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Year: 1994
Director: John Flynn
Stars: Edward Furlong, Frank Langella, T. Ryder Smith, Amy Hargreaves, Jamie Marsh, Victor Ertmanis, David Hemblen, Vlasta Vrana, Domenico Fiore, Clare Riley, Tod Fennell, Michèle-Barbara Pelletier, Dean Hagopian, Donna Baccala, Jérôme Tiberghien
Genre: Horror
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Michael (Edward Furlong) is a lonely sixteen-year-old who has lost his mother in a car crash some years before, an accident that left him with a limp in one leg and a nasty scar. His father is often away on business, leaving him to stay on his own in their well-furnished house since to make up for his frequent absence Michael's parent has given him anything he could possibly want as far as electronics go. He has a computer system that can call his best pal Kyle (Jamie Marsh), he has a video camera he can film the girl next door, Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves), undressing with, and he is obsessed with horror movies in lieu of having a healthy relationship with anyone. Until...

Until he gets to act out a horror movie! Oh noes! What happens is that Kyle alerts Michael to an ad in Fangoria (of course) promising a chance to play one of the most terrifying games imaginable, and he finds it difficult to resist. This is after he has been admonished at school for running a horror club where they show shockers on video to fellow classmates, so he is in a bad mood, but note well the teacher's reasons: he believes watching violent chillers can breed psychopathic killers, a common myth that you would expect Brainscan, since its main character is a horror fan, to refute entirely. However, it was a lot more confused than that, as screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker was unsure.

On this evidence, the future scriptwriter of blockbuster Se7en was more or less in agreement with the moral majority that the genre was utterly harmful, which is odd seeing as how it was horror that made his name, albeit a little too briefly to make much of a lasting impact aside from ensuring gloomy thrillers with gruesome killings would endure, though arguably that was more down to the success of Thomas Harris adaptation The Silence of the Lambs. After viewing this, you may have been retrospectively more sceptical about Se7en's quality, and put it down to director David Fincher and his way with a camera, since this was closer to a farce than any grand statement on fear.

For a start, it had a Freddie Krueger character as its main embodiment of evil, here named The Trickster (stage actor T. Ryder Smith), a villain who had magical powers of emerging from a TV to taunt the hero, make with the quips, and eat lots of food without putting on weight. Other than that, he did not do a tremendous amount, decked out like a New Romantic fashion victim of the previous decade but remaining resolutely unthreatening since all Michael needed to do would be to ignore the game, go by his initial reservations. That game - Brainscan itself - was something it was difficult to accept anyone would want to play, even eXistenZ looked more fun, as all you needed to do was murder someone. Now, the gaming industry is built on pretending to kill people, but nobody complains when the killings are unrealistic.

Here, on the other hand, the murder is as authentic as possible, probably because once Michael has started playing, he unconvincingly finds out what fun it is to end another human being's life and only has reservations when he realises someone has died as a result of his actions. He's also cut the guy's foot off and put it in his fridge, purely so the film could feature a mid-credits stinger, but what Walker seemed to miss was that you don't watch horror movies because you would like to murder like the bad guys do, there are all sorts of reasons such as thrills, spectacle, humour, empathy, and so on. Loving horror is a lot more complicated than Brainscan could ever grasp, as a result this quickly grows absurd, and no matter that some decided it was supposed to be a comedy, there was little evidence either Walker or director John Flynn was delivering what they thought was a spoof of some kind. In fact, this was a very conservative film, and clueless with it, that resists a more subversive conclusion in favour of an unambitious "evade the cops" plot, Frank Langella (really slumming it) representing the Fuzz. Music by George S. Clinton. Yes, that was a widescreen TV in 1994. Just not a very big one.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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