Thursday, October 7, 2010

The 412ft Verdict: The Brain (1988)

Hello and welcome back to the 412ft Review. I’m your host T.L. Bugg, and in case you don’t know what’s going on around here let me explain. Inside of your average mass market video cassette, there lurks 412 feet of tape waiting to be watched. The lucky tapes made the leap to the digital age, but I’m on the hunt for the ones that didn’t make the cut. Sitting in dusty bins and boxes in thrift stores, yard sales, and flea markets, there are tapes out there waiting to be found, and when I do, I want to share them with you guys. I wasn’t sure what to start off with, and so I thought long and hard about it. That’s when it came to me. I had to use my noggin, as an inspiration that is, and so I am happy to bring to you the The Brain from 1988.

When we’re first introduced to our main character, Jim (Tom Bresnahan), he’s putting a lump of sodium in the school toilet and causing them to blow up. Jim, being a bright fellow (damn sarcasm not working in print), drops the packet of sodium in the trash while standing right next to the principal. This isn’t the first time that Jim has been caught causing trouble, and now the school, and his parents, want to send him to see Dr. Blakely (David Gale), a local psychologist who hosts an inspirational half hour TV program, Independent Thinking. When Jim resists the quack’s treatment, some kind of mind control, the high schooler begins to suspect something is up. Blakely and company have gotten their hands on an alien from space which looks like, you guessed it, a giant brain. Using the alien’s hallucinatory waves to control minds through the TV, Blakely plans for world domination. However, it all depends on if he can he contain the alien’s growing hunger for brainwaves and prevent Jim and his girlfriend Janet (Cynthia Preston) from stopping him.

Spoiler alert, if you guessed that the bad guy probably couldn’t keep a lid on either of those things, then give yourself a prize. I’m feeling generous, make it a good one. The Brain is a by the books kind of sci-fi horror offering, and by books I’m taking EC Comics. It also evokes such films as The Fiend Without a Face (1958) and The Crawling Eye (1958) with a dash of body snatchers thrown in for good measure. Director Ed Hunt and writer Barry Pearson, who had also collaborated on Bloody Birthday (1981), balanced out the old inspiration with a thick layer of ‘80’s movie magic. Sure the big bad is a giant rubber brain with teeth, but the thing could take over your car and shoot Japanese anime porn tentacles out of the steering column to kill or cause people to lust after hallucinatory boobs, well, that seems to be all it can do to Jim. The rest of the town falls prey to mind control, and soon Jim goes from being thought of as an irritating miscreant to the guy that axe murdered the sheriff.  While The Brain has one foot in classic horror conventions, this surely isn’t your daddy’s killer brain movie.

Tom Bresnahan gives a solid performance as Jim, coming off as an affable smart aleck of the John Hughes vein. Down the road, I can't say that I would be able to pick him up in a line-up of other similarally patterned characters, but I enjoyed him as the film's hero. Bresnahan would go on to appear in the films Ski School (1990), Mirror Mirror (1990), and The Kingdom (2007). Actor David Gale, perhaps best known for his role in the Re-Animator series, provides a decent foil as the Brain’s puppet, Blakely, but it’s hard to make an inspirational speaker feel menacing. Cynthia Preston, Jim’s girlfriend Janet, left little impression, but I was interested to find out she was the voice of Zelda in the 1989 Legend of Zelda cartoon series and a regular on Total Recall: The Series before making the jump to a two year run General Hospital.

The Brain is a nice departure for a late ‘80’s horror film. While so many flicks were packed with imitation Freddie’s and Jason’s, The Brain stepped outside of that box and delivered something that was neither a pure ‘80’s sci-fi romp like Remote Control from the same year or a rip off of Aliens from two years earlier. Taking bits and pieces from modern and classic genre film, the director fashioned a picture that was funny and a little bit frightening. It’s also a bit more than prophetic. The power of the television, and social commentators on televisions, is near an all time high. While on the surface The Brain might seem like another story of disaffected youth, under the surface there is a story about the dangers of letting the idiot box do your thinking for you. Like any fun horror flick, The Brain doesn’t bother making any of that important. All that mattered was sitting back and enjoying a forgotten piece of genre film, every last foot of it.

Most Valuable Thing: The mix of old and new. The old classic films are great, and I love to watch them. I’m not one of those folks who can’t sit though something made before I was born. However, you know what would have really kicked them up a notch, boobs and blood, and that’s what The Brain adds to the formula.

Make or Break: For me, it was the crazy Cronenberg meets Asian porno scenes of grabby tentacles and the giant rubber brain itself. The brain is good for a few laughs (and more than a few D&D nerds will get a Beholder feel off it), but the tentacles aren't just silly. They actually seem pretty creepy, and they really help to keep the film from becoming entirely camp.

Score: 5.75/10.00 The Brain makes for an above average sci fi horror flick, but there are scads of films in the genre better than it. That being said, you could do a whole lot worse. The Brain brings enough cheesy laughs and retro thrills to make for a fun viewing experience and is definitely a great film for inviting your friends over and having a laugh.


  1. Oh yeah, I saw this with some friends from work. I totally forgot about it until now.

  2. It's not all that memorable, but worth a watch with friends.