Brain Dead (1990) – 30th Anniversary Re:View

Courtesy of New Concorde

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Any reasonable screenwriter would cut out the line of dialogue “the universe is just a wet dream”. When a screenplay has dialogue of this caliber riddled throughout, it ought to be reconsidered. However, director Adam Simon thought differently. “Brain Dead” as the title describes, is low effort and thoughtless, offering material that rests just above terrible, but below what anybody would call substantial.

The film aims for displaying the psychological meltdown of neurosurgeon Dr. Rex Martin (Bill Pullman) as he tries to keep his brain from a megalomaniacal corporation. The first half hour of the film is an under-stimulating, vapid set up. The rest of film communicates his brain spinning into insanity and disarray through cheap, confusing dream sequences. Confusion does not equal insanity.

The poster reminds us of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and David Cronenberg body horror films. Unfortunately, looking at the film through the lens of the body horror genre, there is nothing in common. The film is attempting to be more along the lines of movies like “A Clockwork Orange” (of course lacking the prowess or expertise that “A Clockwork Orange” offers). The films interpretation on the loss of sanity is quite confusing, additionally.

As Dr. Rex begins to question his world, Simon reveals that his “reality” was just a dream constantly, to the point where what is being shown on screen loses tension entirely. It’s like saying one word over and over and over until you don’t even know what it means anymore. So, Simon in using this as a way of describing Dr. Rex’s hysteria, inadvertently removes tension from the scene. We are left thinking “oh, because the last two times were just a dream, of course this time its going to turn out to be just a dream”. The film becomes wearisome, and boring, as the film does nothing besides this to surprise or compel the audience to keep paying attention.

Furthermore, the film’s setting is equally as unimposing. Most of the film takes place in white hospitals without any visual flare. This is likely a result of a low budget, and as a result the film becomes lifeless. Film’s like “A Clockwork Orange” involve the entire cast in the shot, with many different things going on. In “Brain Dead”, the supporting actors simply sits around as main characters talk to each other. There is nothing visually different between the film and watching paint dry. This is certainly not helped by the film’s script.

Why “Brain Dead” is a feature length film is questionable. With a running time of 84 minutes, the film is barely feature length. What actually happens in the film does not justify a one hour and twenty-four minute runtime. The film takes quite a long time to get the ball rolling, almost a half an hour actually. And when it finally gets to where it wants to go, it is not as impressive as it thinks it is. Characters stand around. Scenes are too long. Dream sequences repeat themselves. This is one of those films that is very short and also feels three hours long.

Yes, the cast is decent. There is some intrigue to be found. Sadly, “Brain Dead” falls into the category of bland films that are to be forgotten. There is nothing worse than a bland film. Terrible films offend. They make you question why you even watch films. But you remember them. As time passes, all they are remembered as is a husk of wasted potential.

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