Sunday, October 29, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Brainscan

Film: Brainscan
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Remember when Edward Furlong had a career in movies? While he’s still best known for being easily the worst part of the best of the Terminator films, there was a time when he was thought of as potentially a star in actual properties. Brainscan is one such film. While this is a mid-range horror movie at best, a film that really wants to play with the idea of technology and what people thought of as cyberpunk in the mid-90s, it manages to have a luminary like Frank Langella in the cast. If I had to guess, I would think there was some effort to create a Freddy Kruger-like bad guy in The Trickster. There was potential here, but the movie itself short-circuited that possibility.

As with many a horror movie both before and after Brainscan, we’re going to be focused on a main character who loves horror movies. This is Michael (Furlong), who is the culmination of all of the stereotypes of how horror nerds are depicted in film. This is fair since the way computers are depicted here are going to be how computers are depicted through the 1990s as well. Michael gets in trouble at school for showing essentially a schlocky horror film in his horror club, and the club gets cancelled—this is the sort of thing that probably does happen in the real world and would just cause the kids to go watch movies at someone’s house instead.

Anyway, Michael’s best and only friend Kyle (Jamie Marsh) tells him all about a hyper-realistic new video game called Brainscan that is supposed to be terrifying and as real as possible. In a sort of daze, Michael sends away for it and doesn’t remember doing so when it shows up, but when it does, he decides to play. In the game, he experiences something that is very much a first-person experience of him breaking into a house, killing someone with a kitchen knife, and then severing the foot. When he wakes up, he discovers that that murder has actually happened in the real world and the foot is in his freezer.

From here, Michael starts being visited by The Trickster (T. Ryder Smith), who tells him that there was a witness to the murder. He urges Michael to play the next disc of Brainscan (the first disc no longer plays), which naturally just gets Michael deeper and deeper into what is happening. It’s also worth noting that essentially friendless horror nerd Michael has a huge and creepy crush on Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves) who lives across the street from him. Creepy how, you ask. Creepy enough that he surreptitiously takes video of her voyeur-style. And we’re going to eventually discover that she is doing the same of him. Just…yikes.

So let’s talk about the computers. In 1994, I was working in the computer game industry. This was around the time that CD-ROM became the big deal in computer gaming, and more and more games were starting to use live-action in cut scenes. Brainscan would have us believe, though, that computer gamers could expect something that looked like actual reality and that was reactive like the real world, not simply video that forced you along a certain path. Beyond that, Michael has a computer assistant that is voice activated and does things like tell people calling him that he can’t take calls at the moment. This thing has functionality that people would like to see in an Alexa, and has it in 1994. Again, this is par for the course—filmmakers have never really understood how computers are supposed to look.

The premise here is a fun one. The Trickster is very clearly modeled after horror characters like Freddy Kruger especially. He’s funny but also violent and evil, and while he lacks the charisma of Freddy, it wouldn’t be hard to see him as an icon of the genre if there had been a series of Brainscan films. But this was not to be. You’re welcome to blame the whiney teen years of Edward Furlong if you would like, but I think there is a much clearer reason for this.

That reason is the ending. While the mid-‘90s is an era with more feel-good endings than not—we had survived the nihilism of the ‘70s and hadn’t yet returned to the nihilism of the current century. The way we get there here, though is completely unconscionable. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it’s a cheap trick, and it’s almost certainly the reason that this film only grossed a bit more than $4 million at the box office.

Brainscan could have been a very interesting film, and there are parts of it that work. Ultimately, though, the bad technology is not as bad as the cheap and shoddy conclusion.

Why to watch Brainscan: It’s a great mid-‘90s premise.
Why not to watch: Such a cop-out ending.


  1. I remember this movie back in the day. Man, it was shit. It was just not very good from what I can remember. I still don't think it would age well.

    1. Honestly, how good is it going to be starring Edward Furlong?