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

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

VHS Spotlight: “Some Nudity Required”

Alex Ray is back with another VHS Spotlight!  These are films that are not (yet) available on DVD, but still have a special place in our heart!  If you’ve seen any of our VHS Spotlight films or have a dusty tape of your own that you’d like like to see on DVD, be sure to let us know!  Enjoy, Horror Lovers!

VHS SPOTLIGHT: SOME NUDITY REQUIRED

1998 * 82 minutes * New Video * Directed by Odette Springer

A documentary featuring Roger Corman, Jim Wynorski and Julie Strain? Guaranteed good time, right? Eighty minutes of crazy anecdotes set to goofy visuals?

Yeah, this is not that.

somenucover2Unlike recent documentaries chronicling the work of Roger Corman, such as “Corman’s World” and “Machete Maidens Unleashed,” there really isn’t anything fun or whimsical about “Some Nudity Required.” But then, it isn’t so much a documentary about Corman as it is an indictment of the movies he makes, and others like them. There’s also a self-reflexive through-line that goes into some fairly dark territory. So it’s not exactly a light-hearted romp exploring the wacky and wild world of B-movies.

Director and star Odette Springer scored some of Corman’s flicks in the nineties, and makes no bones about how much she despised the material. Based on her experience and insight–and maybe some personal issues (that’s not a dismissal; her background is used to drive the narrative)–she feels very strongly that B-movies degrade women, and the people making the movies exploit those women on screen and off.

Springer comes out swinging with Maria Ford’s death scene from “Slumber Party Massacre 3.” In or out of context, it would be hard to defend (imagine if a scene from “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” got spliced into, well, “Slumber Party Massacre 3”). Maria’s interviews go on to paint the B-movie factory as dishonest, lecherous and sometimes downright vile. If what she says is true, then there are some pretty shady people making movies (okay, not the hardest thing to believe). Numerous references are made to her and others being encouraged to get breast implants, and if you watch “Perfect Fit” (made three years after this doc), it’s fairly apparent she was eventually convinced to go under the knife. Of course, me noticing that might just confirm one or two of the movie’s assertions, so I’ll digress.

I initially saw this about ten years ago, and, as a young horror and exploitation fan, it did color my opinion of how some of my favorite movies were made (yes, I consider “Chopping Mall” one of my favorite movies). While it was clear this doc had an axe to grind, it features a lot of real actors and directors speaking candidly–and mostly negatively–about the movies they’re in.

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The only people really in favor of this brand of filmmaking besides Corman don’t always help their cause. That irascible Jim Wynorski comes off as the quintessential sleazy producer (but do check out his documentary, “Popatopolis”–it’s great). We’re left with a somewhat one-sided view of the B-movie biz, although that doesn’t automatically discount the points being made.

Why am I prattling on about a 15-year-old documentary that sounds like kind of a buzzkill? Couple reasons. For one thing, it was made at a time when you couldn’t just throw a rock at the internet and hit a documentary about genre movies. Deserves some kudos for that. Also, it happens to be really compelling. Think nineties art-house version of an E! True Hollywood Story–but without the bars and blurs hiding the nudity. And whether or not it wins what seems to be its main argument–that exploitation movies demean and mistreat women–it poses some important questions and provides a lot of food for thought. I’m an unapologetic fan of this stuff, but it doesn’t hurt to consider why that is.

somenu_pic_02I would love to see a DVD release featuring a new interview of Springer and Corman, to see how everyone feels about everything now. Corman’s interviews imply he was unaware of the tone this documentary would take (or was just totally cool with it), and I would be really interested in hearing what he might say if his hackles got raised. He’s such a distinguished and eloquent guy, I think it would be fascinating to see him get into a serious debate.

Did I mention I’m a huge fan of Corman? Even so, it was easy enough to see Springer’s side of things, and I invite you to decide for yourself. I mean, if you feel like tracking this down. And paying a lot. And getting a little depressed about the kinds of movies to which you’ve sorta devoted a good chunk of your life.

Maybe just wait for the DVD.

3 out of 4 stars

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