Brainscan – Blu-ray Review
Film Title: Brainscan
Release Date: 1994
Runtime: 96 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Scream Factory (Shout! Factory)
Audio Formats: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Formats & Versions Available: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: 8/28/18
Director: John Flynn
Cast: Edward Furlong, Frank Langella, T. Ryder Smith, Amy Hargreaves, Jamie Marsh
“Brainscan” was directed by John Flynn, best known for directing the film “Lock Up“ from 1990. The original screenplay was written by Andrew Kevin Walker, best known for his screenwriting work later on the films “Se7en” (1995), “8MM” (1999), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), and “The Wolfman” (2010). Some changes were made to Walker’s original screenplay, as he acknowledges. IMDb states that Brian Owens was responsible for the story, so that is evidently who did the revisions to Walker’s screenplay.
The film tells the story of a lonely teenage boy named “Michael” (Edward Furlong), who has a physical injury to his leg from a car accident that took the life of his mother at a pretty early age. We are first introduced to Michael as he’s having a bit of a traumatic nightmare with the event happening all over again, waking him up in a nervous sweat. Michael is like a lot of kids in 1994, really into technology in the form of computers and horror films. Sharing this passion for those things is Michael’s best, and only, friend “Kyle” (Jamie Marsh).
After we are first introduced to our character and his backstory, waking up from his disturbing flashback, he gets a phone call from his best friend Kyle telling him that he just read about this cool new interactive CD-ROM called “Brainscan” in the back of Fangoria magazine. Kyle’s excitement is obviously a bit more than Michael’s, yet our protagonist finds it compelling to give this new horror software a try. When Michael tries to have his almost Alexa-like personal assistant (“Igor”) call the phone number advertised he’s greeted by a voice, that he thinks to be a recording. It’s soon that he realizes he is not talking to a recording but a person. They seem rather odd and well, let’s just say that Michael ends up getting his first installment in the interactive CD-ROM game, and it’s not at all what he expected.
Michael lives mostly by himself, as his father seems to be constantly traveling for business, so he has a lot of spare time on his hands, when he’s not trying new games or watching horror films. One of Michael’s biggest obsessions is the girl next door, “Kimberly” (Amy Hargreaves), who he spies on through his window. Being shy he’s afraid to really ever try to talk to her much, but it almost seems a tad bit obvious that she knows she’s being watched from her window, especially when she’s changing clothes. That said, Michael might be what some consider a bit of a peeping tom, but that’s irrelevant from the story. All that really is important here is that he has a crush on the girl next door, admiring her from afar, like many teenage boys do.
Once Michael finally receives his first installment from the “Brainscan” interactive game on CD-ROM things take a bit of a change. The experience, as mentioned, is not at all what he expected, and feels like a first person shot style horror film, with you in control. He goes through treating it like virtual reality (something at that time a long ways off, but theorized) making actions and such he would never do in the real world. The thing is that he doesn’t know the things happening aren’t happening in a fictionalized video game setting, but in reality, acted out by him physically. Needless to say, some crimes are committed along the way, and the police start to look around Michael’s neighborhood. Leading the investigation efforts is one “Detective Hayden” (Frank Langella) who seems to strike immediate attention to Michael when he first sees him. This worries the lonely teenager, as he’s become a tad bit paranoid about the game he’s played, realizing it wasn’t just a game.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, eventually Michael will encounter the person behind the “Brainscan” experience: a very scary looking man called “The Trickster” (T. Ryder Smith) that seems to find it all to be one giant laugh. He’s a very dark distributed individual, that much is certain from the first we meet him. The Trickster will try to manipulate Michael into doing what he wants him to do in terms of evil, violence and such. It’s up to Michael to decide to listen to this man or not, and the consequences could be pretty serious, with the police starting to investigate crimes in the area.
“Brainscan” to some can be a pretty silly absurd film, but if taken somewhat serious it kind of makes you think, as it was intended as a bit of a psychological thriller meets slight horror, with a little comedic nature. In seriousness though, back in the era that this film was release (1994) computers with a CD-ROM were a form of evolving tech, on the cusp of becoming something big, where we really are now. Back then, we were ready to try almost anything as long as it was new and promised to offer us something we had never experienced. At the very same time with horror fans there’s always a yearning to see the latest, most goriest offensive film. In this film it’s interactive “software” (of sorts). Today this type of story would probably have been conveyed by something along the lines of virtual reality, similar perhaps to what is seen in the recent film “Ready Player One” – as a slight example.
Perhaps along the way you have encountered some sort of evil like “The Trickster” – a creature really from within. I feel that the character can be a tad similar to the evil that is the clown “Pennywise” in Stephen King‘s “It” – just not as creepy or anywhere near as cool. “The Trickster”, as his name suggests, is just an evil prankster, wanting to let negativity run rampant. In ways it’s almost obvious who or what he is: pure evil (from inside). That said, “Brainscan” actually does come across as a tad bit of psychological thriller, proves to be thought provoking, and features a good performance by Edward Furlong.
Movie Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
According to the technical specifications page on IMDb, this was shot on 35MM film using Panavision cameras. This is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, meaning it fills up the entire 16×9 widescreen area of any modern HDTV or 4K TV. The film was originally intended for the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I can’t say I understand why this choice was made, but it is worth noting to fans of the film.
The transfer comes across pretty nicely with a healthy amount of film grain as you would expect for a lower budget 1994 film. There are some visual imperfections left in (which I love) such as the occasional specks of dirt and such. This gives it that not too overly cleaned up appearance, that is sure to please fans of the horror genre. The black level is solid, the color palette is can be at times vibrant, and also delivers accurate fleshtones as a result. The film is admittedly pretty dark, set for the most part indoors in Michael’s bedroom, with the few occasional outdoor scenes.
There’s really not anything to complain about here aside from the fact that this isn’t in the theatrically intended aspect ratio. I don’t think the change between [it] and the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, that we get here, was something too big to really care about. The make-up special effects hold up rather well in HD, although some of the digital special effects prove to not come across realistic (really at all) and are now showing off flaws in HD. Still, it’s understandable (for a 1994 film) and is not at all bothersome. Things like this are to be expected, not complained about.
All and all, this offers up a solid and even at times impressive (for its genre and year) video presentation. Fans of this film will be happy if they upgrade that VHS or DVD finally to this Blu-ray Disc debut. The folks at Scream Factory have done yet another horror title justice. This should come to no surprise to anyone who knows their work, always impressive and consistent. I’m pretty sure this is the best that most of you have ever seen “Brainscan” look before, even those of you who saw it theatrically.
Video Quality Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Audio here is presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio Stereo. According to IMDb technical specifications page, this originally had a Dolby Stereo sound mix, so we shouldn’t have expected a 5.1 surround mix. This lossless stereo mix does the film justice, delivering the original music composed by George S. Clinton perfectly in one rocking manner, as well as somewhat believable sound effects. Dialogue is delivered spot on, and never once drowned out by any of the music or action going on.
There’s a pretty decent amount of bass here, to just be in Stereo. Also worth noting: if you decide to upconvert the mix to like 2.1 or 3.1 type configurations via your AVR (audio video receiver), you will notice a tad bit of subwoofer action that way. Still, it’s up to you how you choose to listen to this 2.0 mix. Personally, I think the Stereo mix works best, especially if you’re a purist. Overall, the sound presentation here for “Brainscan” in its debut to Blu-ray Disc is pretty solid, and it seems to do both the film’s original music and the film itself justice.
Audio Quality Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release all are presented in 1080p HD video with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo sound – unless otherwise noted below. They include the following:
- NEW Audio Commentary with Assistant to the Director Tara Georges Flynn
- NEW “A Virtual Debut” (14:25 – HD) includes an interview with the film’s screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, discussing his early career and writing the film itself. He offers up his whole meaning to the story, which I have to admit is a tad bit different than how I see the film. Even Walker himself calls this “a crazy movie” – which I can agree with. He also states the film was “hard to take seriously” – something I also agree upon. The writer’s original vision (he claims) is totally different from what we actually even got in the film, likely from a slight bit of rewriting of his original script. He still says he loves the film, and feels that he was lucky to have been part of it. One thing he suggests is the likelihood of someone remaking “Brainscan” or doing a sequel, which proves to be thought provoking, much like the film itself was.
- NEW “Talking With Trickster” (13:39 – HD) gives us an interview with actor T. Ryder Smith that played the character “Trickster” in the film. Smith reflects on playing the character, as well as a bit of his career, and how he got this role in the film. He discusses a bit of working with Edward Furlong, which proves to be interesting. Smith’s overall interview here is enjoyable, as well as informative.
- NEW “Merging Realities” (19:04 – HD) includes some interviews with Steve Johnson (Special Make-up Effects Supervisor) as well as Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson (Special Make-up Effects Artists). The guys discuss working on the make-up for the character “Trickster” in the film. There is also discussion of the digital effects shots in the film, which prove to look a tad bit dated by today’s standards. The guys discuss a deleted scene that you can see parts of, some footage behind-the-scenes of it, and whatnot. That deleted scene discussed is included here further below. Seems like the Canadians didn’t want these guys in the country to do their work on the film, which was being shot in Montreal. Work permits, all of this was over work permits. Lastly, in the end some of their best work (in their opinion) didn’t even end up in the film, as digital effects were used instead, which do look incredibly dated by today’s standards. Stay tuned after the credits, folks. There’s an “easter egg” of sorts at the end.
- NEW “Musical Virtuosity” (11:24 – HD) includes an interview with the film’s original music composer George S. Clinton. He gives us a retrospective of sorts back on his early career as a musician in a band, working with “Cheech and Chong” (no joke), and then getting the job here and then composing the music for the film. He actually doesn’t even remember how he even got the job, aside from his “demo” of music that got him the gig as the composer. This interview proves to be very informative and entertaining, especially for those into music in films. This film does have one beautiful score, and he really seems proud of this work, as he should be.
- “Trickin’ With Trickster” (5:09 – HD) claims to offer “Vintage Behind-the-Scenes Fun on BRAINSCAN” via on set footage and staged interviews and skits with Edward Furlong and co-star T. Ryder Smith while working on the film. This old video proves to be pretty funny.
- Deleted Scene (1:38 – HD) comes with a very nice written introduction explaining where the scene was to appear and where it was even sourced from (a VHS tape), one of the Make-up Special Effects Designer’s owned of film dailies.
- “Behind-The-Scenes Footage” (7:47 – HD) is self explanatory, by the title.
- Teaser Trailer (0:39 – HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:02 – HD)
- TV Spot (0:33 – HD)
- Behind-The-Scenes Photo Gallery (1:15 – HD)
- Still Gallery (1:55 – HD)
Overall the bonus materials here prove to be very informative and entertaining (as you’ve probably grown tired of me saying). It’s true, though, because you get a good amount of newly produced materials like an audio commentary and four featurettes. All of those new featurettes found here were produced by Red Shirt Pictures and Scream Factory. Plus, you get the older archived supplemental materials here in the form of a couple featurettes, theatrical & teaser trailers, a TV spot, deleted scene, and still galleries featuring photos from the making of the film. It all adds up to roughly a tad bit over an hour in length.
Bonus Materials Rating: 3 (out of 5)
“Brainscan” was one campy horror film with admittedly comedic tone to it. That being said, I think that’s why so many people still like it after this many years, especially horror fans. It seemed to have been aimed at horror fans with its mentions of Fangoria and such from the very start of the film. It’s just that simple mention that gives a horror film cred so-to-speak, even if it has its unrealistic moments, which this film certainly has its share of. The acting from Edward Furlong is good, although is obviously not as memorable (to most) as his unforgettable role in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1990).
As far as it goes as the film’s debut to the Blu-ray Disc format in HD, this proves to hold one overall solid presentation in both the video and audio departments. I feel the film has been done justice, and that is usually the case after watching (and reviewing) a Scream Factory title on this format. Hats off to them on yet another job well done.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4 (out of 5) for video quality
4 (out of 5) for audio quality
3 (out of 5) for bonus materials
Good Film / Solid Presentation