Brainscan (1994)
Brainscan (1994)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: April 22nd, 1994 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Flynn Actors: Edward Furlong, Frank Langella, T. Ryder Smith, Amy Hargreaves, Jamie Marsh, Victor Ertmanis, David Hemblen, Michele-Barbara Pelletier




-year-old Michael Brower (Edward Furlong) is routinely haunted by nightmares about the grisly car accident that took the life of his mother. And his father is constantly out of town on business. But that doesn’t stop him from using a camcorder to spy on the young girl across the street, Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves), who regularly undresses in full view of her window. It also doesn’t stop his buddy Kyle Hillard (Jamie Marsh) from calling him up in the middle of the night to discuss the newest, gory video game releases.

The subject of their latest conversation is Brainscan, the ultimate experience in interactive terror (though it’s supposedly run by a mere CD ROM) – a virtual reality game so frightening that it’s certain to satisfy any player’s sickest fantasies. The advertisements – and the salesman on the hotline – insist that Brainscan “Interfaces with your subconscious” to generate truly appalling thrills. Since Michael is a computer nerd and the leader of a “horror club” at his school, he’s desperate for severer kicks (like a drug addict); each successive item of ghastliness seems to have less and less effect. Although he doesn’t make any sort of payment, the Brainscan disc shows up the next day.

The technology is clearly dated, but the concept just might be ahead of its time. Boasting a mind program entry – transmitted through the television itself – the Brainscan game has the user assume the role of a serial killer (via a first-person perspective). The mission is to commit a heinous murder, leave no witnesses, cover up any evidence, and even take a trophy. Inexplicably, the first level (of four) commences without any real interactivity with the game disc or the TV – Michael becomes a murderer seemingly while blacked out on an easy chair. And, of course, to create far greater chills, a news report the next day reveals that a man was brutally murdered the night before in the sleepy town of Mountview – in the exact same way that Michael chose to attack his victim in Brainscan.

The basic setup – involving unclear lines between reality and fantasy, and a devious game tailored to an individual’s psyche – mirrors the plot of David Fincher’s “The Game” from 1997. Interestingly, “Brainscan” debuted in 1994. With the use of a twisted madman as a guide for engaging in further crimes, the film also draws parallels to “Candyman” (in which a mythical antagonist slaughters as if in league with his human summoner) – but with a more comical manipulator, like Beetlejuice or Drop Dead Fred, here under the guise of the Trickster (T. Ryder Smith). This new monster is little more than a heavy metal rocker, but with a penchant for mutilating himself (and gorging himself with raw meat) to prove his magical existence.

The formula proceeds a bit expectedly from there, with Michael’s life turning increasingly upside down. The Trickster keeps showing up to goad the boy into playing some more; a cop (Frank Langella, depicting the most perfectly unemotional, unsparing detective imaginable) slowly grows suspicious; and Kyle and Kimberly become alienated. But everyone remains deadly serious, behaving rather convincingly under the circumstances. The special effects aren’t perfect, but they’re sufficient, and the makeup effects by Steven Johnson are fitting. And as Michael gets further enmeshed in the habits of a serial killer, the subject matter and the mood never shift; everything remains refreshingly morbid. But there’s still something missing; perhaps it’s the sparseness of edgy scares, or the infrequency of gore, or the conclusion – which just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It is, in fact, a twist ending and a cop-out all at the same time.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10