With advertising heavily emphasising the ugly bad guy, you could be forgiven for mistaking this as another A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th series clone. However, there's more to this film than meets its marketing. Thanks to writer Brian Owens, Brainscan has more to say instead of simply offering up a multitude of inventive murders.
When Michael (Edward Terminator 2 Furlong) orders a computer game called Brainscan that promises the latest in interactive horror, he is shaken out of the secluded world of his middle-class bedroom and into a nightmare that becomes all too real. Isolated by the death of his mother and his busy father whose work keeps him away from home much of the time, Michael turns to his computer, instead of the girl next door that he really desires, for comfort and solace. Before too long he begins to see reports of local murders on TV that mirror exactly those he's committed as a killer in the virtual reality of the Brainscan computer game. Moreover, a grotesque man appears to Michael, taunting him into further acts of violence within the game. Is this person for real or is Michael really losing a grip on reality?
Director John Flynn throws into the boiling pot a good deal of characterisation for a teenage horror flick, particularly (and crucially) for Edward's Furlong's lead character. Ever since his mother's death in a car accident, Michael's life increasingly revolves around the macabre in the form of horror films, heavy metal music and violent computer games. Michael becomes the archetypal nerdy shy boy. At school he runs a horror film club, watching movies with titles like 'Death, Death, Death... Part 2'! His principal tells him: "Don't you see, senseless violence isn't entertaining." "What is it then?" asks Michael sarcastically. He avoids going to a party where the girl next door will be waiting for him, choosing instead to play another computer game - something he has some sense of control over.
So, further lazy 'evidence' for the theory that a diet of horror films and computer generated aggression can be bad for personal development? Refreshingly, not so says Brainscan. For it is here, just when you least expect it, that writer Owens really makes a stand for the alternative viewpoint. The school principal becomes a mouthpiece for the inane ramblings of those who give too much credence to inaccurate reports in the media, telling Michael that if he doesn't stop watching horror films he is likely to go out and start raping women, creating real terror. Michael puts his simplistic tutor right, pointing out that "Terror is in the doing, not in watching horror films".
Helping director Flynn create the commendable off-kilter ambience is the often Twin Peaksy soundtrack by George S. Clinton. Brainscan may only be a new (virtual reality) spin on an old theme, but it is responsibly made with intelligence and an admirable point of view. Oh, and it's pretty good fun too. 6/10
Rob Dyer (July 2005)
(Based on a review first published in Dark Star #12 in 1995)
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