The October Project, Day 7: Brainscan (1994)

First off: this one was delayed by, well, a four-hour drive to a concert and a four-hour drive back. Plus, it’s Wednesday, which meant endless socializing over new comic books. Still, I said “per day”, not on day, and I am still in a good place to catch up. One more Coheed and Cambria concert under the belt, so, no complaints.

Anyway, now I’ve got the 90’s in for the month, and not the early 90s as I first suspected for some reason, which would’ve put it pretty close to the previous entry and thus kind of negated their separation. Ah, well.

Michael (Edward Furlong) is a big horror fan, which we know because he calls Fangoria “Fango”, as fans are wont to do (I’ve got a very large stack of them on a shelf in this very room, of course). He and his friend Kyle (James Marsh) discover an ad for a game called “Brainscan” in an issue (oddly, the infamous running-out-of-air-from-Total-Recall cover, which came out in 1990 with the movie–a years before Furlong even did T2). Because it purports to be the ultimate experience in grueling terror (wait, sorry, that’s Evil Dead), Michael decides to call the number in the ad, setting aside his…observations of neighbour Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves). Once it arrives in the mail–without his actual order–he finds himself thrust into the ultimate murder fantasy, with the horrifying realization that it may not include that “fantasy” part at all, only becoming more warped when the Trickster (T. Ryder Smith) comes out of his television.

Man, what a weird friggin’ movie. Seeing as it was my first viewing, this ended up reminding me of the (later) eXistenZ from David Cronenberg, but mostly just on the grounds of horror associations and virtual reality. Frank Langella plays a detective named Hayden who’s investigating the murders, and comes off as intensely creepy, in a weird way. Creepy in the sense that you could believe he’s investigating to cover up murders he performed himself, when mostly he’s just a cop pursuing a murderer.

Smith plays the Trickster in a weird fashion–something like Howie Mandel in Little Monsters, with an uncomfortable relationship with the protagonist considering his monstrous nature. Is he slapstick humourous? Dark and threatening? Somewhere inbetween? Hell, I don’t know, and I just watched the damned thing. Certainly, the humour isn’t an accident, but the whole thing is so bizarre–it doesn’t feel like hopscotch-type genre-switching, nor cleanly blurred lines between them, so much as a fine puree that comes out working but still feels peculiar.

It’s actually quite interesting to see how things are mixed in, though, as we have a principal pulling the “horror makes you an awful person” argument, but we also have the Trickster strongly implying negatives about Michael for the same, though with the twist of insisting that voyeurism is inferior to action (don’t try this at home, kids…?). The soundtrack is a fun mixture of industrial, metal, and hard rock, with Tad, Pitchshifter, White Zombie, the Butthole Surfers (on into their Electriclarryland phase, though), and Khanate-precursors OLD. Lots of Earache. The label, not the bodily problem.

There’s a slew of off-beat references adorning the set decoration, especially unbelievable amounts of Aerosmith advertising, in two different people’s bedrooms, on newspapers–I don’t know if bands do product placement, but certainly Aerosmith has been willing, from comic books to video games themselves. That aside, there’s also a poster for Pleased to Meet Me (the Replacements are always welcome!) and an out-of-focus-but-still-recognizable CD copy of Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest certainly feeling more appropriate).

Maybe all that makes sense–there’s perhaps the sense of a music video-era tone to it all. Not the editing and directing style of one (this has a lot of pretty normal shots, honestly), just the volume and flash. Michael’s room is ridiculous, and odd, with its centralized entertainment center, and his “Igor” phone system (you kind of have to see it).

It’s definitely a movie I’d have difficulty recommending to a lot of people–an appreciation for the low-budget, very strange, but not Lynch-strange, just “pet project” strange (though whose it would be, I’m not sure–perhaps Brian Owens, who doesn’t get Andrew Kevin Walker’s screen-writing credit, but the “original material” one). I might have held out for something more to indicate the gaming-state when Michael starts it up (a superimposition of the timer, for instance), but that’s a minor quibble. It’s a weird movie, but doesn’t much deviate from the horror-inflected “virtual reality” movies and setpieces (like the one in…whichever Nightmare sequel that was), but it also avoids feeling rote.

Caveat spectator, I guess?

Oh, and it was this cover, which Kyle even describes to Michael.

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