died in this accident and his knee got totally grossified and basically was needed to be recreated. He gets woken up by a call from his buddy who is seemingly a total turd. This buddy tells him about this new game, Brainscan, that will give him control over the environment in an interactive CD-ROM sort of way. He starts to zone out when he sees the neighbor girl taking off her top. Like a total creeper (and perfectly normal teenage boy), he decides to check her out with the zoom on his camera. Thankfully, she’s kind enough to turn around so we can get a shot of her ta tas, but it’s barely good enough to overcome the crazy ass mom jeans she’s wearing.
Oh the 90s, gotta love ’em.
Right off the top, what I like about this movie is the fact that everything in Michael’s home is all sorts of awesome, but he also has a computer that controls his phone and dials for him and is just generally way more capable than any other computer of the time. He’s also seemingly living alone? That’s cool. But the best thing is the score by George S. Clinton. It’s got a marvelous late 80s/early 90s deep sound and very atmospheric. I also like it when he tells his principal, when he’s getting bitched out about a horror movie he’s showing to his movie club, that he doesn’t think erections rape people, but people rape people. Oddly enough, I never really liked John Connor in Terminator 2, but here, I like Michael. Yeah, he is constantly video taping the girl next door. Yeah, he’s a bit strange. But he seemingly is a not totally unlikable character. Movie, we are off to a great start!
After getting the skinny about Brainscan from his dopey friend, he did call the number to order it. While on the call, he starts to have what appears to be a fit as if he’s getting electrocuted. The guy at the Brainscan headquarters tells him they will send a package and it’s been decided he will play a particular level. The next day he gets a package from Brainscan and decides to give it a shot. He puts his phone on the do not disturb, but his cute little neighbor girl is trying to call him to invite him to her party going on at her place.
He puts the game on and these flashes “program him” to be a killer. We see everything he’s seeing from the killer’s point of view. He gets coached through this world and enters a home. He travels upstairs in the house with a knife and kills a man in his bed. The man struggles around his bedroom with the knife sticking out of his back while the coach who gives him his instructions laughs. Using the same knife he saws off the man’s foot. When the game is done, he wakes up thinking he’s just played one of the best games he’s ever played.
He tells his buddy about the game, but says he doesn’t want to let him borrow it until he plays it a few more times, but when he tries to play it that day after school, the game doesn’t work. He decides to go over and talk to Kimberly, the girl he likes that lives next door. While he waits for her to come downstairs, her parents turn on the TV and he sees a news story about the man he saw killed while he played the game the night before. He understandably freaks the fuck out. He runs back home and turns on the news to hear that the foot has gone missing. When he goes to the crime scene, he runs afoul of Frank Langella who is in charge of the scene.
He goes home to find the foot in his fridge. He gets a call from Brainscan and he wants answers, but is met by the “Trickster” – a sort of mascot of the Brainscan game. He’s told he knows exactly what he’s done and says he will take responsibility for it because he was in charge of the game. Now, Trickster really is a jokester. He’s kind of like Loki from the Marvel movies if he got trapped in a burning house and it caused his face to get all fucked up. He’s actually a better Riddler than the one in Batman Forever come to think of it. Well, if he decided to dress like Two Face.
Trickster tells Michael there was a witness and he needs to play disc two to rid him of this potential danger to his freedom. Michael realizes he’s totally fucked at this point. He goes to the woods to bury the foot, but a guy’s dog steals the foot from his bag. The dog runs off and because of his messed up knee, he’s unable to catch him to get the foot back. When the dog comes back he begs the dog for the foot back in, admittedly, a pretty funny exchange.
Back at home, he tries to burn his clothes and rid himself of any evidence. His buddy comes over and annoys him about wanting to hang out and borrow Brainscan and is just generally being a shit. But it’s also Michael showing some strange behavior by being so fidgety and weird. Even when Kimberly comes over to give him the mail and his homework assignments, he’s not just normal awkward and nervous. He completely loses his shit when he sees the second disc for Brainscan in his mail.
Despite breaking the disc for the second part of Brainscan, he gets a phone call from Trickster. Trickster asks where the second disc is and is told the dis is broken, but Trickster has another one. Michael says he is going to play the disc for the police. Trickster doesn’t think that’s a good idea, but wishes him luck anyway. After he leaves, Michael records himself playing the second disc and finds out something did indeed happen. He plays back the recording and sees himself get out of his char when the game starts. When he goes to the freezer, he finds his friend’s necklace. When he calls his friend’s house, Frank Langella answers and we learn he’s killed his own friend.
Kimberly comes over to offer her condolences to Michael. She brings him a petition that his friend started to restart the horror club. Suddenly, this little tender scene of Michael learning that his friend Kyle was wanting to keep something important to Michael going and Kimberly trying to help Michael makes you realize this movie is really well done. The Michael character is compelling. Kimberly is sweet. Yeah, I am not sad to see his buddy go, but Kyle was a decent friend archetype. Add to that the Trickster and this movie is a nicely produce, and most importantly, interesting, movie that you enjoy watching. Hot damn, I am really liking this movie.
The Trickster returns and says that Michael has left a clue behind when he killed Kyle. So, yet again, Michael needs to play to clean up that mistake. While Trickster is trying to convince Michael to play a third disc, someone comes to the door. The Trickster warns that if Michael wants the game to truly be over, he should not answer the door. Michael, wanting to be rid of all this answers the door anyway. While Michael goes downstairs to talk to Frank Langella and his partner (the people at the door), Trickster relaxes in Michael’s room and watches some Three Stooges.
When Michael talks to Frank Langella, he’s told that Langella has been hearing a lot about Michael. They say he’s been described as frightening and a freak. Langella says he wants to find Kyle’s killer. They lean on Michael and say that if he is anything other than the class freak they will find out. They also find there are fresh ashes in the fireplace – when it is currently summer.
Trickster reveals the clue that was left behind when he killed Kyle was a footprint. Michael is promised there is no killing, just needing to remove the clue. Anything else will be Michael’s own doing. Michael agrees to play but this is also a time based mission. If he runs out of time while playing the disc, it’s “game over”.
Michael dreams that he and Kimberly have a hot fuck session unlike anything teenagers have ever done even in the 1990s. No for real, look:
This lovely dream turns into a nightmare when she turns into the first guy Michael killed. The next day, while he tries playing loud music to drown Kimberly out when she wants to talk to him about a story that was put in the school paper that falsified a statement from Michael, Langella goes into the house and picks up some of the ashes to be studied.
While Langella organizes a search and his partner dusts for prints, Michael goes to remove the evidence. However, Trickster calls Kyle’s home and warns Langella’s partner that there’s an intruder in the yard (Michael). When he hightails it out of there, he runs into the search party and is delayed returning to the game in time.
It should be pointed out that there has been a subtle clue happening to some future issues as the movie has progressed. Each time Michael plays Brainscan, the allotted time is decreased, and the amount of time he had left is less. The first time was an hour, and he returned with just over nine minutes to go before game over. The second time was 45 minutes, and he completed the game with just over seven minutes remaining. This time, it was only 30 minutes and he’s been delayed getting back.
On top of all that, he gets caught by principal, but he can’t radio Frank Langella successfully before bricks fall on him and allow for Michael to escape. The next time he gets cornered in a construction site for a new house, guys with rifles (no one was allowed to have any weapons I should add), are approached by Langella’s partner and he gets shot. This lets Michael escape during the whole mess. He gets back with a minute and a half. However, Kimberly saw him coming back home and despite Trickster congratulating him on a successful round, he said there is another witness to get rid of.
Instead of killing Kimberly, Michael decides he is going to turn himself in, but Trickster is having none of this plan. He tells Michael it’s his life or hers and he must choose. Meanwhile, Langella has the evidence that Michael’s fireplace had ashes that contained the blood type of the first murder victim.
That night, Michael plays the final round of Brainscan that w ill give him 15 minutes to kill Kimberly. He breaks into her house and takes some scissors upstairs. Outside, Frank Langella is roaming about. Michael goes into Kimberly’s room and locks her door and approaches her. Trickster tries to coach Michael into killing her, but Michael resists. When asked who he is, Trickster responds he’s Michael and has been all this time. Michael tries to kill the monster, but instead gets swallowed by him instead causing them to merge and causing Michael to become more like Trickster.
Kimberly begs for her life and tells him she loves him. Despite her begging for her life and admitting she knows he’s always been watching her from his window. Turns out she has done the same to him too. So she’s apparently a superfreak too and that’s pretty swell. He’s able to fight off Trickster, but Langella has been waiting for him outside the bedroom door. When he comes in he calls Michael a murderer, and straight up shoots him dead.
Michael wakes up from the first time he played Brainscan. He goes all Charles Foster Kane on his room after telling the game to go fuck itself. Kyle is still alive. Kyle says that the Brainscan game caused some kid in Texas to die. Michael decides to go after Kimberly at the party that happened ont hat first night. He finds Kimberly and they go off to talk in her room. He asks her out but she turns him down. She says she’ll think about it and he takes that as a win.
Fuck, that’s kinda depressing. At least she leaves him with a little kiss and he finds the pictures she took of him.
At school, Michael shows the principal Brainscan and says he wants to show the horror club. As the principal mulls it over and accepts, Trickster appears behind him at the desk and basically gives him a thumb’s up.
I guess that kinda means the game is doing its thing and turning people into killers. Even if that isn’t want’s going on, fuck you, that’s what I believe is going on.
This movie is a goddamn joy to watch. It’s got some cool ideas, likable characters and a couple twists along the way. It’s not overly gory all the way through and builds a lot of lovely atmosphere even as it is set in a picture perfect suburban area along a coastline.
The best thing, though, is how they built Edward Furlong’s Michael. There’s a classic element to him. What I mean by that is there have been many characters, heroes and villains alike, back in the golden age of horror who had quirks or little pieces of flavor in their backstories. For example, Michael has a limp based on his accident as a kid. It’s not terribly important as it doesn’t really cause anything to happen or not happen in the movie. He just has a limp. His mom died and he’s contemplated suicide. That’s not overly important either, but it builds sympathy for him. It also causes him to be a little weird and a little reclusive. It makes him a monster of a different kind. A monster of circumstance like so many of the classic monsters of that golden age. It’s nothing overly important to anything that happens in the movie, but it’s flavor.
And that flavor has certainly made this movie a sweet treat.