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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Brainscan (1994)

"It wasn't supposed to be real!"
- Michael (Edward Furlong)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 08, 2003

Stars: Eddie Furlong, T. Ryder Smith
Other Stars: Frank Langella, Amy Hargreaves
Director: John Flynn

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, and for language and some sexuality
Run Time: 01h:35m:57s
Release Date: April 01, 2003
UPC: 043396100428
Genre: techno thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-B+B D-

DVD Review

Brainscan plays like a treatise against the videogame industry, enough so that it could have been bankrolled by Joe Lieberman himself. Introverted horror movie fan Michael (Edward Furlong) answers an ad in a videogame magazine for a new thriller called Brainscan, promising "the ultimate experience in interactive terror." The game is a bit more interactive than he was expecting—he puts in the disc, sinks into a trace, and takes part in an ultra-realistic murder fantasy, only to awaken to find a foot in his freezer and the victim's picture on the television. Now, I've gone on some pretty intense Nintendo binges in my time, but I never found the body parts of any tiny plumbers in the fridge afterwards.

Michael is one of those kids who exist only in the movies. His parents are absent (dad works, and mom is dead, or so the melodramatic flashbacks would have you believe). His house is gigantic, and his room is ridiculously cool, yet totally unrealistic—he has a voice recognition program on his computer called Igor that refers to him as "Master" and a widescreen TV (in 1994?). I love the way movies could cheat with their depiction of computer technology before the machines and the Internet became omnipresent. He also has an old, rather uncomfortable relationship with his best friend Kyle (James Marsh) that plays like it was written for two pre-teens, not 16-year-olds (their catchphrase is "buddies forever!").

Once he discovers that the game was real, Michael tries to call the company, only to find it doesn't exist. Soon, he is contacted by the Trickster (an over-the-top T. Ryder Smith), a rubbery-looking, skeletal fiend with big lips (sort of like Mick Jagger) who informs him that he has to finish what he started, and play Brainscan II to clean up the mess he made, and take care of a witness. Who happens to be Kyle. Drama!

Kevin Andrew Walker wrote the screenplay (he went on to pen Se7en and do an unaccredited rewrite of Fight Club), and though it tiptoes around a few good ideas (including the moral implications of committing a virtual murder that feels utterly real), it is weighted down by some artfully hideous dialogue and a twist ending that will only surprise those totally unfamiliar with the horror genre, or dramatic storytelling in general. The Trickster is not the most effective villain, not only because he is so funny-looking. He's only part of the game, and can't really do anything to Michael. Of course, Michael is kind of an idiot, so he listens anyway.

Furlong gives a performance nearly identical to his star-making turn in Terminator 2, which isn't a compliment—nasal and whiney works for an 11-year-old, but not here (I mean, really, "buddies forever"?). James Marsh is such an anachronism, his character spouting surfer catchphrases that would make a Ninja Turtle blush, that I really wonder if the script wasn't written with much younger protagonists and retooled into the violent spectacle it is today. Amy Hargreaves has a small role as Michael's love interest (and as a perfect illustration of the concept of a one-dimensional character).

Director John Flynn totally wastes most of the scare potential, substituting blaring rock music and obnoxious, overplayed antics from Trickster for genuine thrills (though the first murder, before Rubberface enters the picture, is pretty intense). Because it has a halfway decent concept, and is just cheesy enough to be memorable, Brainscan has a cult fan base. I'll admit that it kept my interest, but it's the kind of movie I'd only watch if I flipped past it on TV late at night. "Brainless" would be a more apt title.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has been a bit spotty of late in providing widescreen transfers for fringe catalogue titles, but luckily, despite the fact that it was open-matte on laserdisc, Brainscan is presented in anamorphic widescreen on DVD.

The transfer is very good to boot, offering a nice, filmlike appearance. Overall, it seems to be a little dark, which took some getting used to, but luckily, black level is good, and shadow detail is adequate. Colors are a bit muted at times, but the videogame sequences come to life with lurid hues. Source materials show only a few scratches and a bit of grain. I didn't spot much in the way of edge enhancement or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Brainscan's original DD 2.0 mix holds up fairly well. The front soundstage carries the brunt of the audio, and while dialogue is crisp and clear, there is only limited stereo separation in the front mains, and only a few instances of panning or directionality. The surrounds are active intermittently, usually to provide support for the score or to add atmosphere (to good effect during the whooshing "videogame" effects).

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This bare-bones catalogue release includes the trailers for teen thrillers I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend, but not one for the feature.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Brainscan is a mildly entertaining horror thriller that suffers from an extreme case of the stupids. It seems to be targeted towards young teens, despite the strong violence, and the absurd computer graphics and tech lingo were past the expiration date upon release and have only fermented since. It's more "late night cable" than "buy on DVD," but it has its fans, and they will be pleased with this release.


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