Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: The Brain
Genre: Slimy monster movie
Tagline: Mind over matter.
Released by: International Video Entertainment Inc.
Director: Edward Hunt
Plot: The evil Dr. Blake is the host of a self-help/religious program called “Independent Thinking” that claims to make its audience think more freely, but is actually feeding their mind waves to a slimy, flesh-eating alien brain-monster. With his show about to go national the only thing standing between him and global domination is a brilliant but rebellious high school student with a penchant for pranks.
Thoughts: I originally was planning on reviewing a different video for this week’s column, but on Memorial Day I attended an annual event at one of my favorite places to see movies in all of Los Angeles, The Cinefamily. The event is called The Five Minutes Game. It takes place every Memorial Day and every Labor Day (with a special Halloween horror edition added for later this year) and it has been so eloquently described by one of its loyal attendees as, “the Super Bowl for video nerds.” The game was created with the idea that every movie’s first five minutes are always interesting because you have no idea what the fuck is going on. Especially when the movies are all incredibly rare oddities that are currently not-available-on-DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix and guaranteed to have never been seen before unless you’re a rabid video hoarder, like me. But even I had never seen a lot of the choices that assaulted our senses on that evening. The list of films we watched the first five minutes of is the following:
After watching the first five minutes of all those films, we voted for the two we would like to watch the most on ballots provided to us beforehand. Then we broke to the backyard patio for a barbeque and free beer while the ballots were being tallied up. It was a tough competition, but in the end the amazing 80’s slimy monster movie gem The Brain nudged out the really fun looking gonzo-actioner The Ice House by a mere seven votes. I myself voted for The Brain, but I’m very curious about the bizarre, all-African American supernatural/post-apocalyptic horror epic 666 4: The Sign of Endtimes 2 that we saw a glimpse of. It was really insane. Anyway, The Brain won and it proved to be a perfect crowd pleaser. Usually when I write this column I watch the movie I’m reviewing on my VCR at home by myself, but this time I watched it with an incredibly enthusiastic and highly inebriated audience projected on a huge movie screen with burgers and beer. It was really awesome!
The Brain tells the twisted tale of Dr. Anthony Blake (Re-Animator’s David Gale), a Scientology-like self-help psychologist who broadcasts a show called “Independent Thinking” out of an ultra-modern complex called the Psychological Research Institute. What its loyal watchers don’t know is that their minds are being used to feed a constantly growing alien orb of grey matter that has a taste for human flesh. It also can make its home audience go nuts, like in the opening scene where a young girl’s hallucinations caused by The Brain force her to stab her mother to death.
Meanwhile a brilliant but troubled young high school teenager named Jim Majelewski (Tom Breznahan) gets kicked out of school for putting sodium in the boy’s bathroom toilet causing the plumbing to explode. (Note: sodium is a significant piece of foreshadowing that the audience of savvy and raucous nerds immediately picked up on and rolled with.) He’s sent to P.R.I. for mental analysis where Dr. Blake hooks Jim up with electrodes and makes him watch a video of a hot blonde lab assistant holding an apple, while The Brain causes him to hallucinate and see the woman topless as it sucks on his mind waves. But the hot blonde has had enough of this weirdness and abruptly quits causing Dr. Blake to sick The Brain on her! Jim’s will is too strong and he soon breaks out of the institute, making his way to the submarine shop where his girlfriend, best friend and best friend’s girlfriend all conveniently work together. Jim tells them his story, but soon has a mental freak out caused by The Brain’s control and a white-coated thug from P.R.I. arrives with the police, drugs him and takes him back to Dr. Blake. His friends decide they have to break Jim out of P.R.I. at once!
Back at the lab, Dr. Blake is gloating over the news that his show will be going out nationally, meaning that The Brain will have millions of minds to suck on and an entire world to control and manipulate. Jim is locked in a cell, but a friendly inmate breaks him out and he is soon reunited with his friends in the building’s sub-basement that is filled with huge signs reading: CAUTION SODIUM IN USE. The Brain eats Jim’s best friend, but he manages to escape again with his girlfriend. Unfortunately they don’t get far before the police pull them over and the white-coated thug arrives and beheads the arresting officer with an axe. Jim and his girlfriend run off on foot only to discover that the show “Independent Thinking” has driven the entire town insane and The Brain is forcing people to commit horribly violent murders upon one another. They manage to find temporary refuge at the empty high school, but the cops arrive and Jim’s girlfriend is captured while he manages to slip away once again.
With the entire world coming apart around him, Jim returns to P.R.I. where he interrupts Dr. Blake’s show and punches off his head, revealing that the television guru is not even human, but some kind of alien creature with green goop for blood. Jim manages to rescue his girlfriend and rant the audience out of their spells, but the white-coated thug chases he and his girlfriend back down into the sodium-filled sub-basement for the final confrontation. The Brain gobbles up white-coat thug and traps the couple in a dead end where it wraps its slime-soaked tongue around the heroine and Jim reaches for a bag of something to hit it with that turns out to be… FUCKING SODIUM! He throws it into The Brain’s mouth and just like the toilets from earlier, The Brain explodes. Bam!
The Brain is a very entertaining piece of Canuxploitation that was one hell of a lot of fun to watch with a rambunctious crowd of video geeks wasted on beer and weed. It’s also a prosthetics effects lovers dream come true, especially the titular creature, which looks like a giant mutant Madball toy covered in multiple coats of ooze. The pulsating eighties synth score was like hearing one of Mozart’s symphonies performed live as it ripped out of the theater’s super-loud speakers. I loved watching this movie more than I ever have before thanks to the good folks at The Cinefamily and I’m looking forward to the next Labor Day edition of The Five Minutes Game that will feature all made-for-TV movies. Can’t wait!