Two weeks ago if you had said to me “Have you seen Brain Dead?“ I would have replied “That crazy New Zealand horror comedy where the guy kills zombies with a lawnmower, sure I have” and I would have been wrong.
You see Peter Jackson’s 1992 insane Zom-Com gore-fest is actually called Braindead (or Dead Alive in the United States) while the 1990 psychological horror staring both Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman is actually called Brain Dead. I have seen Braindead but it turns out I had never seen Brain Dead. Confused? We haven’t even gotten into the movie yet!
A brain bending exercise in fear director Adam Simon who also co-wrote the script with Charles Beaumont (better known for his work on The Twilight Zone and Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death and Premature Burial) creates a dreamlike narrative packed with twists and turns making Brain Dead a perfect portrait of the inner workings of the mind and the nightmarish places it can take us to.
Independence Day’s Bill Pullman plays Dr Rex Martin an expert neurosurgeon studying brains and better ways to operate on them to eliminate mental illness. The top of his field in regards to neurological conditions such as paranoia he spends his days studying in his lab until his old high school friend Jim Reston (Bill Paxton from Aliens and Apollo 13) shows up and makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
Reston works for the Eunice Corporation and they need Rex’s help with an ex-employee who went insane and murdered his family. A mathematical genius John Halsey (Harold and Maude’s Bud Cort) now resides in a mental asylum deranged and uncooperative and Eunice need something from his paranoia ridden mind that they believe only Rex’s pioneering processes can attain.
Meeting Halsey regularly Rex starts to see some semblance of sense in the random jabbering’s of the fractured man and as time goes on the doctor begins to feel himself loosing grip on reality. Confused over his own identity and actions Rex loses time and is accused of horrific crimes he has no recollection of doing. Worst of all a tall man in a blood splattered white suit begins appearing everywhere he goes, a man who Halsey claimed killed his family and now has set his sights on Rex.
Meant to mess with you from start to finish Brain Dead weaves a wicked and weird story as Rex gradually slips into insanity, giving in to paranoia while we the audience desperately try to work out what is really going on. Both Bill’s are brilliant with Pullman staying the right side of crazy to be likable and Paxton delivery a slick and sleazy performance that will have you doubting every word he says.
Bud Cort delivers an unhinged portrait of a patient on the edge and added to this is the great George Kennedy (Naked Gun) as the no nonsense head of the Eunice Corporation, Nicholas Pryor (Omen II) as the menacing Man in the Bloody White Suit and Patricia Charbonneau (Manhunter) as Rex’s wife Dana whose roll in all this madness is unclear.
Packed with graphic operations and surgical scenes there are some great special effects in the film, the most sick and spectacular appearing during the opening where we see Rex and his assistant probing and poking a removed brain and altering the facial expressions on a stretched out face it is attached to.
Brain Dead also throws up an extremely interesting concept when Rex manages to successfully remove Halsey’s paranoia and the assembled Eunice Corporation board attempt to monetise this operation. Comparing it to plastic surgery they come up with the concept of nationwide ‘New You’ outlets where customers can have hang-ups, childhood traumas and failed romances removed with simple operation, all for a fee of course. Seeming fanciful at first the concept of quick fix brain surgery available on the high street to anyone with the cash to splash is more believable when you think how abundant and accepted all forms of plastic surgery have become in recent years.
A surreal suspense ridden psychological horror, released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK thanks to 101 Films, Brain Dead is a brilliant mind melting movie that will have you questioning everything you saw even after the credits roll.