The Brain Machine (1977)

I’m going out on a limb for this week’s B-Movie Enema.  I’ve never heard of this movie, The Brain Machine, nor can I find many pictures of it aside from this thing to the left that doesn’t look anything like what the description tells me this movie is about.

So, what is this movie?  Well, it’s from 1977, and we know from things like Star Wars and Geoff Arbuckle, awesome things happened in 1977.  However, from the pictures I saw from this movie, it kind of looks like I might be in for a long day watching this movie.

First, it looks like a made-for-television flick.  That means it’s going to be slow paced and/or dumb.  Second, James Best, of Dukes of Hazzard fame, is in it.  He’s not exactly had the best history with movies.  Finally, this movie happened about 6 years after another popular movie (based on a book) from Michael Crichton called The Andromeda Strain.  This was a really good movie, but high on science, lab sets, and deliberate pacing.  Sci-fi movies back then were not entirely the rip-roaring action flicks they are today.  Look at the sci-fi of the 50s through the late 60s.  These were all adventurous flights through space and speaking in a lot of techno/science jargon.  Then the 70s took it a little further by using social commentary or real world ideas to create the movies’ worlds (see Soylent Green or Zardoz or Logan’s Run or Silent Running).  Then there were the overly sciency movies like The Andromeda Strain.  I have a feeling The Brain Machine will fall into the latter.  This is very unlikely to be inspired by Star Wars like all the sci-fi movies have been since.

So what’s up with this movie?  According to the 50-pack “Sci-Fi Classics” DVD set, “Four people with distinctly different backgrounds all volunteer for an experiment involving mind altering and manipulation.  The volunteers all gather at a secret laboratory and are subject to a series of procedures that border on torture, including shock therapy and psychological torture. The final portion of the procedure involves the test subjects to be exposed to an experimental device that alters the participants’ minds through the exposure of their inner most fears and darkest secrets.”

Not exactly sure how that description fits in with the H.R. Giger style box art I found for the image above, but meh…  Let’s hope for the best on this one, guys and gals…

Science, industry, and technology!  Inside, men and women at work adjusting and building brain machines and  they really, really work.

Right off the top, the movie is presented to us by Power and Communications, Inc.  I think this may have been made by a utilities provider.  I do also see that not only James Best, but Gerald McRaney is in this.  I believe he played Major Payne or American Dad or something. No, wait.  He was American Payne. Anyway, we’re slowly taken to a 70s style office building where a guy and a woman talk about walking up and down steps.  There’s cheap knockoff Planet of the Apes music.  This is about as exciting as I expected.

So a guy calls a General Guy and says someone has broken into a top secret part of the office and stole a couple files – one of which is the brain machine file.  They seem to know who it is that did it, but we’re not given much other than a name I can’t spell.  The two people from the beginning who had the thrilling conversation about walking up and down stairs are back and they are talking about their four subjects and who they are for the brain machine experiment.

I’m already not sure what’s going on here, but let’s see if I can break it down…

There’s a brain machine with four test subjects of varying lifestyles.  There’s a General Guy who runs it…?  There’s another guy who is General Guy’s Best Friend who goes to pick him up from the airport to give him a sitrep (for those of you who aren’t as cool as me, that means “situation report”), and there’s a scientist who maybe created the brain machine who is running away and probably trying to blow a whistle or something.  That’s about all I know.

Oh…  wait.  Whenever General Guy was in his plane, the shot seemed to catch this floppy cover that is probably there to shade the window to shoot the actors better.  Don’t do that shit, movie!

I don’t have time for your shitty cinematography, movie.

Once on the ground, the General Guy asks if there are enough men to stop the scientist running away with the brain machine files.  He was assured there were.  However, there are two old guys with rifles and one of them gets jumped by the scientist and killed in the resulting tussle.  When Scientist Man runs away, he LEAVES BEHIND THE FUCKING FILES HE TRIED TO FLEE WITH.  Oh guys…  Guys, this is a rough one and we’re only ten minutes in.

Scientist Man escapes from another goon once he gets into town.  The guys at the brain machine center finds the briefcase that had all the files in it.  They say the right team is on Scientist Man’s tail, which doesn’t seem too fucking likely since he already killed one guy and throat punched another with a boat oar.  They are batting a stellar .000.

Now, aside from American Payne and James Best, this movie is loaded with bad actors.  A bunch of old guys talking over the phone about brain machines, being a senator, being scientists, and mucking with brains to make sure they don’t attack America.  And then Scientist Man, as he writes a letter to Senator Man about the brain machine gets found and killed by the goons.  More phone calls take place and now about 13 minutes of the 17 minutes at this point have taken place via phones or intercoms and I’m losing my motherfucking mind over here.

Yeah, man.  I made the same face when I saw yet another phone conversation scene.

Finally, we get to see some brain machine happenings.  Thankfully, we’re shown the entire seminar the people have to attend before they get brain machined.  But it gets interrupted by a phone call the main guy has to go and take.  Motherfucker.  If I wanted to overhear a bunch of phone calls, I’d just go to my local Walmart and walk around and hear all the bullshit phone calls happening while people shop.

Okay.  So there are four people selected – Rev. James Best, American Payne, Mustache Man, and Cute Girl.  They are told they have to tell the complete and utter truth while doing the experiment.  That makes Cute Girl nervous as she’s afraid this will give the experiment an X rating.  She’s cute and has some life to her that the rest of this turd doesn’t.  I’ll give her that.

Yet, I can’t help but think this is a bit sketchy, right?  They picked four people who have to tell the truth no matter what.  They are lured by a promise of a lucrative payday for participating.  They are all selected because they have no immediate family.  All of this is super sketch.  Okay, the money is how people get into crazy science tests, sure.  Telling the truth… Okay.  I guess that makes sense.  This whole thing about having no immediate family?  And THAT’S why they got selected?  Really?  They say it’s to prevent any really embarrassing or super confidential info from leaking to others or from others, but c’mon, man…  I would kinda think this is something that just a few years post Watergate would be questioned by the participants.  Even the reverend (Best) would probably raise his hand and ask why that was so important.

Okay, so people get brain machined and doing some word associations.  James Best is giving some weird responses.  Like he sees a girl in a picture looking at a lamp, and he says “ugly” and whenever he sees something that has to do with death (a skull, or a cemetery) he says “woman”.  So he’s got some issues.  The lady scientist leaves to get the other guy and points out that he’s not as comfortable with her as he is with another male.

“Did I shit myself or is the boom mic in frame?”

We cut away to General Guy’s house and get a sweet shot of a boom mic and it stays there for several cut back shots and it’s goddamn amazing that this movie made by a utilities company was made so shoddily.  I’m so blocked by the idea of the fucked up boom mic shot that I completely missed a conversation about weapons and choosing between a gun or a knife or some such shit.

So we cut back to the lab and James Best is really messed up.  He’s got some strange shit going on with him as he keeps saying he’s out of step, he relates women to death, etc.  He tries to get out of the experiment, but the scientist says he is an excellent subject and keeps him in the program.

Now I have to wonder, who is the bad guy here?  The reverend is weird, but not overtly a bad guy.  None of the other subjects have been seen yet getting brain machined, so I can only assume they are all on the level, except for Mustache Man who wants money.  The General seems none too good, but I don’t see him doing anything bad other than getting the one guy killed to protect the brain machine.  Okay, that’s bad, but he’s doing nothing truly “evil”.  A guy sneaks into Cute Girl’s room and tries to unbutton her pajamas and feel her  up while she was sleeping.  That guy seems like a bad guy, and it seems like he may be one of the other people, but the scientists just think she’s had a nightmare.  I will suspect that the creeper was James Best, but I don’t know.  I hardly care to be honest.

Mustache Man is nearly kicked out of the program because he told some small lies about his past of being a troublemaker.  He’s kept in but is pressed upon again that he must be truthful.  Cute Girl is starting to crack a little and swears she didn’t have a nightmare when she got felt up.  Mustache Man says some crude shit to her about how she wouldn’t be upset if he was in her room and he wouldn’t just stop at touching.  I guess he’d be looking too.  And maybe smelling too.

Goddammit!  More boom mic!!!  I don’t have time for your bullshit, movie!

I had to take a break to eat lunch and separate myself from this movie for a bit.  I started thinking about other movies I’d rather watch than this.  You know what landed first?  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  That movie is utterly rad.  You have the crew of the Enterprise taking on an old foe.  We get to learn a marvelous Klingon proverb.  Spock dies.  Kirk learns how to lose in the no-win scenario that will happen from time to time when you are out there in space.  It’s great.  It’s fourteen billion times better than The Brain Machine.

And it’s understandable why.  I love Wrath of Khan.  I hate The Brain Machine.  I hate to admit it, but next week is no better and I’m not looking forward to that at all.  I have a feeling I will be comparing next week’s movie to another for the entirety of the review too.

Just to check in for the movie I’m supposed to be watching right now, we’re halfway into the movie and no crazy brain shit has happened.  There’s talk of the past, sad stuff, one scientist likes the lady scientist, and so on.  There are shenanigans from the General Guy’s house where they are messing with the lab.  Why?  Beats me.  It’s something that happens.  I will say we CONSTANTLY are shown the outside of the General Guy’s lavish home.  I know it is establishing where the people who work for General Guy are that mess with the lab, but Jeebus, we get the below shot like six times when the movie cuts back and forth from one location to the other.

We get it…  The guys in the General Guy’s home is messing with the experiments.  We don’t need to see the establishing shot so many times!  Also, isn’t it kinda odd that an Army General lives in this kind of house?

You know another movie I like?

This is how I learned about sex.  Women have four sex caverns inside them, right?

Oh never mind.  I suppose I should watch this movie.  Alright, so one of the scientists tells our lab rats about the experiment.  Reverend Best decides he doesn’t want to go into the machine because he doesn’t want to be without his collar, but they make an exception for him.  That seems totally useless to the whole of the plot, doesn’t it?  I mean yes, it’s established the Reverend is a bit weird and I’m betting he’s the one who felt up Cute Girl, but we already know he’s got issues, why add this and waste our time?  Are we about to find out that the Reverend’s collar is what holding his skin onto his body?  If so, that would be fucking amazing.

For the next 37 minutes, the goons in General Guy’s house check ALL their cameras and computers and equipment as the lab rats get hooked up to literal lawn chairs and get subjugated to their nightmares and fears.  Cute Girl sees what appears to be her father or grandfather who killed himself or something.  She tells American Payne all about this man her grandpa told her about when she was little or something.  They look at Mustache Man and he gets some Vietnam flashbacks.  The computer spots that Cute Girl is lying about not being previously married.  Why is this a big deal?  Beats the fuck out of me, but I guess it is?  She starts blubbering about a baby and her father or something.

OH…  Her “daddy” impregnated her and she killed her own baby and he killed himself over it.

Remember the movie Chinatown?  That’s another good one where a woman is raped by her father and has a baby.  Remember when Jack Nicholson was getting the truth from Faye Dunaway and she kept saying “My sister!  My daughter!  My sister!  My daughter!  She’s my sister and my daughter!”  That was some epic shit.  The Brain Machine is just like Chinatown.

If Chinatown had an inbred child and about 30 missing chromosomes.

Thanks to the intervention from General Guy’s goons, the four subjects and the scientist lady are subjugated to an out of control brain machine.  The other scientists working on the project know it’s not them causing the problems so there has to be something else going on and they aren’t happy about it.

I am legit jealous she got to take a necktie exit and I didn’t.

Next up Reverend Best is shown having some sort of affair with some woman, likely a harlot because she was a redhead and sultry looking.  It also showed he was (Shock! Surprise!) the one who gave Cute Girl the hands-on treatment if you catch my drift.  Due to his freak out, he got the others trapped in the brain machine room.  Cute Girl hangs herself.  I mean straight offs herself because of all this shit that happened.  That pisses off American Payne and, frankly, me too.  She did nothing wrong and she is the casualty of the film.  I don’t get why, but whatever, kill the young, pretty girl.

The Army (or whoever), comes in and locks the scientists into the computer room.  General Guy gets dressed in his finest fascist formal wear and heads over to the lab.  Mustache Man begins to crack as he starts to think Reverend Best is some guy from Vietnam.  Mustache Man kills Reverend Best and knocks out lady scientist who nearly gets crushed by the walls that are closing in on the brain machine room.  American Payne is able to knock out Mustache Man (I think he actually kills him, but whatever) and he and lady scientist lady attempt to escape through the service hatch.  When the two other scientists come to help, they all get trapped and the brain machine room explodes.  When the head of the entire project asks General Guy how he plans to answer for this since it won’t be easy to cover up, the head honcho gets killed.

The end of the movie shows a news broadcast saying an accident at a lab killed all our main people in the movie, so I guess General Guy wins.

What a bummer, man.  I just spent 80 minutes watching a boring movie about people cooped up in a lab and experimented on by having them answer questions truthfully.  Then, we learn the machine capable of torturing them is being remote controlled by some seedy Army General Guy.  Then everyone dies.  Fuck, man.  This was pretty bleak.

I guess the question I had earlier about who the bad guy was can be best answered by saying the General Guy was the main villain.  They all had their issues.  Except American Payne.  He just didn’t believe he would die.  The girl killed a baby.  The reverend was an adulterer and a creep.  The other guy was crazy from Vietnam.  They were all within some acceptable range of being normal people with bad pasts.  Yes, you read me correctly, I said the reverend guy who snuck into Cute Girl’s room and felt her up while she slept was normal.  I mean that they all seemed to have normal problems in context of what the real world is like.  Come on…  Who hasn’t felt someone up while they slept, right?

You know it’s true, American Payne.  You know it’s true.

No, General Guy was some bad news.  He pushed these people to literal death and he had scary bad guy eyes.  He was menacing by presence, I guess?  He didn’t do anything but had a bunch of lackeys who did do stuff.  Plus, he had the brain machine that could drive people crazy or kill them.  He’s one of those “won’t get my hands dirty but be completely to blame for everything” kind of guys.

Doesn’t matter what I say, though.  This movie suuuuuuucked.

Also, fuck that DVD cover I posted at the start of the article.  That looks nothing like what this movie was and it makes me even more angry every time I look at it.  Bastards.

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