“It’s a brain. Not an animal.” — Dr. Anthony Blake
Warning! This Canuxploitation shocker carries the Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment seal of approval. Yes, the studio that brought us everything from Basket Case to Maniac Cop, from Black Roses to Frankenhooker. Then there’s C.H.U.D., Death Spa and Zombie Nightmare. If you haunted the video store shelves of the ‘80s, you’ve loaded a Shapiro-Glickenhaus VHS into a VCR.
And you know what that means: The acting will be questionable (and, in the case of The Brain, you’ll end up rooting for “The Brain” and not the dick-whiny high school hero and his screechy girlfriend). The story will be weak (and, in the case of The Brain, the ending is just stupidly lame). But you will get yourself a slice of low-budget entertainment of the first order. The fact that Ed Hunt directs is icing on the B-Movie schlock cake.
Oh, and yes: you will get some questionable production values; it is an SGE flick, after all. However, in the case of The Brain, you do not want to miss director Ed Hunt’s opening hallucination set piece of inward-pressing walls, live teddy bears bleeding from the eyes, demon hands tearing through walls, and monster tentacles punching out of TV sets. Considering the budget, it’s very well done.
Hey, why am I telling you? See for yourself!
Yeah we love Canadian director Ed Hunt here at B&S Movies. Why? Hunt’s an “all in” type of filmmaker and you do not get run-of-the-mill storytelling. When he does a Star Wars rip, you get Starship Invasions, a tale about UFOs and an underwater pyramid filled with telepathic aliens and Sir Christopher Lee in a black Gumby outfit. When he does a slasher flick, you get Blood Birthday, a story about telepathic kids born under a solar eclipse infected with a taste for blood. And with The Brain you do not get a straight, graphic horror film: you get a campy, sociological statement on Scientology brainwashing, the psychological effects of television, and a lesson that, in order to succeed, you have to submit to some level of conformity. But again, this is an Ed Hunt flick, so you’ll have to wade through the blood of a wife “divorcing” her husband via an electric carving knife.
The Brain reunites Bloody Birthday screenwriter Barry Pearson (Firebird 2015 AD) with Ed Hunt (they also worked together on 1986’s Alien Warrior) for more of that same “what the hell, why not” approach in a film that critical guides opine is a cross between the ‘50s classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the dumber John Agar camp fest that is The Brain from Planet Arous. Now, while that’s an accurate pitch, I’d have to add that this mind control romp also tosses in a hallucinatory dash of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. More astute fans of the video-obscure may name check the New Zealand-Australian shot Strange Behavior (aka Dead Kids), which dealt with teens mind-controlled into murder.
As with Blood Birthday, we’re back for more horrors in the small “Southern California” town of Meadowvale (actually a real Canadian town). Dr. Anthony Blake (played by British-Canadian actor David Gale, who pleasantly reminds us of his superb work as Dr. Carl Hill in Re-Animator) is a local psychiatrist and self-help guru of wayward teens. The fact that his teen patients have suffered hallucinations that led them to commit murders and suicides doesn’t seem to alarm anyone. In fact, the ratings of his Dr. Phil-inspired “Independent Thinkers” cable TV show has climbed so high in the local ratings that it’s ready to go national. And what’s the reason no one is alarmed: the show has everyone in town brainwashed. But don’t expect the “brainwash” to be some man-made, electromechanical device of the Cronenberg variety. There’s no From Beyond “Sonic Resonator” making anyone “see” things. This is an Ed Hunt what-the-hell-why-not mind control movie, after all.
The newest inductee to Blake’s clinic (that, with its curved architecture and round windows, looks like a UFO) for wayward teens is Jim, a high school delinquent who’s “so smart” that he’s intellectually bored to the point of blowing up the school’s toilets and has reached the point of expulsion. Jim’s “intellect” helps him in rejecting Blake’s mind-control methods masquerading as therapy—and he stumbles into Blake’s secret: a giant, disembodied alien brain, which is able to spread open its two hemisphere and swallow a person whole, is wired into Blake’s TV show’s transmissions. And what is up with the brain? Is it an alien creature? Is it something Blake cooked up in his lab? Is Blake, like The Tall Man in Phantasm, himself an alien? Or is he a human with once noble intentions now under the control of his own experiment?
Well, keep wondering. We never find out. Argh!
And remember the lame ending? Gale’s Dr. Blake gets punched in the face—one punch, mind you—and his head falls off (a funny homage to his career-making role) and spurts green zombie-goo. Then Jim, the prank-pulling jackass “hero” once on the verge of suspension, rides off into the sunset and gets into Princeton? Where’s the Phantasm twist-ending where we get the ol’ “it’s just a dream/no, it’s not” and Jim the Dick gets what he deserves: an alien brain tentacle choke n’ chomp as he’s yanked into the hallucinatory abyss. We loved Mike—and we were sad when The Tall Man sucked him through the broken mirror. Jim deserves a Dr. Blake from beyond comeuppance.
Eh, who cares! How can you turn down a movie with David Gale hamming it up and losing his head, again (!), nudity, a damsel chained up in cold storage, and a giant, man-eating brain that grows a face and slimes around the catacombs of a psychiatric hospital on its spinal cord? The Brain is one of those movies, like Phantasm or Black Roses, Shock ‘em Dead or Shock Waves, that I’ve revisited many, many times over the years from the warmth of my VCR. Is this as crazy as Fangoria’s Severed Ties. Oh, hell yes, and a bag ‘o chips!
Thanks to those fine folks at Shout Factory, you won’t need to scour the web for a muddy VHS print for your collection, as they released The Brain on Blu-ray in April 2019. If you’d rather a DVD copy, then you will have to scour the web to find the now out-of-print 2011 DVD issued by Britain’s Boulevard Entertainment.
We featured The Brain — with a second look — as part of our weekly “Drive-In Friday” featurettes with a tribute to the old USA Network’s “Night Flight” programming block from the ’80s.