This week was a exciting one in the Francisco household. We got a new PC for the first time since 2004. As I built the new rig, visions of Diablo 3, Mechwarrior Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Star Trek Online, and many other games available only on the PC, blazed through my brain's dense fog of war. I've since learned that "Free to Play" should really read "Pay to Win". But it hasn't been a total loss. From the back channels of my subconscious, an early 90's gem returned to my attention. Anyone who had Cinemax (also lovingly known as Skinemax or Sinemax) during that time remembers Brainscan as one of the films during Edward Furlong's rocket to stardom. It wouldn't last, but he got some great films (and an Aerosmith video) under his belt before it all came crashing down in a haze of made for SyFy flames.
1994's Brainscan sets in play events around a character many of it's core audience members should be quite familiar with: the horror obsessed high school outsider(I'm not judging!). Michael (Furlong), has rich parents who seem to always be away on business. In his attic bedroom, he's got the kind of computer and audio hardware that made all of us love the film Hackers. Ok, so he wasn't quite hacking The Gibson, but he did have a really sweet setup and a computer that took Siri like commands in 1994. Where Michael gets into trouble is in ordering an experimental new game, one that relies on interfacing with the user's brainwaves to create the most lifelike and terrifying experience imaginable (or so spins the marketing buzz for the game).
The initial level sees Michael murder a random stranger, then hack off a trophy from his conquest. The game is played from a first person perspective, mirroring the rise of the FPS in the wake 1993's Doom. It's also shot like regular film, since the game is really in the mind of the user who has been placed in a hypnotic trance, so "graphics" aren't an insurmountable issue to a terrifying experience (this really helps the movie age better than most centered around video games). When he comes out of the game, Michael is initially blown away, he can't believe how scared he actually was; his heavy diet of horror has left him unfazed by most of the monstrous media he consumes. Of course delight gives way to dismay as Michael realizes that he actually committed murder in the real world, and that he has a severed human foot in his freezer.
It's from this point onward that Brainscan truly shines. It cleverly plays the "what is real and what isn't" line, never truly committing itself to a side. We also meet The Trickster, (T. Ryder Smith, who is so deliciously wicked and awesome here) a mysteriously chaotic being, who pushes Michael into continuing. The Trickster resembles a tall, lanky Nelix from Star Trek Voyager, if he stole Steven Tyler of Aerosmith's wardrobe. Brainscan totally deserved a sequel, but baring that, it's still a tragedy that the character didn't come back in other films. He's a kind of 90's rock and roll Freddy.
Aside from being a solid scary flick, great speculative cyber wish fulfillment, and harboring one of the coolest horror antagonists, Brainscan also boasts a bitchin' soundtrack. Artists include: White Zombie, Alcohol Funny Car, Butthole Surfers, Primus, and Wade.
Technologically, our society is coming to a tipping point. Augmented reality is already here, with glasses based computing going mainstream in the next few years (and MIT students successfully creating contact lenses which can produce a display on their surface), it's interesting to look back to see the difference in where we thought we'd be about ten years ago. The features of Michael's computer, Igor, are available on my cell phone. Brainwaves are being studied in their interaction with computers, especially with regards to artificial limbs. Are we truly so far away from the experience depicted in Brainscan? No one can say for certain, but ten years ago I didn't think that I'd have full access to the Internet in my pocket either. Do your inner teenage self a solid; seek out Brainscan today, and tell the Trickster I said "hi".
Shock-O-Rama is moving, dear Maniacs! As of this upcoming week, you can get your fill of crazy cult shenanigans each and every Wednesday, instead of Saturday. New Bat-time, Same Bat-channel.
Shock-O-Rama Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature
Sometimes you've got to let go of control, giving it over to someone else for the evening. All domination/submission allusions aside, let me program your Saturday night. This week's Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature is for all you Netflix members out there. I've cooked up a scorching double bill that will fill your night with fright, but take care to be in bed before the sun rises kiddies!
Watch the sexy spacecapades of interstellar space betty, Jane Fonda, in her most titillating role. You may have never seen this classic, but it's ok. We won't tell a soul. Join Barbarella as she battles space baddies with her buxom beauty.
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Continue reveling in space bound sagas with this amazing science fiction action piece. Like so many other films, this one is based on Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. Though this one's from the Corman machine, so prepare for an unhealthy amount of cheese.
Don't forget to come back and let me know in the comments what your thought of these two back to back. And feel free to suggest next week's Screaming Saturday Double Feature service (Hulu, Netflix, etc.)
If you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.