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The Brain

1988, Starring David Gale, Harry Booker,Tom Bresnahan, George Buza, Justine Campbell. Directed by Ed Hunt.

After making Starship Invasions, a moderately promising sci-fi tale with Christopher Lee and Robert Vaughn, The Brain's director Ed Hunt slowly plunged back down to the depths of bad moviedom from which he came. Trite outings like Alien Warrior (1985) could barely be compensated by Hunt's most interesting film of the 80sBloody Birthday. Unfortunately for us, this slasher tale about murderous children was his only film without a connection to Canada.

However, all that changed in his final attempt to regain the glory days with 1988's The Brain. With the help of some latex grey-matter, Hunt redeemed himself by weaving familiar genre clichés into a cheese-laden entree that isn't afraid to laugh along with you. Taking bits and pieces from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Cronenberg's Scanners while mining the rich vein of b-movie giant brain films (The Brain from Planet Arous, Fiend Without a Face, etc.), Hunt manages to update familiar conventions in a meaningful way without taking himself as seriously as he had done in the past. The Brain also stars a face which should also be familiar to b-movie fansDavid Gale, who played Dr Carl Hill in Re-animator, stars as Dr Blake, a secretive mad scientist trying to take over the world. And coincidently, he gets his head knocked off in this one too.

"Independent Thinking," a new self-improvement TV show hosted by Dr. Blake is sweeping the nation. A family watching the show that night doesn't notice when their eldest daughter slips upstairs to her bedroom. There, strange things begin to happen-- her teddy bear starts bleeding from his eyes and an arm crashes through her portable TV set and grabs her. Tentacles break through the wall and the girl starts screaming. When her mother rushes in the room, all this paranormal fun disappears... for a moment. Then it re-emerges and the girl repeatedly stabs one of the tentacles to get free. Outside of the girl's delusions we see that she has actually just stabbed her mother to death. Then, frightened by the image of a brain with a hideous face coming at her from her mirror, the girl falls out of her window to her death.

Meanwhile, it's just another day at Meadowvale high school, and our smart yet mischievous hero Jim is busy pouring sodium in the toilets for kicks. In the ensuing madness he is caught red-handed, and a parent-teacher conference concludes that Jim should take Dr Blake's "treatment for troubled teens." Jim is skeptical, but the adults are all big fans of "Independent Thinking," and they tell him he won't graduate if he doesn't go.

Defeated, Jim arrives at the high-tech building which houses Dr Blake's Psychological Research Institute (PRI). There he is put into a barren examination room by an orderly (played by the hulking Canadian film mainstay George Buza). From behind a two-way mirror, Blake and the Brain watch as an attractive nurse places diodes on Jim's temples and wheels a TV set in front of him. When Dr Blake enters the examination room, the Brain begins manipulating different television images in an attempt to hypnotize Jim. Each time, TVs sitting beside the Brain's pan display the message "Rejected." Finally, the Brain creates a hallucination of the nurse, topless, but Jim manages to reject that too.

But the Brain has cruder means at his disposal. After Jim leaves, Dr Blake joins Buza and the nurse in the central Brain room where Blake tries to figure out why Jim was unaffected by the treatmentafter all, it's the same hypnosis trick they are using on the "Independent Thinking" audience with great success. When the pretty nurse disagrees with Blake's theories, he has the Brain simply eat her.

Oh, if only Blake knew that the hypno-TV treatment did affect Jim! On his way home, Jim watches in horror as all his car doors lock shut and a tentacle springs at him from the centre of the steering wheel. These visions cause him to veer off the road and roll his car several times. Luckily, Jim is not hurt and makes his way down the street to the greasy spoon where his friends Janet and Willy work. He staggers in and tells Janet that "they did weird shit to me." When an investigating police officer walks in the restaurant, Janet quickly shoves Jim in the back storeroom. As Janet calmly explains that she doesn't know where Jim is, Jim is being bombarded with visions of tentacles emerging from boxes of restaurant supplies. He breaks out of the room, and hops on the counter just as the orderly walks through the door. With the help of the cop, Jim is sedated and is taken back to PRI for "more treatment."

By the time Willy and Janet slip into the basement of PRI with a plan of rescue, Jim has already escaped from the clutches of Dr Blake and his pet Brain. They all meet up in the boiler room and are about to take off when the Brain, now slightly larger from his nurse appetizer, breaks through a grate in the wall and moves on to the Willy course. In disbelief, Janet and Jim go back to her car and speed away, but not before the orderly spots them and gives chase. Compounding the problem, Janet is pulled over for speeding. When the orderly catches up to them, the cop refuses to release the teens into his custody. Unexpectedly, the orderly decapitates the cop(!) and in the confusion, the teens escape into the nearby woods.

That night, Dr Blake appeals to the viewers of "Independent Thinking" to keep an eye out for the two runaways. Holed up in their high school, Jim awakes from a nap in the science lab to discover Janet in the library, watching Dr Blake's show! She tells him that she has called the cops, and true to her word, police officers suddenly storm the building. Jim runs to the auto shop, jumps in a car and takes off. After a long, extended car chase, Jim drives to the edge of town, hides in the bushes and sends the car off a cliff. When the cops arrive, they decide the troubled youngster has died in the accident.

Jim returns to PRI, where he discovers that "Independent Thinking" is about to be broadcast nation-wide for the first time. Just as Dr Blake is once again imploring his audience for assistance in catching Jim, our hero appears and, live on TV, punches Dr Blake's head off revealing him as an alien trying to control the world. Jim hightails it back to the basement, but the Brain is there waiting for him, now fat and bloated with the feast of humans he has been consuming.

A successful (and humourously evil) puppet is really what makes the The Brain work. Although by the end, the Brain itself has grown so large it looks like a rubber car, the earlier scenes are all in good fun and make it easy to overlook the latter special effect shortcomings. The only part where The Brain meanders is in Jim's final car chase, which looks like it had extra scenes added as an afterthought to pad out the running time. Shots in this sequence change from a slightly matted widescreen to full screen and back again, and some shots reveal a grey countryside with patches of snow while others show a nice spring day.

Like Bill Fruet's 50s sci-fi monster throwback Blue Monkey, The Brain operates as a parody of sorts, skewering the cult of self-help gurus. In this case, the name of Dr Blake's show, "Independent Thinking," really says it all. But ultimately, The Brain is a more successful "spoof" than Blue Monkey since it redirects the giant brain tradition to play on Canadian fears. Many of our other horror and science fiction films exploit an uneasiness about brainwashing and electroshock therapy, and despite all the humour, this is what The Brain taps directly into.

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