Brainscan (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1994 (August 28, 2018)
Studio(s)Coral Productions/Triumph Films/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
For many years, Brainscan was a somewhat forgotten genre mash-up that came and went when it was released in 1994, doing little for the folks who were involved with it, including its star Edward Furlong, and its director John Flynn (Rolling Thunder). It features a story about a young teen named Michael (Furlong) who plays a video game that realistically allows him to murder people, only to soon find that the murders are actually happening in the real world and that he is being manipulated by the game’s host, the Trickster (T. Ryder Smith). It’s not long before the police, led by detective Hayden (Frank Langella), are hot on Michael’s trail and he must try and outwit the Trickster before murdering his best friend (Jamie Marsh) and his next-door crush (Amy Hargreaves).
Brainscan is one of those movies that I saw a few times on cable when I was younger and it always stuck with me because of its tone, which is slightly playful but mostly downbeat. There’s also the POV sequence in which Michael murders his first victim, which I always found oddly disturbing, particularly when he cuts off a foot. The film’s mix of horror, thriller, and science fiction qualities made it an easy target for critics who often do not take to films that try to do more than one thing too kindly. Brainscan is also one of those horror movies from the 90s that had a memorable soundtrack, with the likes of White Zombie, Primus, and the Butthole Surfers (among others) making appearances, which allowed it to thrive in a different way.
By today’s standards, Brainscan is much more of a nostalgia piece than it is a genre classic. Most of it is due to the home video and video game technology used in the film, which was state-of-the-art in its day. While much of the CGI hasn’t aged very well, the film’s story and its execution has. Unfortunately, it tends to feel its length at times, particularly in the second half. T. Tyder Smith’s performance, as well as his look, are the obvious stars of the show, while Edward Furlong does a serviceable job as a troubled teen who seems to want to make the right decisions, but loses his way before he can. Taking a look at Brainscan again all these years later, it’s surprising that there’s plenty worthy of modern reevaluation, nostalgia be damned.
Scream Factory has managed to snag Brainscan away from the vaults at Sony and dust it off for an excellent new Blu-ray release. The A/V presentation appears to be sourced from an older HD master, but even so, it’s still not a bad one. Grain levels are solid with a strong encode to back them up while image detail is high. Colors aren’t overly impressive as the film’s color palette never really offered much to begin with outside of Michael’s room, but what’s present appears to be accurate, including skin tones. It’s a little too dark with somewhat crushed blacks in certain areas, particularly during nighttime sequences, but it’s mostly clean and stable throughout with only minor instances of speckling leftover. So it’s a solid presentation, albeit from an older source. The audio is presented on an English 2.0 DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. George S. Clinton’s moody, bluesy score has plenty of breathing room, as do the rest of the sound effects. LFE activity is frequent but never overpowering and all of the sounds have plenty of space to move around in. Dialogue is also clear and discernable at all times. It’s an unexpectedly healthy stereo track.
This release also contains an excellent selection of bonus materials, courtesy of Red Shirt Pictures. Things begin with a new audio commentary with assistant to the director Tara Georges Flynn, moderated by Michael Felsher. Flynn is also the director’s son and he recounts his experiences working with his father, offering plenty of information about himself as well. Also included is A Virtual Debut, a new 15-minute interview with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker about his background and his screenplay for the film; Talking with Trickster, a new 14-minute interview with actor T. Ryder Smith about his performance and what it was like working with Edward Furlong; Merging Realities: The Make-Up Effects of Brainscan, a 19-minute set of interviews featuring special make-up effects artists Steve Johnson, Andy Schoneberg, and Mike Smithson, which is one of the more entertaining extras as it goes over the film’s deleted scene, as well as Johnson’s and Schoneberg’s experience with border authorities; Musical Virtuosity, a 12-minute interview with composer George S. Clinton about his work on the film; Trickin’ with Trickster, 5 minutes of random vintage behind-the-scenes fun; the never-before-seen deleted scene of the merged Michael and Trickster monster, which has been assembled from leftover VHS dailies; 8 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage during the shooting of the deleted scene; the original teaser and theatrical trailers; a TV spot; an animated behind-the-scenes photo gallery with 15 images; and a promotional still gallery with 24 images.
Frequently requested by genre fans for years, Brainscan finally makes its high definition debut with flying colors from the folks of Scream Factory. With an excellent set of extras and a very good A/V presentation, it’s definitely one that’s bound to surprise those who’ve never seen it or haven’t seen it in a number of years. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons