We get it, Mill Creek! You’re a “green” company! You recycle and waste not. We originally reviewed Brain Twisters on November 1, 2020, as part of our reviews for Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion set. We re-ran that review February 1, 2021, as part of its inclusion on their B-Movie Blast 50-Pack. So, in the grand tradition of movies that do not deserve a second, alternate look (we’re talkin’ at you Cavegirl), Mill Creek beat us into submission once again . . . so let’s give Brain Twisters a new spin — as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Gorehouse Greats 12-pack.
Is it possible that this lone feature film from Jerry Sangiuliano appears on all Mill Creek box sets? We just discovered it also appears on their Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 4 set and their Drive-In Cult Cinema Classics 200-pack. So, it seems, whether you want to watch it or not, by hook or by crook, you will, so says Mill Creek. So, let’s crack open our first film on the Gorehouse Greats set.
No, we can’t blame Albert Pyun directing Charles Band’s Arcade, as that 1993 evil video game romp wasn’t made yet. Possibly William Shatner explaining the new Microworld to us wee school kids? No, but we can blame “The Bishop of Battle,” the segment from the 1983 portmanteau Nightmares, you know, the segment: Emilo Estevez’s video-game obsessed ne’er-do-well was sucked into an evil video game, which itself, ripped off 1982’s Tron.
And here comes Jerry Sangiuliano — a decade late and several dollars short — as his 1991-era computer graphics make 1992’s The Lawnmower Man — this film’s sole raison d’être — look good. And we all know how god awful that’s-not-a-Stephen King-adaptation is. And to prove you can’t keep a god awful movie down: Sangiuliano tried to pass this off in the DVD age as a “new” film, Fractals, in 2013 — with the same out-of-date graphics that were out-of-date in 1991. But where the superior Circuitry Man from 1990 succeeds, this one fails. Utterly. Yeah, this one is lost between order and chaos and heaven and hell, alright.
So what’s it all about?
Mind control with CRT monitors . . . complete with poor pixel resolution. And beeps. And boops. And wires. And conduits. And horny teens. And dumb cops. And cops who take victims to dinner (and he’s not Ponch nor is this a CHiPs episode about a video game-obsessed ne’er-do-well teen). And touchy-feely college professors manipulating weak teen girls (Hello, Dr. Carl Hill of Re-Animator). And a college professor of neuroscience who lectures students on medical quackery who is, himself, a quack: instead of screwing the medieval devices he displays in his classroom to human skulls, he plugs his students into a Commodore 64. And we wished, instead of tinkering with video games, our resident digital deviant developed the mind-control “Light Guns” in Looker.
So, our faux-digital Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Philip Rothman (dry-as-toast Terry Londeree in his only film role), sidelines his professorship with a gig at a software company developing a software platform that taps into the human brain. And he’s using his unknowing students as lab rats. And somewhere along the way, it’s discovered the software has a mind control side effect (I think), so the head of the company decides to integrate the discovery into video games. Is he evil already or does the discovery make him evil? (I don’t know and I don’t care.) What’s the purpose of turning video-game obsessed teens into killers? What’s the end game, if you will? (You got me.) Why kill off the users who dump in the quarters?
Of course, every slasher film — even the most pseudo ones, such as this tech slop — needs a “final girl,” so we have Laurie
Strode Stevens (Farrah Forke, in her acting debut; she was Alex Lambert for a three year, 35-episode run on NBC-TV’s Wings; Hitman’s Run for you direct-to-video fans) as one of several college students who’ve volunteered for Rothman’s experiments to improve video game designs — only to be programmed-cum-hypnotized to kill. Or commit suicide from the second floor of a Chili’s (Or was that an Applebees?). Hey, this was filmed in Scranton, PA., so if you lived there, maybe you recognize the eatery.
Man, nobody wants to go to Scranton. Not even, Archie. “Scranton?!”
So, does this all sound a bit like Conal Cochran’s nonsensical masterplot to take over the world with Halloween masks fitted with computer chips made from stone-flakes of Stonehenge? Or Dr. Anthony Blakely’s plan to take over the world by growing a giant brain the basement of his psychiatric institute for wayward teens?
Yeah, it does. And then some.
Ah, but Halloween III: The Season of the Witch and Ed Hunt’s The Brain had, if not a lot of sense, finesse and charm as it huskered its bananas-as-fuck junk science, along with R-level gore and sex to buoy our interest. Maybe if a Stuart Gordon-esque brain worm-thingy popped out of a student’s reprogrammed head, à la Dr. Edward Pretorius via his Sonic Resonator in From Beyond, we’d have a “bang,” here, instead of a whimper.
In the end, this is all just a bunch of PG-level shenanigans in dire need of a David Warner-embodied Master Control Program and a Cindy Morgan as our cyber-hero babe and a crazed Darryl Revok “sucking brains dry” via video games. But alas: Jerry Sangiuliano ain’t no David Cronenberg and this ain’t no Scanners joint. And the acting just stinks across the board, which is probably why Forke never capitalized on her support role in Heat with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro or scored another notable network TV series, and we never heard from male leads Terry Londeree and Joe Lombardo — ever again. If only we had Dan O’Herlihy as the evil software engineer and David Gale as the megalomaniac professor to prop this up, maybe we’d have . . . something.
Should we give Jerry Sangiuliano credit for being ahead of the urban legend curve? Nope. Should we be watching the HBO-oft run short film, Arcade Attack*, instead? Yes. Or the PBS television broadcast The Colors of Infinity, which aka’d as Fractals: The Colors of Infinity? Yes. Or the PBS rip on WarGames known as Hide and Seek. Yes.
Eh, maybe — one day — they’ll make a real movie based on the Polybius urban legend**, with (speaking of Dan O’Herlihy), a touch of the charm that made the video game as-a-combat-training-tool tomfoolery from 1984’s The Last Starfighter so much fun. The same can be said about screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker’s ten-years-later retrofitting of the Polybius legend — for the now outdated, grunge-era CD-ROM age — with 1994’s Brainscan. The best of (possible, maybe a stretch) the Polybius-inspired RAM-romps was, of course, David Cronenberg’s 1983 offering, Videodrome; the film’s deleted scenes explained the funky headgear of the film as intended for”combat training,” until its beneficial, “brainwashing” side effects were discovered (like in Looker). Polybius, for the tech-uninitiated, first “appeared” inside a Portland, Oregon, arcade in 1981; while word-of-mouthed prior by arcade aficionados since, the legend first seeded on the web in 1994, about a year after the web went online*˟ on April 30, 1993. It was one of the first “viral” posts, if you you will, before such a term was, er, coined (yuk, yuk).
So . . . until that official Polybius flick happens, the curious and the masochist can free-stream Brain Twisters on You Tube.
* It’s a double feature! You can watch the fun Arcade Attack on You Tube.
** Sure there’s a Wikipage, but why read when you can watch: This hour-long documentary on the legend will upload your Polybius fix.
*˟ Ugh, more reading? This Popular Mechanics piece, published on April 30, 2018, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the web, explains it all.