Brainscan Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Flynn
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker
1994, 96 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 28th, 2018
Edward Furlong as Michael
Frank Langella as Det. Hayden
T. Ryder Smith as Trickster
Amy Hargreaves as Kimberly
Jamie Marsh as Kyle
Victor Ertmanis as Martin
David Hemblen as Dr. Fromberg
Vlasta Vrana as Frank
Murder is fun. Blood and guts are cool. Graphic violence can be hilarious, especially when it looks fake. As long as it’s all make believe, these opinions hold true. Michael is a typical high school misfit, with few friends, low self-esteem and a love of horror movies. His best friend Kyle turns him on to a new interactive computer game called Brainscan and Michael decides to try it out. The game promises to be the most intense experience yet, but Michael has played them all before and remains skeptical. He has a crush on Kimberly, the girl next door, but is too shy to act on it and when she throws a party he decides to play this new game alone instead. This first person player finds Michael killing a random stranger and taking his foot as a souvenir. The game is in fact impressive and satisfying, but the next day Michael is shocked to see local news reports of an identical grisly murder in his neighborhood.
Could this be real? The game’s emcee, Trickster, pays Michael a visit and encourages him to keep playing. It seems there was a witness to the crime that must be dealt with. The idea that this may be real is a turn off, but Trickster convinces Michael to continue. Soon there are additional deaths in the area and Detective Hayden takes on the case, looking for leads and suspects. He begins playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Michael, trying to determine what the boy knows, but Trickster is playing his own game. Michael is in over his head and has no choice but to continue playing the game if he wants to stay out of jail. The police are closing in – can Michael stay afloat long enough to see this through or will he be arrested for crimes he may or may not have committed?
Brainscan is a fresh spin on an old story now mixed with the advent of interactive computer games. Written by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), based on a story by Brian Owens (Happy Hell Night), and directed by John Flynn (Rolling Thunder), the movie focuses on the isolation of a boy yearning for acceptance yet trapped by technology. He falls prey to the manipulations of a game unlike any he has played before with stakes higher than he can imagine. The script moves at a swift pace with increasing pressure as it builds to a suspenseful conclusion. Walker loads the ending with a twist that is at first clever, but feels like a cheat – albeit one that works in context thanks to Flynn’s capable direction. I was originally turned off by this ending, but over the years it has grown on me.
Edward Furlong (Pecker) stars as Michael, the sensitive kid infatuated with all things horror. Furlong’s star was on the rise in the wake of Terminator 2 and this was one of his first leading roles in which he carries the picture from start to finish. He is definitely up to the challenge and keeps the audience on his side, even when forced to make tough decisions. Furlong is likeable in the role and brings a sense of realism to the character. Frank Langella (Dracula) co-stars as Det. Hayden, Michael’s antagonist. He is not a villain, far from it actually, but rather represents the threat of consequences for one’s actions. Hayden is at first dismissive of Michael before growing interested in him and remains dedicated to his pursuit of the criminal. Langella infuses the part with an intimidating presence as only he can. He and Michael share little screen time, but have great chemistry. The film’s bid to start a franchise comes courtesy of Trickster, a rock n’ roll demon who comes off as your trusted friend to the end. Actor T. Ryder Smith (Birth) disappears into the role and is clearly having fun with its eccentricities, but sadly Trickster failed to catch on with audiences and this remains his only outing.
By 1994, computer graphics were all the rage in Hollywood following the tremendous work seen the year before in Jurassic Park. Virtual reality was a popular subject in films like The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity and visual effects like morphing became quite popular too. Brainscan capitalizes on the computer games that were starting to take off featuring first person POV adventures and mixes in the murder mystery angle. By 2018, the film should feel incredibly dated, but it holds up surprisingly well. A lot of the script elements that seemed cutting edge are commonplace today, including voice commands to your computer and virtual reality gaming. Michael even has one of the first widescreen TVs in his room. The movie succeeds in its ambitions; the effort is there and the script remains solid even with some of the genre trappings. Where it really succeeds is in knowing its limitations and never tries to be more than just a fun entry to the world of horror. Game on.
Video and Audio:
Brainscan arrives on Blu-ray with a High-Definition transfer that really shines. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture looks terrific. Colors really pop and black levels are rich and deep. Flesh tones appear natural throughout and there is plenty of small-object detail.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track delivers a solid mix with a surprisingly full level of music and effects tracks. Dialogue is always understandable and free from any hiss or distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Michael Felsher (Red Shirt Pictures) moderates an audio commentary with Tara Georges Flynn, son and assistant to the director, the late John Flynn. This conversational track is engaging and covers a lot of ground, as Flynn spent a lot of time on his father’s sets. Brainscan marked the first time he worked in an official capacity and he has plenty of production stories to share. Felsher asks interesting questions and prompts Flynn for anecdotes and wisely stays out of the way listening to the answer and steering the conversation accordingly.
A Virtual Debut (14 minutes) finds screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker discussing his early work, how the script for Brainscan came to be and the differences from page to screen. He has gone on to enjoy much greater success in the industry, but still has affection for this project that started his career.
Actor T. Ryder Smith has a lot to say about his character in Talking with Trickster (14 minutes). Known primarily as a New York stage actor, he reflects on how he got the role, the evolution of Trickster’s appearance and what it was like working under the makeup. He has nothing but nice things to say about the director and his co-star Eddie Furlong. The segment also includes some fun behind-the-scenes material shot during production.
Make-up artists Steve Johnson, Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson share tales of the effects work conceived in Merging Realities (19 minutes). They discuss the design of Trickster before moving onto the show-stopping yet unused “abomination gag” and why it was ultimately cut. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of this effect on set and it is a shame it was removed from the final edit. Johnson shares a funny tale involving border crossing and gives his thoughts on digital vs. practical effects work. This is another fun visit to the make-up chair and fans will be happy to see the work on display.
Musical Virtuosity (11 minutes) catches up with composer George S. Clinton, a highly successful musician who got his start scoring features with Brainscan. He discusses his approach to the material and how he works with directors. Like Walker before him, Clinton has gone onto greater projects, but holds a soft spot for this film.
Making movies is a lot of work but comes with a lot of down time for the actors. Trickin’ with Trickster (5 minutes) is a vintage behind-the-scenes look at some of the goofiness enjoyed by Furlong and Trickster one day during production.
The previously mentioned “abomination gag” is presented here as a roughly assembled deleted scene (2 minutes). It is easy to see why the scene was cut, as it doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the picture, but it’s a shame all that work was lost in the edit.
Included in the make-up featurette are clips from the set of an unused effect. Here we get an unedited look at the footage (8 minutes) of the artists hard at work.
A red band teaser trailer, the original theatrical trailer and a TV spot are all included here as a look at the movie’s marketing campaign.
A behind-the-scenes photo gallery shows off some f/x work and images of Trickster. The gallery plays as a silent slide show (1 minute).
A still gallery offers a look at poster art (foreign and domestic), a Japanese press book and international lobby cards presented as a silent slide show (2 minutes).
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