Jim Majelewski is a delinquent teen that has pulled one too many pranks at his school. In order not to be expelled, the principal insists on getting to the root of Jim’s disruptive behavior, and to do that the school insists on some good, old fashioned therapy. As it just so happens, the town has developed a rather renowned local Psychological Institute, run by the enigmatic Dr. Blakely, who also happens to host his own local TV show. But what no one has realized yet, is that Blakely is using his show not only as a way to brainwash the populace, but also as a means to feed his pet, a slimy alien organism he calls The Brain. Turns out the creature needs to feed off the brainwaves of humans in order to survive and grow. Of course, Jim figures out what’s going on, but with his not-so-sterling reputation no one is inclined to believe him, and thanks to the success of his TV show, it’s easy for Dr. Blakely to convince anyone who might be watching that Jim is a ruthless criminal who can’t be trusted. So now it’s up to one, lone delinquent teen to stop Dr. Blakely and his evil Brain, before the TV show goes international and turns the entire world into the insatiable monster’s willing food supply.
The Brain is a Canadian science fiction/horror movie from 1988, and honestly, despite the fun premise, it doesn’t have the best of reputations. The movie has been featured on not one, but TWO programs dedicated to riffing questionable films. It was first included as one of the features in the Live Mystery Science Theater 3000 tour from 2018, and was then featured again in 2020 on the German television show “SchleFaZ”, which is an abbreviation that roughly translates to “the worst films ever.” So, suffice it to say, that the movie really isn’t the pinnacle of 1980’s horror flicks. But despite its flaws, the film does still manage to be pretty fun, assuming you can focus on the right aspects.
Like a lot of monster movies from the late 80s, the movie has some very….shall we say entertaining, practical effects. The titular Brain is actually a super creepy little bugger, that actually grows and mutates as the movie goes on, as it consumes more brainwaves, and of course more humans. It ends up turning from a slimy green brain with a spinal column for a “tail”, into a slimy brain with a face, complete with glowing red eyes and teeth that look like they pulse, until it’s finally so big it’s about as tall as a standard school bus. Sadly, by the time it gets that big it ends up looking kinda hokey, but before that point the creature effects and the way it’s portrayed feel very reminiscent of similar movies of the time, like Re-Animator. Tentacles reach out to grab people, claws burst through doors, teddy bears develop bleeding eyes, and one poor victim actually has a room shrink around them. The monster is a busy creature. And though not all the monster moments are quite as good as that aforementioned film, they are good and do feel very familiar.
Unfortunately though, or fortunately depending on how you view it, the monster seems to be where the production allotted most of their effects funds, because some of the other effects in the film are a little iffy. Despite a good amount of violence, the film is shockingly very light on the blood. For whatever reason, they just didn’t seem to want to show too much of it, it seems. At one point a man is decapitated, and in another instance a wife literally cuts her husband in two with a chainsaw. What do both of those scenes have in common? Neither one of the perpetrators manages to get a single drop of blood on them. Not one. If pushed, I might forgive the first instance since it involved an ax and a little distance, but the chainsaw scene is damn near baffling. As someone who uses that tool to cut wood, let me assure you that shit flies everywhere when you’re using one of those things, so the fact that she wasn’t covered in blood and sinus is just damn friggin’ impossible. And I swear that’s not a complaint about any kind of lack of blood, either. That’s purely a complaint based on physics and practicality, which is something I know this movie actually considered, because it happens to be one of the few films I can think of that actually dropped a car off a cliff and didn’t have it needlessly explode.
Another point in the film’s favor is it’s cast. Or at least the villainous cast. Of course, you’ve got David Gale making an appearance as the evil doctor, a role he’d already pretty much perfected from Re-Animator, and then you’ve got George Buza as an orderly, who looks like he was essentially given free reign to run around town with a gun and an ax. That’s an ideal role if ever I saw one. Sadly, the kids don’t fare nearly as well, but part of that boils down to the script just not giving them too much to do. Tom Bresnahn, as Jim, unfortunately got saddled with a very unsympathetic lead. Which is actually a role he manages to play very well, but like I said his character sucks, and doesn’t seem to learn anything by the time the movie’s over, so it’s kinda hard to care about him. Then there’s Cynthia Preston as Janet, the lead’s sweet, but doofy girlfriend. She seems to have gotten stuck playing the one person with the least thought out characterization. The movie starts off trying to tell you she’s smart, but then she spends most of the movie making increasingly questionable decisions. I wanna be annoyed by it, but it gets so bad that I actually feel kinda sorry for her.
The part that keeps the movie from being greater than it is, and where the movie really falters the most, is that one, small pesky little film element most commonly known as ‘the plot.’ After the first twenty minutes or so, and really right up until the end, the film basically boils down to nothing more than one long series of chase scenes involving Jim and his pursuers. The only varying element is who happens to be chasing Jim, and in what form. First it’s the orderlies chasing him on foot, then the police in a car, then the orderly again, then there’s a longer police chase involving cars, then it’s on foot with the orderlies again, and then, just to liven things up, The Brain chases after him too. That’s it, ya’ll. That’s over 80% of the movie right there. It’s no wonder so many people don’t really like this film. As a lover of odd and/or bad cinema, it was annoying enough for me to watch one chase scene end, only to realize that yet another one was beginning almost immediately after. I can only imagine how pissed off the average viewer would be coming to that same conclusion.
A teen running around in a dirty sweater. That’s it, ya’ll, that’s the whole movie right here.
I can see why The Brain has garnered a cult following over the years, but at the same time I can also see why it’s been forgotten amongst all the other, similarly made sci-fi/monster movies from the 80’s. The cast is functional in their roles and the monster effects are pretty fun, but after you get past the beginning, the plot feels like an eternal slog and nothing progresses until the last few minutes. Then of course there’s the film’s obvious message about the over-influence of television, and how gullible people are becoming because of it, which are actually themes that seem 100% relevant, especially today. But the message is just a little too hamfisted to really be effective, no matter how true it may be. So, in the end, The Brain is an interesting film that’s hampered by some very profound issues. If you’re a die-hard 80’s horror fan, then odds are you’re going to want to watch this one for the effects alone, even if only once. But if you’re looking for something with a less redundant story, then this is something you’ll probably want to skip.
The Brain is available on a variety of streaming services.
The Brain is also available on Bluray.