VHS Spotlight: “The Brain”

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

brain_01_150It’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

brain_02_150

VHS Spotlight is written by LAHorror.com contributor Alex Ray.

VHS Spotlight: “Evils of the Night”

Our dear friend and contributor in horror Alex Ray returns, this time with a VHS Spotlight that’s out of this world!  We love to feature flicks that aren’t widely available to the masses on LAHorror.com, so be sure to check out our growing collection of VHS Spotlights on our Behead-itorials page and be sure to drop us a line to let us know which ones you’d like to see!  Enjoy horror lovers!

VHS SPOTLIGHT: EVILS OF THE NIGHT

1984 * 85 minutes * Lightning Video * Directed by Mardi Rustam

evils_01_coverIf you’re trying to find the worst 80s horror VHS box art out there, look no further. The movie itself is a crazy good time—but the box makes it look like Lovers Retreat, the 1989 romantic dramedy starring Bobcat Goldthwait and Daphne Zuniga (this film does not exist). Yes, it tried harder to make me not watch it than The Witching (I defy anyone to rent a horror movie adorned with the bespectacled visage of Orson Welles). Point is: despite a complete lack of salesmanship on the part of Lightning Video—a rare oversight for a company that churned out a zillion lurid covers back in the day—I consider it a high value asset to my VHS collection.

And, okay, yes—there is a DVD. But good luck finding one for less than fifty bucks. It seems the fine folks at Shriek Show woefully underestimated demand and now it’s as tough to find as Shadow: Dead Riot is easy to come by. And that’s just downright shameful. But you know what? We still got some sweet ol’ magnetic tape to fall back on.

This really is a movie that should be seen on VHS anyway. It epitomizes what’s great about cheesy 80s horror—totally un-ironic and self-serious, but comprised of ridiculous and disparate elements. No matter how many times I put this in the VCR (I’m up to three), I feel like I’m missing something (and lemme tell ya: this ain’t exactly Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy when it comes to plot). I think I can summarize it somewhat concisely: beach bums and babes become the target of aliens who need their young people blood to survive. But if you start asking questions—like, any questions—things get complicated.

For instance, how did the mechanics get recruited to kidnap teenagers for the aliens? And why, with their spaceships and laser rings, would the aliens need a couple grumpy old men to do said kidnapping for them? How did the aliens come to inhabit a hospital? What happened to those lady aliens after they made bedroom eyes at each other for thirty seconds? Yeah, Evils offers up quite a few stumpers.

The trick is to not think too hard about it and just go along for the ride (to the hospital with the mechanics who are selling you to the aliens). You do that, and Evils of the Night becomes Goods of the Day. Or Night, still. If you watch it at night. I don’t judge.

evils_02_blackbgMuch as we all love how meta and self-aware everything has become, it’s sometimes nice to go back to a time when movies didn’t seem to know they were bad. Who can say—maybe Mardi Rustam thought he was making the ultimate satire, but he definitely fooled me. The charm of Evils lies in just how blissfully sincere it is about being pretty dumb. By any quantifiable standards it’s a terrible movie, and yet I’ve still watched it three times. So what does that tell you? Yeah, I don’t know either.

Look. It’s silly. It’s fun. Joe Bob would definitely say check it out, if you know what I mean (boobs). With the bland box art, you might just be able to convince a normal person to watch it. Take all that into consideration, and I think you can see the good in Evils of the Night (I do love it when titles lend themselves to this kind of scintillating wordplay).

Postscript: A random Amazon check has revealed that this is going to get a re-release on October 14! Now the masses will have easy access to this cinematic gem. But while the DVD may be of higher quality and have better box art (because it couldn’t possibly be worse), I must say I’ll always be partial to my VHS. However, I’ll concede that it’s worth seeing any way you can. And if you can’t wait that long, well, there’s an ex-rental with your name on it somewhere.

3 out of  4 stars

VHS Spotlight is written by LAHorror.com contributor Alex Ray.

LA Horror Review: “Exile”

Exile 2Who doesn’t like an awesome alien invasion movie? We don’t get many of them, but when we do, they usually involve F-16 fighter jets, massive explosions and hordes of flying saucers.  But that’s not the case in “Exile” (formerly “The Sunderland Experiment”), a gruesome and thought provoking horror flick from Blatke Productions that was incredibly effective in all the best ways.  I’m making a prediction:  “Exile” will be very well received by fans of creepy, undeniably original and thought provoking science-fiction horror.  This film was such a delightful surprise.

The story is anything but simple, and I’m almost hesitant to get too far into the actual plot.  I honestly didn’t know much about this film when I saw it, and I feel like that only made it more enjoyable and shocking.  I will say this quickly:  the story revolves around young man named David (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow classmates in the small town of Sunderland.  Also residing is the “Angel,” a ruthless and haunting creature who gives an ultimatum to every resident of Sunderland:  worship and obey her to become blessed, or fall and become an outcast.

Sounds pretty far out, right?

Directors Sean Blau and Adam Petke assume that their audience is intelligent and open-minded and lets them experience the events in Sunderland just as the residents do.  The world they created is nasty, scary and oddly believable, given the nature of cults and extreme religion in our societies nowadays.  And maybe that’s what makes “Exile” so unique.  This is without a doubt an alien vs. human style monster movie, however it never even gets close to touching the clichés that so often stick to that genre.  And while there’s plenty of scares in “The Sunderland Experiment,” there’s also plenty of laughs and real human moments.  Blau and Petke have made a thoughtful and dynamic film that also manages to push the boundaries of extreme horror.

And let’s talk about the horror.  This movie is gory—super gory—and the Angel is seriously fucking creepy.  Not only that, but from a technical perspective, this movie was seamless.   There’s a wonderful blend of puppetry and special effects, enhanced by beautiful cinematography, a simple yet extremely detailed setting and sound design that is out of this world.  When the Angel speaks, you can’t help but feel a crawling sensation up your spine, and I found myself to feel very invested in the characters while watching.

O’Brien steals the show as lead man David and gives an honest, endearing performance along side of the loveable and spunky Cassie (Katie Reed).  It’s so nice to watch a horror movie where you actually root for the main characters, and these two lead a terrific ensemble.  The townspeople of Sunderland were delightfully creepy, and kudos to voice actress Dennice Cisneros who is a powerful force throughout this film.

Looking at the small size of the cast and crew of this film, they’ve definitely accomplished something special.  Rarely do you see small, indie horror films look, sound and feel this good.  This film will undoubtably find its audience, and it really sticks with you.  Keep your eyes peeled because you do not want to miss this.

For more on “Exile,” please visit their official website.  For screening information be sure to like “Exile” on Facebook and follow them on twitter.