Wednesday, April 24, 2019

THE BRAIN (1988) Blu-ray review

The Brain (1988) d. Ed Hunt (Canada) (94 min)

Dr. Anthony Blakely (David Gale), head of the Psychological Research Institute, is the host of the hottest new local TV program, the ironically named Independent Thinking, which exerts control over its viewers, leading them to murder and suicide. Troublemaking high school rebel Jim (Tom Bresnahan), following his most recent toilet-exploding practical joke, is sent to PRI to see if his attitude can be “adjusted,” where he discovers the sinister truth behind Blakely and his brainwashing scheme: the dastardly doc has teamed with an alien brain and plans to gain control of all humanity!

Combining a 1950s monster movie aesthetic with over-the-top 1980s gooey latex practical effects, Bloody Birthday’s director Ed Hunt and screenwriter Barry Pearson re-team for this hugely enjoyable sci-fi/horror outing which never quite got the attention it deserved back in the VHS days. Sterling special effects and makeup man Mark Williams (Aliens, Blue Monkey, Syngenor) designed the Brain in its various, increasingly enlarged incarnations and it’s his rubber monster antics that are really the star of the show and the reason for the film’s ongoing appeal.

Oddly enough, Bresnahan’s high school wunderkind comes off as a smarmy smug jerk from the get-go and as such never really earns much in the way of audience sympathy, even when all the odds are turned against him. (Listening to the actor's commentary, it sounds like he was a young artist trying to figure out his craft, so we'll cut him a little slack.) Far more appealing is still-working TV actor Cynthia Preston (whose other Canadian genre credits include Pin and Prom Night III) who manages to flesh out her thinly written damsel-in-distress girlfriend, projecting far more appealing humanity than expected.

While still enjoyable, the Re-Animator star (only on set for two days) doesn’t seem to be bringing his full Gale force, content to coast on his sleazy charm and lopsided leer, which admittedly serves the turn. As Blakely’s saucy and sexy assistant Vivian, Christine Kossak is quite memorable and it’s unfortunate that she only made three movies, this likely being her largest onscreen role. George Buza, playing Blakely’s heavier, hairier, menacing cohort, is also quite fun, and you’ve gotta give props to the guy’s cardio because he spends half the movie tearing around in pursuit of Bresnahan, blasting pistols, scaling staircases, and chopping the heads off cops!

With a zippy score from reliable Canuck tunesman Paul Zaza (Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, Curtains, A Christmas Story) and bonkers imagery through the lens of veteran camera operator Gilles Corbeil (Cosmopolis, Rambo, any number of Guillermo del Toro’s projects), serving as a fully fledged director of photography, this is a low-budget gem well-worth discovering. Hats off to Shout! Factory for unearthing The Brain in such a spectacular, bells-and-whistles package!


NEW 4K scan of the original negative

NEW audio commentary with director Ed Hunt and filmmaker Justin Beahm

NEW audio commentary with composer Paul Zaza and filmmaker Justin Beahm

NEW audio commentary with actor Tom Bresnahan and filmmaker Justin Beahm

NEW “Canada on the Mind” with actress Cynthia Preston (11 min)

NEW “From Monster Kid To Monster Man” with actor George Buza (14 min)

NEW “Brain Art” with assistant art director Michael Borthwick (13 min)

NEW “Food for Thought: A Love Letter to The Brain” with filmmaker/archivist John Campopiano (12 min)

Still Gallery

The Brain is available April 30 on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be pre-ordered HERE:


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