It is hard to believe, but this year marks the 25th anniversary of the technology-based horror film, Brainscan. I recently re-watched the movie, and I’ll tell you this: from beginning to end, Brainscan is loaded with mid-90s goodness. From the special effects and set design to the stars and the music, the entire production screams 1994. For those of us who were teenagers during the 90s, watching the movie now feels like stepping back in time. If you are one who has never seen Brainscan, get on it! The film holds up really well and is a must watch for anybody who grew up with a love of horror, video games, and Fangoria magazine.
Brainscan finds Edward Furlong as horror obsessed teenager Michael, who comes across an ad in Fangoria for a new CD-ROM game called Brainscan. According to the ad, the game is supposed to be an interactive experience, dropping the player into a murderous, life-like scenario. After playing Brainscan for the first time, Michael realizes that the murders that take place inside the game are also happening in the real world. With the urging of a mysterious character called Trickster, Michael continues playing, but how far is he wiling to let it go?
John Flynn directed Brainscan, and Kevin Walker wrote the screenplay. In addition to Brainscan, Walker is the writer behind such notable 90s horror and thriller films as Sleepy Hollow (1999), 8MM (1999), Se7en (1995), and Hideaway (1995). Brainscan stars Edward Furlong (T2 and Pet Sematary Two), Amy Hargreaves (TVs 13 Reasons Why and Super Dark Times), Frank Langella (Dracula and The Box), Jamie Marsh (The Forsaken), and stage actor T. Ryder Smith in the villainous roll of Trickster.
The cast does an overall good job of portraying the characters. Edward Furlong is believable as the angst ridden loner, Michael, and he has good chemistry with his best friend, Kyle, played by Jamie Marsh. Amy Hargreaves’s character, Kimberly, is Michael‘s next door neighbor and the object of his affection. Thankfully, the screenplay gives Kimberly a few moments to be more than a stereotypical girl-next-door. Even with the likeable cast of protagonists, the standout performance in Brainscan comes from T. Ryder Smith as Trickster.
Trickster is a fiendish character who emerges from the cyber world of Brainscan and manipulates Michael into playing the game and, ultimately, committing murder. I like the fact that Trickster himself never does any physical harm to anyone, but, instead, he leads Michael on the horrific journey, playing mindgames with the teenager and persuading him to kill. The scenes where Trickster and Michael banter back and forth are endlessly entertaining to watch and are some of the film’s best moments. Any and all fans of the film must check out the extensive article from Trickster actor T. Ryder Smith’s own website. There are a ton of still photos from the set of the production as well as a glimpse at early concept makeup for Trickster that hints at a much darker tone the film might have gone in. You can read it here.
There is much more to Brainscan than what is on the surface. Take, for example, the controversial idea that horror entertainment leads people to violence. While Brainscan is never heavy-handed in exploring the topic, it is a recurring theme throughout the movie, and it should give horror fans plenty to mull over long after the credits have rolled. By 1994, similar themes had already been presented in films like Trick or Treat (1986), but it is interesting to see the idea presented in a way that reflects the technology and entertainment of the mid-1990s.
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! In a scene near the end of the movie, it is revealed that Trickster is actually part of Michael‘s subconscious, and the two characters morph together. Through this idea is where the filmmakers really get a chance to show a strong character arc for Michael. It turns out that most of the movie actually takes place in the game world and none of the murders really happened. Many critics would say that this is a cop-out ending, but Michael has changed over the course of the movie. In the end, Michael is seemingly scot-free, and he has a newfound courage and confidence. One of the moments from the film that I have always admired is the decision to make it so that the ending is not overly happy. When Michael finally asks Kimberly out, she gives an answer that will surprise many viewers.
With an awesome soundtrack that featured 90s rock and an underrated score by George S. Clinton, Brainscan was released in theaters on April 22, 1994. At the time, Trickster seemed destined to become a new horror icon ala Freddy, Jason, and Michael. Sadly, the film was a box office dud, and a new franchise never came to be. Even though Brainscan wasn’t a hit upon its initial release, the movie has earned a good-sized following of fans over the years and was recently released to Blu-ray. Personally, I would loved to have seen the movie spinoff into a long-running series, and I think it would be interesting to see how Trickster would have evolved to play his mindgames by using today’s modern technology. The possibilities are endless.
All these years later, the movie doesn’t seem to get brought up in conversation very often, and it is unfortunate. Despite a final, tacked-on sequence that has never made sense to me, Brainscan is a mostly forgotten gem from the early part of a decade that, until recently, many fans have considered to be one of the worst for horror. Maybe now that 90s nostalgia seems to be in full swing, a new era of fans will discover the movie for the first time. There is no news concerning a return to the property, but I am one fan with fingers crossed that somebody somewhere will decide it is time to give Trickster another shot. Long awaited sequel, remake, or reboot, I’m game.
Are you a fan of Brainscan? Do you wish it would have become a horror franchise? Do you think Trickster deserves a spot among the horror heavyweights? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!