If you wanted to see an “ancient future” movie directed by a filmmaker who worked on West Side Story (as a script supervisor) and with Elvis Presley on Kid Galahad (as an second assistant director), then this is your movie.
That filmmaker eventually made a film that a Southern California video store clerk later adopted as the name for his home video reissues imprint: the filmmaker was Quentin Tarantino and the movie was ultimate Vietnam revenge flick, 1977’s Rolling Thunder.
Then that filmmaker made the only other movie that we care about starring Edward Furlong. Well, at least for us hard rockin’ video game lovin’ loners who only rented horror movies and devoured copies of Fangoria (the copy of Fangoria magazine where the faux “Brainscan” advertisement appears is Fangoria issue #95/August 1990).
And we remember that movie, not so much for the fact that John Flynn directed it and “John Connor” starred in it, but that noted session musician and soundtrack composer George S. Clinton scored the film and made it sound like a Halloween sequel. Then there’s the fact that alt-rock and grunge was all the rage at the time, and this time, instead of rockin’ on Guns and Roses, John Connor was into (the cool, but second and third string Seattle bands) Mudhoney and Tad, as well as Butthole Surfers and Primus — and a really cool tune “Shapes” from a 4th string Seattle band, Alcohol Funnycar, and Philadelphia’s they-sound-like-they’re-from-Seattle-but-they’re-not-Nirvana Dandelion with “Under My Skin.”
Oh, and some screenwriter from Mechanicsburg, Pennslyvania, out in little ol’ Cumberland County — who wowed us with the noir-slasher Se7en (1995) and gave us the Cage in 8mm (1999) — wrote it. (Check out our “Nic Cage Bitch” career retrospective.) And proving that everyone has to start somewhere in the business: Andrew Kevin Walker’s first job in the business was as a scenic painter on (the utter abysmal) Robot Holocaust (1986). If you know your comics, then you know Walker’s place in the Marvel and DC-verses with his shelved adaptations for Silver Surfer and X-Men, as well as Batman and Superman.
Okay, enough of the movie and music nostalgia. Now for the behind the scene turmoil.
“Frank Langella is a prince of a guy and a wonderful actor. He really nailed that character. Frank took what was a routine cop part and lent real depth to it. He played against the tough cop stereotype, played it very gently and softly, but there was a subtext of steel. His Detective Hayden character had a very human concern for the boy, but he was going to find the truth. If it meant the destruction of this boy, so be it.”
Okay, but what about Edward Furlong?
“Eddie Furlong was a 15-year-old kid who couldn’t act. You had to ‘slap him awake’ every morning. I don’t want to get into knocking people, but I was not a big Eddie Furlong fan.”
And Andrew Kevin Walker’s script?
“The main interest for me was the Trickster character. The Trickster was the core of the movie and what attracted me to the script. We found this stage actor [T. Ryder Smith] to play the Trickster and he was extraordinary. . . . Walker had thoroughly researched that whole VR scene.”
And that sums it up: We’ve got a great, ominous-appropriate score by George S. Clinton (the whacked musical The Apple, Cheech and Chong’s Still Smokin’). A great soundtrack by then timely-hot grunge-and-not-grunge bands. A great, well-researched script by Andrew Kevin Walker (that gave him his start in the business) directed by John Flynn — in his first horror film — knocking it out of the park. And, as Flynn — and Shock Cinema’s editors pointed out — we have a great villain in The Trickster in T. Rider Smith as “a cadaverous Alice Cooper-like entity who materializes from a CD-ROM computer game.”
Regardless of the problems with Furlong on the set: I think he’s just fine, here (and really good in 1989’s American History X; if that movie was made today, yikes; people would go social media insane over it). But T. Ryder Smith? Just wow and a bag o’ chips. Not since Anders Hove as Radu Vladislas in Subspecies (1991). Sure, The Trickster isn’t a “vampire” in the traditional sense, but I can’t help think Walker was influenced by the Amicus and Hammer vampires of old, as our virtual reality “vamp” is draining the will — the soul — of the user. I see The Trickster as one of the best — right alongside Tom Cruise’s take of Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (1994) — in contemporary film vampires. Is there a little pinch o’ Pinhead from the Hellraiser (1987) franchise, here? Sure. And I always align The Trickster with Sammy Curr (a “backmasked” vampire, if you will) from the “No False Metal” classic Trick or Treat (1986) (now that’s a Groovy Doom Saturday Night Double Feature watch party: Brainscan and Trick or Treat). If Edward Furlong was an aspiring rocker or just a ne’er-do-well metalhead of the Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer variety. . . .
There’s so much that Andrew Kevin Walker gets right in Brainscan: in fact, everything that the ancient future-cum-erotic thriller Disclosure (Sam and I both take it to task this week; look for them) gets wrong, Walker gets right. Sure, CDs and CD-ROM drives are passé — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a laptop with a CD-drive today . . . well, hell . . . The Trickster spinnin’ those disks on his long finger nails. Just damn. Demi Moore’s evil bitch has nothing on The Trickster. Snake Plissken rippin’ out the analog tape of a K-Mart Kraco cassette of the 1997, John Carpenter-mission-critical variety just ain’t the same. Walker’s script is the prefect amalgamate statement on the Gen-X counterculture’s obsession with rock music and horror movies — an already troublesome mix in itself — colliding with computers and its growing development of violent video games.
Micheal Brower isn’t that far removed from Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer: both have absentee parents and spend their days in, well, the coolest bedrooms, ever: the kind that only exist in the movies. Only difference: Micheal is ye not plugged into devilish metal music, but the (then) burgeoning world of the Internet and computers — and enthralled by a new subset of that digital-verse: the digitally-created worlds of virtual reality programming.
A mother dead in a car crash. A kid with a permanently disabled leg. A father who escapes into his career. Bullies. One lone friend. And a hot, next door high school classmate that won’t give him the time of day. Childhood trauma. Abandonment. And just plain horny. Perfect pickings for The Trickster because, well, David Lightman is too smart for the VR scam and is starting WW III with a IMSAI 8080. And The Trickster’s already upgraded to a brainfucking Memorex Telex IBM/PC.
Only, Brainscan, the latest in video game technology, isn’t a video game: it’s a murder simulator, a program that encourages one’s most murderous impulses. And young Michael comes to discover: whoever dies in the game, dies in real life. And he’s killed best friend, but Michael’s mind is so scrambled, he doesn’t remember.
The Trickster — what I love about Walker’s character development in ambiguity — is that we don’t know “what” the host of Brainscan is. As Proteus in Demon Seed (1977) before him, is The Trickster a sentient computer program turned flesh or, as with Max Renn in Videodrome (1983) before him, a manifestation of young Michael’s own needs, wants, vices, and desires? Or is The Trickster just a digitized Freddy Krueger who, instead of dreams, uses the information super highway-expressway into one’s skull?
It’s eerie how Andrew Kevin Walker foretells the forthcoming, 1999 Columbine tragedy — with that cauldron of violence spiced with the occult and satanic-panic — that associated the music of shocker-rocker Marilyn Manson and the industrial/goth bands KMFDM and Rammstein as underlying causes. Then there was the liberal reasoning that the home computer-based video games of Doom, Wolfstein 3D, and Duke Nukem were the causes. To that Columbine end: In addition to Walker effectively researching — and getting it right — the burgeoning virtual reality-verse, I wonder if the legal atrocities of the 1986 West Memphis 3 case, and the seminal British metal band Judas Priest “subliminal messaging” (via their 1978 album Stained Class) teens into murder and suicide, which also bit Ozzy Osbourne in the arse by way of the song “Suicide Solution” from his 1980 debut album, Blizzard of Oz, played into Walker’s screenwriting research.
Just a great film all around, Mr. Walker and Mr. Flynn. A true computer and alt-music time capsule. And a foretelling tale of our today’s online gaming and social media addictions. Beware of the true biblical beast. He’s waiting to plug into you.
Hats off for Sam the Bossman devising an “Ancient Future” theme week inspiring me to rewatch this debut work from Andrew Kevin Walker again, all these years later. And shame on me for not searching the B&S About Movies’ database to see that if we already reviewed this film — ugh, we did, courtesy of Sam back in June 2019, when Mill Creek appropriately double-packed Brainscan with another “ancient future” lost bit n’ bytes romp, Mindwarp (1992), from Fangoria Films/Magazine (!) starring Angus Scrimm and Bruce Campbell. (Ironically, The Trickster is a computerized version of The Tallman from Phantasm, right? Too bad T. Ryder Smith didn’t get a franchise out of this, as he is astounding in his role.)
There’s just too many movies to keep track of . . . and so many more to review. At least I caught myself before rehashing Mindwarp, for it ain’t no Brainscan, but it’s still pretty cool. You can watch Brainscan as a free-with-ads stream on the Crackle online service.