Lots of great stuff in the very near future coming to LAHorror.com! But until then, let’s take a look back to another classic VHS that still needs to be released on DVD! Alex Ray has the scoop on “The Brain,” a horror flick that may be in your basement stash, and one that definitely deserves to be revisited!
VHS SPOTLIGHT: THE BRAIN
1988 * 94 minutes * International Video Entertainment * Directed by Edward Hunt
It’s often noted that politics seem to influence trends in horror. The Vietnam War ushered in an era of dark, cynical works like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. George Dubya’s time in office saw the rise of torture porn. So what did the Reagan years give us? Films like Larry Cohen’s The Stuff and John Carpenter’s They Live were fairly obvious responses to rampant consumer culture and a general brainwashing of the masses. But there was another un-subtle jab that went under the radar of our thoroughly manipulated collective consciousness: The Brain.
Yep, I’m waxing allegorical about a movie featuring a giant, floating brain that chases teenagers down steam tunnels. While it disguises itself with all the B-horror tropes, it’s pretty easy to see the not-very-hidden message: David Gale (of Re-Animator and Syngenor—look it up!) hosts a TV show called “Independent Thinking,” while he colludes with an alien brain that, well, brainwashes people!
Tom Breznahan (of Ski School) plays a lovable troublemaker just trying to get through high school. Too bad his parents and teachers think he needs a little psychiatric intervention to get him on the right track. So our young prankster goes to Doc Gale, who seems to have just the prescription for all wayward teens (the brain hypnotizes them or something). But when he sees more than he’s supposed to, it’s Three Days of the Condor time for Tommy B.
It really does feel like more of a conspiracy thriller than a monster movie for a majority of the ninety-four minutes, but every so often there’s a slithering tentacle or a topless nurse to remind us of what we’re really watching—which I’m nearly sixty-seven percent sure was pitched as Nightmare on Elm Street meets Videodrome. From there it must have mutated a little (as did a lot of things in those two movies), until they settled on this wannabe Robert Redford vehicle with shades of hentai (maybe intentional; probably not).
Of course, the classics mentioned above aren’t the only ones brought to mind by The Brain (see what I did there?). It owes The Crazies at least half a doff of the cap, and there’s a great Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe to boot. Here’s a fun fact: M. Night Shyamalan took fifteen minutes of this movie and adapted it into his feature-length screenplay for The Happening, which, conversely, is one-sixth as entertaining.
Well, since I’ve now broken the record for number of movie titles referenced within a single review, I’ll hunker down and get serious. I really do like this movie. The story is compelling and generates a lot of momentum. Unlike with many teen horror flicks, we don’t spend the first act in a van, and the rest doesn’t hang on the suspense of guessing who will be next to hear a strange noise (not to cast aspersions; those movies are great, too). The characters are well-established early on, and then we’re off and running, all the way to the inevitable showdown with the brain—a proxy for any and all puppet masters behind politicians and spokespeople and celebrities. Yeah, this is deep stuff.
Not too deep, though. The subtext is pretty close to the surface at all times, and that’s kinda what makes it fun. The Brain really wears its heart on its sleeve—or its temporal lobe on its cerebral cortex, if you wanna get technical.
I proffer that this movie will only get more relevant, as our political and social landscapes get murkier and harder to navigate. It’s almost comforting to imagine that a big, alien, carnivorous brain might be responsible for all of society’s woes. Now that’s food for thought (yep, actual line!).
3 out of 4 stars
VHS Spotlight is written by LAHorror.com contributor Alex Ray.