Gorehouse Greats: Brain Twisters (1991)

EDITOR’S NOTE: 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.

Gorehouse Greats Mill Creek

No, we can’t blame Albert Pyun directing Charles Band’s Arcade, as that 1993 evil video game romp wasn’t made yet. But we can blame “The Bishop of Battle,” the segment from the 1983 portmanteau Nightmares, you know, the segment when 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awful movie down: Sangiuliano tried to pass this off in the DVD age as a “new” film, Fractals, in 2013 — with the same out-of-date graphics that were out-of-date in 1991.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?

A sci-fi thriller without thrills.

Mind control with CRT monitors complete 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 touchy-feely college professors manipulating weak teen girls (see Dr. Carl Hill in 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.

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.)

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.

Yeah, the body count is building. Boringly so.

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 meglomaniac 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.

Maybe — one day — they’ll make a movie based on the Polybius urban legend (seeded in 1994) with (speaking of Dan O’Herlihy), a touch of the charm that made the video game as-a-combat-training-tool tomfoolery from The Last Starfighter so much fun. Until that happens, the curious and the masochist can free-stream Brain Twisters on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

B-MOVIE BLAST: Lena’s Holiday (1991)

Oh man, this movie is the reason why I bought the B-Movie Blast set twice. The first one I ordered actually had the Dark Crimes movies inside it and I couldn’t find Lena’s Holiday streaming anywhere. Well, you know what a completist I am, so I got another one, just so you could know all about this movie, dear reader.

Lena Jung (Felicity Waterman, who was on Hulk Hogan’s Thunder In Paradise) has gone from East Germany to Hollywood and the culture shock is everything you thought that it would be. Making matters even worse, her bag is switched at the airport and she loses her itinerary and she ends up in the middle of a suspense switcheroo.

There’s a pretty interesting cast here, with everyone from Chris Lemmon (Wishmaster), Nick Mancuso (one of the voices of Billy in Black Christmas), Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), comedian Bill Dana, Liz Torres (Gilmore Girls), Pat Morita and Susan Anton.

This is one odd Crown International movie, because just when you think, “This has to be smut,” they fool you into making a movie about culture clash and how foreigners see America. I mean, it’s not a great movie nor is it worth getting the box set for like I did, but it is not exploitation like most of their output.

REPOST: Brain Twisters (1991)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to Mill Creek Month! As you know, we love those Mill Creek sets, so we’re doing an entire month of these films. The first set we’re getting into this month is B-Movie Blast, which has — as is par for the course with these bricks of films — a real mashup of movie mayhem. We originally reviewed this movie on November 1 as part of our reviews for Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion set.

Jerry Sangiuliano was born and died in Scranton, PA. He left behind four short films and one full-length movie, which will be the one we discuss today. It’s a movie that says, “WARNING! An experiment in mind control is out of control … and the body count is building!”

Laurie Stevens (Farrah Forke, Hitman’s Run) is one of several college students who have signed up to improve the world of video games and end up becoming killers when flashes of light begin to reprogram their brains.

Yes, it’s Polybius all over again, with the games that kids love being the cause of everything evil in the world, just like they always warned us they would be. They probably shouldn’t have sat so close to the TV while they were at it.

Sangiuliano re-released this movie in 2013 as Fractals, which is an amazing piece of carny hucksterism, because as far as I know, video game graphics do not improve over the course of 22 years.

I’ve never understood movies where evil video game companies try to kill off their main target audience. It’s the same reason why I never understood why Judas Priest and Ozzy wanted me to kill myself. Who else was going to buy their records?

You can watch this Crown International release on so many Mill Creek sets, including the one we’re featuring this month (Sci-Fi Invasion), the Gore House Greats 12-movie set, Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 4 and the Drive-In Cult Cinema 200 Classics box and the B Movie Blasts set. I am certain that it just might be a bonus feature on everything Mill Creek has ever and will ever release. It’s also on YouTube.

Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Disco Club Layla (1991)

During World War II, the Japanese military had a secret lab in Tokyo where three soldiers would be transformed into Jinra-go, which were armored superhumans. By March 1945, only one soldier was ready when the atomic bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered.

45 years pass, as modern Tokyo is being rebuilt and an area is being made to a nightclub called Discoclub Layla, the bad wiring of the new development has reactivated the lab in the basement and now Mikedroid is loose.

Director Tomo’o Haraguchi also made Death Kappa, some of Ultraman Ginga and Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden, which is one of my favorites. It’s interesting in this movie that the action never really seems to be seen on screen. It’s either in shadow, a silhouette or in close-up almost manga-like panels, done as stills. Whether this was a budgetary or artistic choice is unclear.

There’s also two ancient supersoldiers who were part of the same program as the robot, who looks like a steam-driven samurai, which is quite the artistic choice. Actually, this movie is full of that kind of off the beaten path magic, such as a kill that has a girl leave behind a stick figure of blood that perfectly fits into a mural, the drab bunker that houses the robot and plenty of shadowy kills that never really show the monster until the end. For a budget direct-to-video movie, this has plenty to like.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

A HBO TV movie that combines film noir, late 40’s Hollywood, H.P. Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones, magic and monsters, as well as turns by Fred Ward and Julianne Moore? Why isn’t this movie not discussed all the time?

Let’s change that.

Unlike the rest of 1948 Los Angeles, private detective H. Philip Lovecraft (Ward) doesn’t use magic. He relies on his fists, his smarts and his gun. He’s been hired by Amos Hackshaw (David Warner, as always absolutely perfect) to find chauffeur Larry Willis, who has stolen a book called the Necronomicon.

You know that it can’t be that simple, right?

There’s also the virginal Olivia Hackshaw (Alexandra Powers, who played Tonya Harding in a TV movie but is now part of Scientology’s Sea Org), who is the key to a much greater scheme, plus Lovecraft’s old flame Connie Stone (Moore) has an angle, too. Look for appearances by Clancy Brown (the Kurgan from Highlander), Charles Hallahan, Arnetia Walker as a witch who aids our hero and Curt Sobel, who in addition to playing the band leader, won an Emmy for his song from this movie, “Who Do I Lie?”

Director Martin Campbell would go on to make GoldenEye and Casino Royale. This looks way bigger and better than a TV movie and would have made a great series for HBO, back in the days before they actually did that as often as they do today. The special FX are also perfect, making this feel like a lost 90’s direct to video movie.

HBO did make a spiritual sequel, Witch Hunt, which had Dennis Hopper take over for Ward and the story move to 1953 and magic take the place of Communism.

By the way, the Owl Wagon Cook is George Wilbur, who played the Shape in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: Brain Twisters (1991)

Jerry Sangiuliano was born and died in Scranton, PA. He left behind four short films and one full-length movie, which will be the one we discuss today. It’s a movie that says, “WARNING! An experiment in mind control is out of control … and the body count is building!”

Laurie Stevens (Farrah Forke, Hitman’s Run) is one of several college students who have signed up to improve the world of video games and end up becoming killers when flashes of light begin to reprogram their brains.

Yes, it’s Polybius all over again, with the games that kids love being the cause of everything evil in the world, just like they always warned us they would be. They probably shouldn’t have sat so close to the TV while they were at it.

Sangiuliano re-released this movie in 2013 as Fractals, which is an amazing piece of carny hucksterism, because as far as I know, video game graphics do not improve over the course of 22 years.

I’ve never understood movies where evil video game companies try to kill off their main target audience. It’s the same reason why I never understood why Judas Priest and Ozzy wanted me to kill myself. Who else was going to buy their records?

You can watch this Crown International release on so many Mill Creek sets, including the one we’re featuring this month (Sci-Fi Invasion), the Gore House Greats 12-movie set, Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 4 and the Drive-In Cult Cinema 200 Classics box and the B Movie Blasts set. I am certain that it just might be a bonus feature on everything Mill Creek has ever and will ever release. It’s also on YouTube.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 10: Mannequin Two: On the Move (1991)

DAY 10. PLASTIQUE VIVANT: Mannequins are creepy enough standing still but what happens when they come to life?

Stewart Raffill has made a diverse list of films over his career, directing everything from The Philadelphia ExperimentThe Ice PiratesTammy and the T-RexMac and Me and wrote Passenger 57. Let’s add this movie to the mix, which takes the first film and pretty much does it all over again, but this time inside Philadelphia’s Wanamaker’s department store.

It was produced by David Begelman, who embezzled thousands from Judy Garland before becoming an executive at Columbia Pictures. Actor Cliff Robertson noted that money had been paid to him from the studio that he didn’t receive at one point in 1977, which led to Begelman being let go and a rift within the studio itself. Begelman was more punished for lying about going to Yale on his bio than for stealing money; Roberston was blacklisted for years for speaking up. By 1980, he’d return to the job at MGM, where he lasted for two years and produced Fame and Poltergeist.

He then moved to Sherwood Productions, where he produced WarGames, Mr. Mom, Blame It On Rio and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, another movie that he scammed investors on by reporting inflated costs and pocketing the difference. After an investor pulled out, he started yet another production company where he made Mannequin, Weekend at Bernie’s, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Short Time and the movie we’re discussing right now. After failing to find funding to keep making movies, he became depressed and shot himself at Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel.

A thousand years ago, Prince William (William Ragsdale, Fright Night) of the kingdom of Hauptmann-Koenig wanted to marry a peasant girl named Jessie (Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer). However, his mother (Cynthia Harris, Mad About You) does not approve of the marriage and asks her sorcerer (Terry Kiser, Bernie himself) to turn her into a mannequin for a thousand years or until she finds love in a foreign land.

Ragsdale also plays Jason Williamson, a new window dresser at Prince & Company, a Philadelphia department store. This is unlike any store you’ve ever seen before, putting even the one from A Christmas Story to shame. It’s like a self-contained city and will have a huge reveal of the new windows, which will include a peasant girl mannequin that is, of course, Jessie. Once our hero removes her cursed necklace, he suddenly has a new love.

That said, they must deal with the machinations of Count Gunther Spretzle, the reincarnation of the sorcerer, who wants Jessie for his own. He also has an army of bodybuilders — Rolf, Egon and Arnold — who are as ineffective as it gets.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Hollywood Montrose (Meshach Taylor) shows up again and pretty much looks at the camera and lets you in on the fact that this happening twice is absolutely ridiculous. Taylor also plays a doorman at a nightclub in the film.

If you watch this and say, “That pink convertible seems familiar,” well that’s because it’s the same one from Raffill’s Mac and Me.

The failure of this film killed off Begelman’s Gladden Entertainment, which led to the end of his life. If you can get past that, this movie is absolutely off the rails. It has no grounding in reality whatsoever, beyond the fact that a mannequin comes to life. I’ve seen it so many times — it’s a Becca favorite so it airs several times a year in the B&S About Movies household — and every time I wonder, did anyone watch this in the edit and laugh that no one had caught on to the fact that they were aliens that didn’t know how humans really behaved?

SLASHER MONTH: Scary Movie (1991)

No, not that movie. This movie.

Yes, 1991’s never-released until last year’s Scary Movie is straight outta Austin, Texas.

It’s all about a nerd named Warren (John Hawkes, Kenny Powers’ brother from Eastbound and Down) who winds up in a haunted house attraction, but is convinced that things are not what they seem. Just like this movie, which you’d think would be an end of the video rental idea movie and it ends up being a slapstick voyage into Bava lighting and slasher menace.

Hawks is awesome in this, somehow becoming a mix of Buster Keaton and John Lithgow in The Twilight Zone: The Movie as simply the act of going into a fake haunted barn is way more than his mind can endure. And once he reveals that the maze-like structure — all constructed from soundstages — contains a killer, he busts from his seams.

This is a low-budget affair, but any horror movie that uses The Butthole Surfers and ends with legendary Austin psychedelic performer Roky Erickson’s “I Walked With a Zombie” over the credits is one that you know I’m going to adore. And man, the killer’s mask is absolutely awesome looking.

You can order the AGFA blu ray of this from Diabolik DVD or watch it on Tubi.

Subspecies (1991)

Ted Nicolaou wrote and directed five of these movies — you better believe we have the box set and action figure — starting in 1991 for Full Moon. These look way better than 90’s rental films, because they were shot on location in Romania — the first American film to ever be filmed there — and have incredible looking stop-motion and rod puppet techniques for the subspecies creatures.

Three college students — Mara (Irina Movila), Michelle (Laura Mae Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride) have traveled to Prejmer, Romania to study folklore. There, they meet another student named Stefan (Michael Watson) who claims to be studying nocturnal animals, but in truth has been battling his evil brother Radu (Anders Hove, who has been in every single one of these movies other than Vampire Journals).

How did we get here? Why does Radu look so beastly and his brother so much like a human? Well, their father King Vladislas (Angus Scrimm!) was seduced by a sorceress, so they’re really only half-brothers.

Radu killed their father so that he could control the Bloodstone, which drips the blood of the saints. How a vampire can hold onto a holy relic is a point of conjecture we’re best not asking.

Anyhow, Radu — who was named after Vlad the Impaler’s brother Radu the Handsome — turns Mara and Lillian into vampires, but Stefan already loves Michelle, so he works to free her friends. By the end, he chops off Radu’s head and has to turn his love so that she can survive.

Luckily, Radu’s minions are already working on bringing him back to life, otherwise I have no idea what the next movies on this box set are all about.

Speaking of his minions, which are created from Radu’s blood, they weren’t always stop-motion. The original plan was to film local Romanian talent in rubber suits on oversized sets, but then David W. Allen — who worked on several of the Full Moon films — took that footage and added in bluescreen puppets to improve the look of this film.

The Swedish black metal band Marduk’s song “Nightwing” is a cover of this movie’s theme and is all about Radu: “And the mantel of power should be shouldered by the firstborn / The one who craves evil and all kinds of human feelings scorn / He who drank his father’s blood and leaves his foes ripped and torn / And which the king halls up high since long forlorn.”

You can watch this on Tubi.

Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)

The movie begins with a child runs through the woods being chased by a werewolf which corners and kills her. All that’s left is a teddy bear which we soon see being held by a drifter named Ian Richards as he tries to get a ride. He gets a job helping to rebuild a church, but by the time the full moon comes back, he’s soon captured by them.

Oh man — The Howling series of films has brought us here to the sixth movie of several films that rarely, if ever, tie together. Are you ready?

This film adds a sideshow angle, complete with Deep Roy — Teeny Weeny from The NeverEnding Story, Fellini from Flash Gordon, the Tin Man in Return to Oz, all of the Oompa Loompas from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Tim Burton film — and a vampire leader of the circus battling the entire town of Canton Bluff.

Director Hope Perello also made the Full Moon kid movie Pet Shop and a drama entitled St. Patrick’s Day.

So how does this all tie in? Mary Lou from The Rebirth has a brief, non-speaking part as an audience member at the beginning of the film. They actually explain this in the next installment, New Moon Rising.

You can watch this on Tubi.