June is ’90s month at Mill Creek Entertainment and one of their releases for this month is a double feature of Mindwarp and Brainscan, two horror films about virtual reality and video games. We cover a lot of video games on Geeky Hobbies so you likely know that I am a fan of them. In addition to playing games I also love seeing movies about video games, even if they usually aren’t very good. I also love cheesy horror films as well so this is a great combination for a viewer like me (though they aren’t really as cheesy as I was expecting). While I was surprised by how much I wound up liking Brainscan, I was disappointed by Mindwarp. Ultimately, the two films add up to a middle-of-the-road package, though at a nice budget price (so if you only enjoy one of the two films, you’ll probably get your money’s worth).
While the main draw for me at least in this double feature set was Mindwarp, the Brainscan‘s concept was good enough that I gave it a watch as well. Surprisingly, I actually wound up liking it more than Mindwarp. I figured Brainscan would just be a slightly below average cheesy B-movie but I was actually quite surprised by it. Like almost every film ever made, it has some problems and things that could have been done better (the ending in particular) but it was a pleasant surprise for me.
In Brainscan, a geeky horror and video game enthusiast (Michael, played by Edward Furlong) gets the ultimate gaming experience when he learns about a super realistic game called “Brainscan.” When he receives the first disc in the mail, he is impressed by the game’s realism and graphics. He is given sixty minutes to kill a stranger and take a trophy in the form of the victim’s foot. After Michael completes the first disc, he is shocked to find out that the murder he committed in the game actually happened in real-life. He is effectively forced to complete the other three discs in order to cover up his crime and make sure he isn’t found out to be the murderer.
After his first experience with the game, Michael declares it to be “amazing.” The video game reviewer in me says otherwise. There’s no re-playability (you can’t even play it twice due to the DRM destroying the disc), not very many mechanics (just a bunch of stabbing), not much to the story (where’s the backstory on why your character chose this victim?), it takes about five minutes to beat each disc (though Michael clearly isn’t a very good gamer as it takes him way longer than that), there’s DLC in the form of four different discs (at least it seems to be free DLC but you need to sit around and wait for it to show up), and oh yeah, it makes you kill somebody in real-life. Brainscan is a very realistic game but a shallow experience. Those who care about graphics above all else will be impressed but most gamers will be disappointed by the lack of things to do and the horrible acts it forces you to complete. 1.5/5
But seriously, while the video game inside this film may not be good, Brainscan the movie is. Critics don’t really agree with my opinion though as, while the sample size is pretty small, it has very poor reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I have to say that I do not agree with the critics at all on this one. I have way more positive things to write about than negatives and this is a decidedly above average film in my opinion. There’s really only two issues I have with the film, one pretty major and the other a minor inconvenience. The minor issue is the film’s slow start with a seemingly ten minute scene of the main character slowly crawling down the road after an accident. It isn’t actually a ten minute scene, it just feels like one. The bigger problem is the horrible ending. For some, knowing that the movie ends terribly will ruin the entire film and likely scare them off from ever watching it in the first place. I personally can look past a bad ending if the rest of the film is good. In my opinion, Brainscan is a very good film other than the boring beginning and the terrible ending. I can be disappointed with the ending of a film but if I enjoyed the majority of it, I’ll still be glad I watched it. Often times, I make up my own head canon ending anyway. Brainscan is a good enough film in the middle 85 minutes or so that I can look past its terrible ending.
The first thing I love about Brainscan is the performance of T. Ryder Smith as the Trickster, the video game’s amazing NPC host that is a cross between Alice Cooper and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer villain (even though this came out before the TV show, he reminds me so much of villains from that show). Some people think this character is too campy for the film but I almost always love that kind of a villain. Smith commands attention with his campy performance and is easily one of the highlights of the film.
The second thing that impressed me with Brainscan was the visual effects. Outside of a really bad sequence of effects towards the end, they are actually quite impressive especially for a film from 1994. Effects like the blood CD are very cool and would even look decent in a movie from today. The practical effects and makeup (like the look of the Trickster) for example are also quite good. One thing that was probably a good decision was to not bother trying to make a video game world for Michael to walk around in. Instead, those scenes are just shot in real-life via a first-person camera view. There is no way they would have made them look even decent back in 1994, so I’m actually glad they didn’t even try.
While Brainscan is rated R (and it deserves it due to the blood and violence), it is more of a softer R film. Some aspects of the movie are creepy but I wouldn’t exactly call the film scary (and I’m a wimp when it comes to horror films). As a scaredy cat I will always prefer “creepy” films over legitimately scary ones and Brainscan is one that fits into that category. While there are some things I would change about this film, it is certainly good enough to warrant a watch. 3.5/5
Unfortunately, the film I mostly got this set for was very disappointing (to me at least). I was expecting much better from a Bruce Campbell horror film at least. Mindwarp is a movie set in post-apocalyptic 2037, where the destruction of the ozone layer has made most of the planet a wasteland filled with radioactive areas and Crawlers, mutant cannibals who live underground in tunnels. Some humans were lucky and instead live in the Inworld, a biosphere where inhabitants hook themselves up to an Infinisynth computer to live in a virtual reality simulation where they can do whatever they want. The movie begins with a Dreamer named Judy getting bored with this simulated life. She wants to have a talk with her mother so she enters her dream and inadvertently kills her (both in her dream and in the real world). Due to this, she is banished from the carefree Inworld and forced to live in the wasteland. She is saved from Crawlers by a man named Stover (B-movie legend Bruce Campbell) but after falling in love with each other, they are captured by other Crawlers and forced to live in their barbaric underground society. Most of the rest of the film takes place within the Crawler tunnels though there are a few twists at the end of the movie. They are all pretty easily guessed though and the twist ending is almost as bad as Brainscan’s in my opinion.
While the first thirty minutes are pretty boring and not much happens, little did I know at the time but those scenes would be some of the “highlights” of the film. After Judy and Stover are captured by Crawlers, the film gets even more dull. It’s neat that they live underground (there aren’t a ton of movies that take place in underground tunnels) and they look cool but the Crawlers are ultimately quite boring to watch. There’s far too many scenes of Stover being forced to dig out “ancient technology” like blenders and despite how they look, they are just your generic movie villains (and are lead by an even more dull leader). Unless you are into bloody scenes, there’s just nothing here of interest to watch. The most interesting portion of Mindwarp is the virtual reality world and very little time is spent there. There’s no laughs, no awesome action scenes, or an interesting story in this film. Just a whole lot of boring digging and talking with heaps of blood thrown in.
Mindwarp is pretty much just an excuse for blood and gore and I’m not really a fan of that kind of horror. I generally prefer creepy horror films that don’t need to rely on buckets of blood to scare you or campy B-movies that make me laugh. Mindwarp‘s story just isn’t the least bit interesting and it makes for a dull film. It isn’t unwatchable, it’s just not of any real interest for anyone other than blood seekers. 2/5
Video Quality, Conclusion, and Recommendations:
Neither of these films are new to Blu-ray with Brainscan receiving a Scream Factory release last year and Mindwarp got the Twilight Time treatment back in 2013. The earlier Brainscan release was loaded with bonus features. While this set costs less than half the price of just one of the two individual releases, it also comes with a cost. No extras are included on this double feature release and the two films are crammed onto one Blu-ray disc. This means that the video quality on these two films is more compressed and likely looks much worse than the individual releases. However, I actually thought both films looked good on this release even with the compression. Since I don’t have either of the two individual releases, I can’t compare them but I do think both films look perfectly acceptable on this release especially when you factor in the savings. Brainscan looks quite clear and is quite visually impressive for an early ’90s horror film. Mindwarp doesn’t look as good, mostly because 75% of the scenes take place in the drabby and dark underground tunnels but I’m guessing the Twilight Time release doesn’t look much better anyway (as it would be very difficult to make this film look great). For those of you wondering which release to pick up, I would say that videophiles and big fans of one of the two films should probably pick up their boutique individual Blu-ray releases. For those who don’t need to have the best possible video quality or those who just sort of like the films, I would save some money by buying this double feature release instead.
Ultimately, I wound up being very surprised by the film I was less interested in and disappointed by the one I was more excited for. Brainscan is a surprisingly good ’90s horror film that is only brought down by a terrible twist at the end. It’s still worthy of a very solid 3.5/5 though. Mindwarp, on the other hand, is just too dull of a watch unless you like a lot of blood in your movies. It’s watchable but only worthy of a 2/5 in my book. Add those two scores together and you get a 2.75/5, which I think is worth rounding up to a 3/5 (as Brainscan would have received at least a 4/5 if it had a better ending).
Mindwarp and Brainscan: Sci-Fi Double Feature was released on Blu-ray on June 4, 2019.
Buy Mindwarp and Brainscan: Sci-Fi Double Feature: Blu-ray
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of Mindwarp and Brainscan: Sci-Fi Double Feature used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.