From the Top of the Charts To a Space In Our Hearts

Alright, let's review yet again...
The year is 1994. Freddy is dead, Jason is in hell, and Leatherface can't even upstage McConaughey. The last Age of Movie Monsters was dying.
The Leprechaun and Candyman were living-dead proof that a return to gothic horror was a bit of a boring digression.
Coppola's followup to Bram Stoker's Dracula, (titled Van Helsing) was kaput, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein wasn't exactly franchise material.
All of this would eventually result in cinematic icons stumbling around in the darkness (Pinhead in space, Jason in space, Michael in some kinda cult, Freddy at home) and a string of wimpy slasher fare (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend).
But in a year when the mainstream was actually producing exciting and interesting material, what would become of the punks and maniacs who once led us claws-first out of the mundane? Better question is: was there room left for someone new?

It's interactive, dude! You're in the game, man!

I remember the commercials for Brainscan around that time, and they intrigued me (but so did all horror) - due in some part to the idea that any movie with John Connor must be as violent and intense as T2. Additionally, the film had a creepily sleek (or sleekly creepy) look to it, and a premise that seemed unsettlingly mind-bending (Spoiler: it's not).
But all this was secondary to the very public partnership between the movie and Fangoria Magazine. While the periodical featured an onset cover story before its release, the magazine itself actually plays into the plot of the film - providing plenty of publicity stills of the characters kicking back and thumbing through back issues.

Not since The Wizard had there been such a joyous unity of my real-life interests and the realm of fiction.

I went to the theater the week after it came out... and saw PCU with David Spade and Jeremy Piven. There was to be no Brainscan on the big screen. Or on videotape or cable for that matter (which, thinking on it now, seem like the better 'n best venues for such an opus).

Cut to 24 years later when Jess and I spot the DVD for sale at Big Lots as part of a 4-pack titled Thrills & Chills Collection Vol. 3, which also includes The Craft, Fright Night, and something from 1989 called Monster High (which is so bad, it's bad). It sits on our shelf for a few months, and then on May 20 of this year, decades of mild curiosity is satisfied - and then some.

I don't think erections rape people. People rape people.

Not quite the Total Recall/Nightmare on Elm Street crossover I was expecting - largely due to its lack of action and gore. Still, though, there are remedial shades of Videodrome, Altered States, Flatliners, Rear Window, and others of a similar ilk that came before it (and a whole lot that came after).

So, to the uninitiated, here's what it is:
Edward Furlong plays Michael, a high-schooler who apparently lives alone in a beachfront mansion due to his mother's death and father's unexplained absence. He spends all of his time in his sprawling attic bedroom decorated with horror movie posters, talking on his futuristic computer/speakerphone with his friend Kyle, and spying on The Girl Next Door, Kimberly.
During a phone conversation, Kyle informs Michael of a new computer game he saw an ad for in (wait for it) Fangoria, titled 'Brainscan.' The game (confined to CD-ROM) puts the player in a first person hypnosis as they perform grisly acts such as home invasion, murder, and mutilation. And so we watch from Michael's virtual POV as he commits the simulated act of killing a man in his bed as he sleeps and severing his foot as a souvenir.
The next day, Michael goes to Kimberly's house and is greeted by her parents in one of the most bizarrely acted scenes ever put on film. Waiting in their living room for Kimberly, Michael witnesses news footage on the TV of the 'fictional' murder he committed, which turns out to be very real.
Sure enough, in Michael's very own attic/bedroom refrigerator in the severed foot of his victim. At this moment, his before-its-time 16x9 computer/TV screen spews forth the game's emcee/mascot, Trickster - out of 2D and into reality as a flesh and bone jester of sinister suggestion.
Trickster acts as the devil on Michael's shoulder - assuring him that what he's gotten himself into is merely a natural, humanistic thrill, and proceeds to find sneaky ways to encourage Michael to keep playing the game.
As Michael investigates his own supposed mayhem by snooping around the real life crime scenes, he begins to gain the attention of Detective Hayden (Frank Langella). What plays out is the predictable balancing act of police interference/dispensabilty of supporting players/persistent persuasion from the antagonist. 
Eddie Furlong and Frank Langella are excellent as Eddie Furlong and Frank Langella, respectively.
Jaime Marsh as Kyle is a composite of Bill, Ted, Pauly Shore, a Mountain Dew commercial, and an Alice In Chains video. In his small amount of screen time, he adds a much needed spoonful of personality to the picture, while simultaneously coming dangerously close to sinking the entire movie into farce. It's a delicate barometer, but it's portioned out expertly.
Amy Hargreaves's role as Kimberly mostly has her floating around her bedroom in her underwear looking sullen and worried about whatever - leaving all her scenes to play out like the darkest and dirtiest Clarissa Explains It All episode that never aired.
Obviously, the true standout performance (and character) in the film comes from T. Ryder Smith (who you probably remember from... nothing) as The Trickster.

The 90s needed a 90s adversary: disaffected, desensitized, tech savvy, and a huge Primus fan. As a very old fashioned Lucifer-type 'frenemy' who ends up being a little less Freddy and little more Pinhead (with a bit of the Joker and a lot of Tyler Durden), Smith lets his makeup and costume do most of the showboating while his performance is surreptitiously (and refreshingly) restrained.
Sure, there are outlandish outbursts of his 'quirks' (breaking his own fingers, poking out his own eyes, snacking on what appears to be a platter of hotdogs, pickles, bananas, and mustard), but it's all underscored with a dry wit and perverse delivery: "No country/western music, please. Every man has his limits."

If anyone's still scratching their heads over the record-breaking success of the recent screen adaptation of Stephen King's It, there's very little doubt that there is a remarkable thirst for the return of 'The Villain' in film. The Movie Monster. The enemy with charisma that you can't find in most horror cinema of the past 20 years. Brainscan, for all the other important stuff it lacks, at least has that in spades.
So like most monster movies, you wait out the plot crap in between the good stuff, but he's certainly one monster that earns his scenes - which are the best.

The real question is are you a winner or a loser?

If there is one outstanding reason to celebrate the movie as a whole, it's that it captures its time period with an almost sparkling expertise. I'd personally place it up next to Clueless, Speed, Reality Bites, and Romeo + Juliet as one of the most significant movies from the 1990s about the 1990s. With its controversial leading actor, all the hair & fashion, its soundtrack littered with White Zombie, Mudhoney, and Butthole Surfers, it almost seems like a put-on. Every teen bedroom in the movie prominently displays a poster for Aerosmith's Get a Grip album. Even the premise itself - ensconced in magazines and disc drives - could not be from any other time, before or after.
Just look at this extra:

Had this been a contemporary movie about the 90s and it featured a costume like this, I woulda said No way, that's way too over the top. But, there you have it.

But what is timeless and universal about the film is its themes and settings and characters; while there's no short list of 'the boy and his pet creature' stories to choose from, I wholeheartedly encourage anyone out there to double-feature this flick with Little Monsters. I could explain why (though I think the writing's already on that wall) but it's clear enough to anyone that Maurice and Trickster need to share a venue, and it needs to start happening immediately and consistently.

Due to a bizarre happenstance that I won't get into here, we've watched the movie once a week for the past month; it's become a bit of a Sacrament here at Bennet Media HQ, and it's now firmly anchored in our 'warm weather white pages' of what to watch when the windows are finally opened.
And within the past few months, Scream Factory has announced a special edition blu with a release date of August 28. The extras are still up in the air, but even still, the timing is serendipitous considering we just drank the Kool-aid only a month ago. And while we have plenty of faith in Shout!/Scream and their largely unblemished track record, I'm afraid we must insist on a very strong stipulation for the design of the disc itself:

- Paul

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