Tagline: Mind over Matter.
Director: Edward Hunt
Writer: Barry Pearson
Starring: Tom Bresnahan, Cynthia Preston, David Gale, George Buza, Christine Kossak, Bret Pearson, Bernice Quiggan, Susannah Hoffmann, Justine Campbell, Robert King, Kenneth McGregor, Vinetta Strombergs, Richard Gira, Wendy Springate, Harry Booker, Steve Mousseau, Sarah Chapple, Carol Lazare, Garry Brown
R | 1hr 34min | Horror/Sci-Fi
There is something about The Brain that is distinctly Cronenberg.
That may seem like a lofty comparison, and you would be right in thinking so, but with its drab palettes and grungy low-key feel early works like Shivers and Rabid immediately spring to mind. Whether those similarities are intentional or a simple matter of budget is unclear. What is abundantly clear are the movie’s aspirations as a social commentary, and the distinctly Cronenbergian manner in which they are pursued.
The Brain is another in a long line of Canadian B-movies that fall under the category Canuxploitation—the kind that first allowed Cronenberg to break into the industry, and it taps into many of his concepts and themes, recalling movies such as Scanners and even Videodrome, although such comparisons are tenuous at best. At it’s poorly defined core the movie is a satire on television as a tool for propaganda, but also acts as a commentary on the draw of self-help gurus, lampooning mankind’s mindless susceptibility to the cultish extravagances of onscreen con men and our willingness to submit to any white coat claiming to be a doctor.
Unsurprisingly, The Brain has neither the creativity nor intelligence to live up to such bold and derivative aspirations, and instead works as a transparent parody on both its subject matter and itself, its cheapo set-pieces, outmoded technology and deliberately absurd practical effects second only to its weak characterisation and scattergun plotting. Like many low-budget filmmakers before him, director Ed Hunt simply set out to make a movie, and he does so. Barely.
An therein lies the fun. The Brain may not be the most memorable bad movie confined to home video purgatory (there is actually a sub-par double movie DVD in existence), but as an exercise in low-budget buffoonery it is certainly worth a giggle. It is the story of a giant carnivorous cerebrum with the power to induce hallucinations and exert mind control over its human prey. Where The Brain came from is never explained. Nor are its reasons for manipulating the local community and turning them into zombified killers, a useless endeavour since its sole intention is to eat them and grow bigger. Of course, none of this really matters.
The brain in question has come into the possession of psychologist Dr. Blake, whose increasingly popular TV show promotes ‘independent thinking’ as a means to tackle society’s ills, but which in reality acts as a conduit for indoctrination. Blake’s malevolent aspirations seem to end at fame and popularity, and he refuses to accept the fact that his pet’s tissue based activities and a spate of unexplained deaths are related, even when his sexy lab assistant is devoured for daring to insinuate that The Brain has a mind of its own (and yes, I see the irony).
The movie’s protagonist comes in the unlikely form of Jim, a local high school kid with a propensity to break the rules. Gormless pretty boy Jim is said to have an incredibly high IQ, so high that his sodium-in-the-toilet prank is foiled after he leaves behind an empty container labelled Pure Sodium: Will Explode in Water, and is shipped off to Dr Blake’s Psychological Research Institute for therapy, a punishment our resident bad boy accepts without resistance.
Once at the institute, Jim is subjected to a series of tests which lead to mild hallucinations and cause him to flee, but by now his mind has been tapped by the insidious Brain, and a series of increasingly severe episodes turn him into a fugitive, a stigma worsened after he is framed for the murder of a local cop by Dr Blake’s ax-wielding henchman, a furry headed brute who masquerades as a doctor and receives total immunity by waving blank pieces of paper and successfully passing them off as release papers.
It soon becomes clear that the bigger The Brain becomes the more powerful its abilities, and so Blake and his henchman set about beefing it up in order to gain control of the entire community. Unluckily for him, pseudo-genius Jim finally figures out that the cannibalistic brain is the reason why the townsfolk have been transformed into murderous zombies, and a frantic race to locate The Brain and release them from its neurological grip ensues.
Not content with its derivative formula, The Brain is infamous for featuring a trailer that re-uses music from the trailer to The Warriors. Sometimes you can only marvel at the gall of B-movie productions.
After pulling teenage miscreant Jim to the side of the road for speeding, a local cop is brutally decapitated by Dr Blake’s ax-wielding henchman in an act of unanticipated savagery that is likely to leave you breathless with astonishment.
Most Absurd Moment
After seeing her teacher brutally chainsawed in half by his hypnotised wife, reluctant virgin Janet escapes to the local high school with boyfriend Jim and suddenly has a change of heart regarding her recent reluctance to copulate, insisting that the time is now right for her lose her virginity.
Most Absurd Dialogue
When Dr Blake’s sexy lab assistant suddenly decides to rebel, claiming that The Brain is not content with merely controlling the minds of his growing audience, our titular monster takes immediate offence, leaping from his tank of fluid and swallowing her whole. After watching his prized specimen grow to more than double its size in a matter of seconds, a perversely delighted Blake makes a rather witty observation.
Dr. Blake: Now, that’s food for thought!
As a social commentary on TV as a tool for mind control, The Brain is about a quarter of a century too late, but the movie is not without merit. Laughable in both conception and execution, moments of stark brutality will nevertheless keep gore hounds happy, while a series of fun special effect set-pieces and moments of priceless absurdity are enough to elevate it above the majority of mindless, B-movie pap.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut