Born from what I’d assume to be the paranoid fever dream of someone who mainlined way too much maple syrup, the 1988 Canadian oddity known as The Brain is probably what you’d get if David Cronenberg had written and directed a movie after a head injury had given him the mind of a fourteen child. Dealing with many of the auteur’s early tropes – mind control, conspiracies, body horror and… er, Canada – Edward Hun’ts ridiculously silly tale of an alien brain that attempts to enslave the population of a town via a television talk show may not be exactly a high ranking titan in the realms of 80’s horror, but it’s sweetly stupid nature, a small but loyal cult following and the fact that not a lot of other movies featured a massive brain swallowing a guy whole as he screams “Oh no!” means that this cheesy offering easily has achieved cult immortality.
The most popular show on the tube at the moment is something called Independent Thinkers, a self-help programme hosted by the ridiculously sinister looking Dr. Anthony Blake which doesn’t sound like Scientology at all… honest. Focusing on the worrying trend of teenage waywardness that’s apparently sweeping the nation, Blake hopes to put a stop to all the sex, drugs, alcoholism and teen suicides that are claiming our youth though the life changing methods his clinic provides.
He’s every right to be confident too, because hidden away in a lab is the secret to his brand new treatment: a giant fucking brain that can control your mind if you’re susceptible and cause hideous hallucinations if you’re not that play like Nightmare On Elm Street had a bastard love child with H.P. Lovecraft.
Into this utterly deranged premise we cast Jim Majelewsk, a smart kid with an attitude problem who thinks it’s hilarious to dump pure sodium down his school’s toilet as a prank and then looks stunned when he gets shitcanned after getting caught red handed. Threatened with being barred from attending college if he refuses, Jim has to attend Blake’s clinic in order to treat the fact that he’s a bit of a prick, but his arrival coincides with the brain starting to grow exponentially while sprouting a set of fangs that wouldn’t look out of place on a mountain gorilla.
Jim naturally falls in the category of people who suffer hallucinations rather than submits and after a nasty turn, storms out and ends up stumbling across this dodgy conspiracy which frames him as public enemy number one. On the run from Blake’s hulking orderly (he only seems to have one), the town’s police and any gnarly brain waves the pulsating organ chooses to send his way, Jim has to save the town and his virginal girlfriend before the killer cortex grows powerful enough to beam it’s unhappy thoughts worldwide.
So if we’re chatting about a motion picture about a giant killer brain, it’s a safe bet that we’re obviously in cheese town and if wonky acting, rubbery effects and addled plotting are your bag then The Brain is ripe for a drunken viewing with like-minded friends, but if the above turns you off quicker than a kill-switch, then I have to ask: why the fuck are you reading a review for a film called The Brain in the first place?
Despite everything I’ve mentioned, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out that the filmmakers are actually trying here and you really do have to commend them for putting all their resources trying to create such an ambitious movie in the first place (giant brains don’t exactly grow on trees y’know) instead of trying to knock out something simpler, like a slasher flick or something.
An early scene where a glum faced teen imagines that claws break through her wall while her teddy bear weeps green slime prove that the filmmakers aren’t about to let their lack of budget hold them back in their adorable mission to try and deliver something different and when we get to the scene where we watch, unbelieving as a screaming lab assistant get tackled to the ground by a brain the size of a dish washer, witness it swallow her like the plant from Little Shop Of Horrors and then have Re-Animator’s David Gale make a quip about her being food for thought, you can’t help but feel you’ve wandered into some sort of B-movie nirvana.
However, soon after this the movie down shifts into a much more affordable man-on-the-run scenario as the film’s title star hangs ten in his dressing room. This wouldn’t be much of a problem except that our lead Jim is the usual sort of cocky, white kid who would probably be a villain in this day and age as he swans around loaded with entitlement and the world’s most smug looking eyebrows you’ve ever seen. The fact that he’s enough of an a-hole to try and pressurize his girlfriend into losing her virginity his his shitty car and that he thinks nothing of making his teacher’s lives hell kind of defuses the whole the-kids-aren’t-alright vibe the movie is shooting for and just confirms to Jim that the world really does revolve around his arrogant ass.
Anyway, there’s still lots to obnoxiously guffaw at as the movie insists on dropping moment after moment that makes you wanna rewind it to check that you really saw what you saw. Be it the moment when the orderly (played by the guy famous for voicing Beast in that awesome, 90’s X-Men cartoon) sneaks up on a policeman in order to do him in, but instead of shooting him with the gun we know he’s got, he instead pulls out a fucking fire axe and buries it into the poor bastard’s spine in the middle of the road! Or how about the weird fixation the film has with Jim repeatedly using sodium to solve all of his problems to the point where the film even ends with a don’t try this at home warning in the credits (although conspicuous by it’s absence is a warning about the dangers of growing a carnivorous, alien super-brain, but there you go…)!
By the time we get to the frantic climax the film manages to get itself back on those rickety rails and delivers even more WTF moments as that ball of malignant grey matter expands to the size of a van and undulates like a half-inflated Macy’s Day Parade balloon as it drags itself down corridors trying to snare people with it’s retractable tongue. And if you think that’s bizarre, what about the moment when Jim punches David Gale’s head clean off revealing him to be an alien which is never explained or even brought up ever again (kind of a major ot point there guys… guys?) – but also spare a thought for that poor orderly’s cardiogram as the final showdown hilariously contains unbelievable amount of running up and down flights of stairs – who’d have thought defeating an alien brain would require so much core strength?
While not great in the conventional sense and not quite crazy enough to hang with the best that 80’s trash had to throw at us, The Brain squeaks by on it’s can-do spirit alone – plus it’s a film about a giant fucking brain, what’s not to enjoy about that?
Most definitely insane in the brain…