Brain Twisters (1991)

The 1990s saw a leap in technology.  From 1990 to 1999, the leaps in percentages in the number of households that had computers or word processors of some sort year over year showed that advancements in computer technology took it from the magical boxes that movies told us could almost do anything in previous decades to something that might show up in dens of every house on any street in America.  By the mid-90s, the internet would connect people all over the world which, thanks to its capabilities to gather information, at the very least, changed the way students would work on homework and term papers.  Either way, with each slight advancement from word processing power to internet to faster internet to shopping, etc., computers started taking over our every day lives.

With the computer industry making those leaps and bounds, naturally Hollywood wanted to cash in on the hype, or the potential terror, of advanced technology at everyone’s fingertips.  That’s where this week’s B-Movie Enema, Brain Twisters, comes in.

A couple weeks ago, Rush Week, a movie made in the late 80s had a sort of messaging of computer thing that could also pull files and various other items of note for our leading lady as she tried to piece the puzzle of campus slayings together.  But it seems that Brain Twisters was an early adopter of what computer software might be made to do if someone of nefarious intent was behind programming it.  By the mid 90s, computers played heavy parts in action and thriller movies like Hackers, Brainscan (which I covered previously), The Net, Virtuosity, GoldenEye, Fair Game, and on and on…  My point is, Hollywood couldn’t help themselves with misrepresenting how computers work or how the internet changed people’s lives.  Naturally, they were giving us what we wanted because we’d buy tickets to the schlock, but we were only stoking our own fears of technology run amok.

There’s a company that makes video games.  Some people who work for that software company discover that, uh oh Spaghettios, there’s a naughty plot hidden in the design of the games.  Basically, the games will begin turning players into murderers when they are subjugated by a series of flashing lights similar to what’s programmed into the games.

So with this movie, we have something not too unlike Brainscan.  In that, we had a video game that would essentially encourage the player to act out heinous murders.  The next day, the player realizes that the murders basically happened in the real world too.  Thus, it’s the game that is implanting suggestions in the player to carry out the attacks.  While this doesn’t exactly play out the same way with and evil Trickster guy coming out of the game to tell people what to do, there is definitely a “sleeper agent” style conditioning going on that is similar.

Okay, so the movie kicks off with a guy driving a car who we cannot see because of windshield reflection…

Just as I start to ponder whether this is good filmmaking to hide the identity of the driver or if this is subliminal messaging that I should buy Armor All Windshield Cleaner Wipes, we see a babe on her morning job.  Guy in the car runs her down and kills her.

I then took a break and ran over to Walmart to buy those Armor All Windshield Cleaner Wipes because the little voice speaking to me under the soundtrack of the opening scene said that it will make my windshields spotless and ALL HAIL THE ARMOR ALL VIKING.  HE IS OUR LORD GOD!

Er…  wait.  Oh yeah, movie.

So cut to a lady, who I only hoped was Kari Wuhrer, but sadly, is not, doing a brain study.  She’s just chilling there, watching some lights on a screen and so forth.  A professor dude is watching over the girl inside the Polybius machine.  He asks how she feels and she thinks she’s okay, but answers in a way that makes you really wonder if that is true.   He sends her on her way while he gets a call from his money guy.  The money man says he may need to pull the plug on this research this brain doctor is doing.  Professor Brain Twister is none too pleased with this news.

In Professor Brain Twister’s class, we meet Laurie, played by Farrah Forke who had a pretty extensive TV career through the 90s.  A friend of hers, Denise, leaves class with her boyfriend and he suddenly gets real spacey when he looks at the sky and sees the sun through the clouds.  That night he gets pretty shitty when she tells him that she’s got plans to go out with Laurie to hit the gym.  He leaves her place upset.  After she gets ready for Laurie to pick her up, she is attacked and killed by an unseen assailant.  Laurie calls the cops and they come to take a look at Denise’s place to see what happened.  You know, the usual cop stuff.  She meets Frank Turi, a detective who will be investigating the case.

Meanwhile, Dr. Mindbender gets a visit from class slut Michelle.  So she’s there with her crazy ass, long, hairdressers’ fingernails, her short skirt, high heels, that teased hair, and her sexy, sexy olive skin saying she needs help with the term paper for the professor’s class.  He trades her a glass of wine for the two pages she’s written so far.  This dude knows what’s what.

I suspect her two pages of that term paper she’s written thus far are written in lipstick with one page reading “I GIVE HEAD FOR GRADES” and the other saying “IF I LET YOU EAT MY PUSSY, CAN I GET, I DUNNO, LIKE AT LEAST A C- OR SOMETHING?”  But noooo…  Our good Dr. Fuckswithyourbrains tells her she should probably drop out and get a job on the streets where her talents would be more appreciated.

Ouch dude.  I really thought you were going to be a good guy.  After all, you did turn me onto the greatness of Armor All Windshield Wipes.  No one can see my face when I run down jogging babes for the glory of the Armor All Viking’s will!

Um…  Ahem.

Anyway.

Michelle pleads saying she will do anything to get the grade.  No duh.  Look at that paragraph above when I told you what her first two pages of her term paper are.  Dr. Mindwipe says he can help her by putting her in a study that will totally turn her into a brainwashed monster that wants to claw people’s eyes out and then probably piss into their skulls.

Elsewhere Frank and Laurie goes to the restaurant where Denise’s doofy boyfriend works so Frank can ask some questions.  He’s told that Denise was murdered and boy…  I mean, this poor dude.  This is one of those memes like:

Yeah…  That pretty much sums up that expression he’s giving.  Suddenly, arcade noises and flashing lights from the pinball machine sends this goofball into a murderous rage.  He bumps into a guy who drops his plate and yells at him.  The kid tries strangling the guy in retribution before jumping out of a window.

So…  Heh.  I guess he never will get laid again.

Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Frank is disappointed to hear that Dr. Brainhumper came along and collected the kid’s body with orders from Biotronics, Inc.  When Frank checks in with Ol’ Brainhumper about collecting the body, the prof tells Frank that the kid was sensitive and that may have been the reason he killed himself.  Brainhumps only gives up the body because Frank busts out a court order demanding he give over the remains for an autopsy.  When he meets to collect the kid’s body, Frank sees the good doctor’s TV screens and his sweet Pole Position machine that turns people into crazy people.  On his way out, Frank runs into Laurie and tells her that her boss had the kid’s body and had cut off his head for… study purposes?

Professor Graymatterfapper asks Laurie if she thought Ted, Denise’s boyfriend who took the Defenestration Highway to the sky, was acting strange the last few days.  She mentions that only when Frank was questioning him.  The doc is kind of indignant about Frank.  He correctly guesses that she was notified that he had Ted’s remains.  He tells her there’s nothing wrong with messing around with people’s “excess baggage” after they die.  This is the look Laurie gives him as he tries to justify his weirdness…

That… That’s an appropriate look to give the guy calling your dead friend’s dead boyfriend’s body “excess baggage” that he wants to mess around with.

You know something else that totally makes this mad brain scientist guy seem perfectly normal and not an utter villain at all?  He uses his video game on himself.  The next day, he shows up at the cops with a court order to get back Ted’s head so he can continue his studies on his brain bits.  How he got an actual court order without being a cop or what have ya is unknown.  But, hey, I’m sure he’s a decent guy.  He only wants to sell video games and tell people about Armor All.  That’s all!

Later that night, Michelle shows up for brain machine studies and the professor straps her in and gives her, what I can only imagine, is a super dose of GoldenEye 64 because she is into it.  I don’t blame her.  That game was raaaad.

Yvonne, the girl seen earlier doing the study with the professor is acting kind of strange like Ted was in his last days.  She’s staring blankly into the ripples of the pool she and Laurie are swimming in.  She asks if there’s anything different about how she experiences things since working for the professor.  Laurie doesn’t understand what she’s talking about.  When Yvonne’s boyfriend shows up and takes them out for food, they go through a car wash and she as a complete meltdown and takes off running.

It’s probably because they don’t use Armor All.

So we’re halfway through Brain Twisters and I think it’s a good time to take a moment to be serious and give a serious criticism.  I feel like this is something that is a combination of tropes seen in in the 50s and maybe into the 60s as well as the more contemporary attitudes toward particular people in the 80s and early 90s.  It basically has to do with our two main characters – Laurie and Dr. Butterbrainfucker himself, Rothman.

Laurie is seemingly a very down-to-earth and intelligent lady.  She actually has moments of agency in this movie.  Yeah, yeah…  What do I know about character agency?  I’m waiting for someone to flash tits in this movie, but I digress.  She seems to have some sort of bio-medical interest.  She seems to be some sort of good girl who is happy to work for Rothman but not, you know…  DO Rothman or nothing.

However, she constantly talks about how much she likes Rothman.  How he’s brilliant and a good guy, yada yada yada.  But here’s the problem…  He isn’t.  He’s smug.  He looks down on people – particularly the cops to the point that he insults Frank Turi in front of his captain at the police station.  He doesn’t seem to have any regard or emotion for other people other than what he can use them for as lab rats.  He insults students openly.  He’s a flat out dick.

I get it, he’s our villain.  Or at the very least meant to come off as a villain considering he has a supervillain machine that would turn you into a hypnotized murderer or something that he likes to use on people.  That’s some Darkseid or Red Skull shit right there.  However, we’re told how brilliant he is and how wonderful he is.  Are we sure he didn’t use the machine on Laurie and flip some switches to make her cream her jeans for his intelligence and achievements?

Well, I can, and will, answer that question for you.  No.  He didn’t use that machine on her.  This calls back the idea from the early days of science fiction that the smartest guy in the room, no matter how he treats other people (even people he supposedly cares for), he is ALWAYS the hero.  He knows best because he knows most.  In some ways, that worked when dealing with advanced extraterrestrial threats, but here…  Here it’s dumb.  That’s because there’s still a sort of conceit that he who knows best, no matter how he treats other people, as long as he dresses nicely, has tenure, and has a nice ass house, he is best.  This is sort of a leftover from the 80s where a nice suit and what you own makes you who you are.

Additionally, I get that Michelle is willing to give Rothman a BJ and a firm handy to get grades.  She’s the class slut.  Sure.  But Laurie is relegated to seemingly being ga ga over Rothman too.  He’s brilliant so he must be followed.  He’s got achievements so he is above reproach.  This was released in the still early days of coed colleges being an almost necessity to prove your abilities.  Guys had been going to college for decades, but women were becoming more independent and entering the workplace.  They too needed degrees.  However, being in college seemingly was the surrogate for being independent.  Beyond that, they still clung to a boyfriend, or, as seen in lots of these types of movies… Powerful and smart professors who can be idolized and fantasized about.

It’s bullshit, and it would have been a complete and total joy to have seen Laurie be all like “Hey, asshole, you’re an asshole” to Rothman because he is.  If you can’t give this independent, conservatively dressed, pretty but not overtly sexy lead actress the fortitude to stand up for herself in the face of a dickwad mentor and professor, then you needed to make Rothman more likable.  At least either as a separate personality he puts on as a front or as someone actually setting out to do good only for it to get twisted.

But enough about this social commentary and characters.  Let’s get to the second half of this movie and my continuing quest to see some titties in this movie!

Frank approaches Rothman and tells him that a string of his former students have either killed themselves or took some people with them.    He actually seems surprised to hear this and a little shaken.  But fuck all that!  It’s Halloween in this movie and it’s time for a good old fashioned college costume party!

While the party goes on downstairs, Yvonne is taking a bath.  The bubbles start to make her go into weirdo mode and a combination of the light reflecting off the bubbles, the loud music downstairs, and her own reflection in the funhouse set of mirrors that is her sorority’s bathroom, she goes into killer mode.  She goes downstairs in her robe and picks up a pair of scissors and kills her boyfriend’s buddy causing everyone to freak out as she stalks and murders her boyfriend.  Realizing what she’s done, she collapse to her knees crying.  Now, this was a good scene.  It does more than show confusion and frantic worry.  It actually shows her just no longer being herself until she’s carried out the murders.

Another nice moment just after that scene, Frank talks to Rothman at the scene and says, “Yvonne was a student of yours too, right?  She killed two people.  Just another coincidence?”  Shaken, Rothman can only say he doesn’t know.

He calls the video game company and says he’s shutting down the project.  He says he thought the company was looking after the subjects after they were done, but the guy is like, “Nothing showed up in the rats!”  After they hang up, the video game business man says it’s time to get rid of Rothman.  So I guess we are trying to make Rothman an unfortunate villain and an unknowing complacence, but it is also way too late for this now.

Remember that he was subjecting himself to his crazy brain machine?  He’s at a nightclub when he calls the video game maker and the lights and loud music puts him in the mood for some sweet, sweet pussy.  So he does what I would have done, spot a sexy chick in a red dress with an oral fixation and fails utterly.  But at least he gets to smash a bottle over the head of a bouncer at the bar.

Frank’s captain gives him the news that the Feds are now investigating the murders.  They are to stay out of it completely.  He calls Laurie and asks if he can come over, make dinner and ask her some questions.  Sure.  That doesn’t seem super forward for a cop in his 40s to set up this discussion with a college girl, but whatever.  Their phone call was bugged and a couple people enter Laurie’s house when she leaves.

That night, he makes her spaghetti and has a candle lit dinner because… sure.  He wants to ask her about her work with Rothman because he, rightfully so, suspects that he’s mixed up with all the shenanigans going on around the place.  She doesn’t feel it terribly appropriate to discuss that with him.  Fair.  But also…  Your friend is dead, Laurie.  That friend’s boyfriend killed himself when asked about the murder.  Your other friend MURDERED TWO PEOPLE AT A PARTY.  Are you sure it’s inappropriate to talk about your work with Rothman?

It’s during this dinner that I begin to wonder if Turi is also maybe an asshole.  He explains that his spaghetti recipe is basically just the noodles, fresh clam, virgin olive oil, and lots of garlic.  He then asks her which one she is – the fresh clam or the virgin olive.  What in the actual fuck, dude…

Wow… A super appropriate expression to make when a cop asks you the condition of your hymen when you are having a candle lit dinner.

By the way, that shit works on her too.  She asks which one he thinks she is and he says he needs more evidence.  They are next seen washing dishes together and being real cutesy.  She goes to the living room and watches some horror host goodness.  But the guy who was bugging her calls earlier sends some brain twister imagery across her screen to turn her into a killer assassin.  She’s snapped out of her trance when Frank accidentally breaks a dish.  She picks up a knife and plans to make him pay dearly for that broken bowl, but first, she’s gonna suck face with this way older man.

Question…  Is there anyway I can get one of these college chicks?

But it doesn’t last.  She freaks out a bit and says she’s not normally like this and tells him to beat cheeks.  He asks her to gather some evidence from Rothman and she gets angry, throws some spaghetti at him (which is kind of funny), and basically tells him to get fucked.

All’s fine, though.  She calls Frank and apologizes for tossing her pasta all over his face (mmmm sexy).  She says she will get the dirt on Rothman, but Frank’s decided he really shouldn’t involve her anymore.  On top of that, Rothman calls Frank’s captain and gets Frank suspended for a couple weeks for harassment.

However, things are starting to really progress into weirdo shit now.  Rothman is acting really weird these days and when Laurie sees him next, he’s wearing a suit, he’s combing his hair differently.  And he starts asking how she feels about Frank.  He even goes so far to ask if he is her “lover”.  He then gets kind of handsy and says he likes her and would hate to lose her.

Seeing the ice cream man outside, Rothman decides to buy them some.  He asks her what flavor and she responds vanilla.  He’s all like, “That’s not very exciting!  Get wild!  Take your top off!”  Okay, he didn’t say that last part but when she did say he can pick a flavor for her he gets giggly and giddy and goes to get them a couple cones.  She does some snooping and finds some of his notes, his tapes, and the point in which his psyche began to break and he started drawing naked bloody boobs and all sorts of other gross shit.  He comes back with their ice cream, but now Laurie’s all like, “Yeah…  I’mma go home…  Byeeeee!”

Man, Susannah Hoffs gets really upset when you don’t walk like an Egyptian.

Later, Michelle and her boyfriend break into Rothman’s lab and she locks herself into the videodrome and decides to crank that shit all the way up to 100000%.  So here’s where we’re going to take a detour into some real stupid stuff.  This completely melts Michelle’s brain and turns her into some barbarian animal chick.  I mean I’d still want in on that, but I dunno…  She claws her boyfriend in the neck and kills him.  I’m not too big on mixing pain into my sexy time.  We’ll get back to the dumb shit going on with Michelle momentarily.

At home, Laurie is reviewing some of the tapes Rothman made.  Rothman busts in and starts in on the Laurie is a turd and maybe a slut or definitely just an all around problem he needs to strangle.  Now see?  This is what I’m talking about.  For about 10 minutes earlier, you had Rothman visibly shaken by what’s going on to the people he’s experimented on.  Then you realize he is also subjugated to the machine’s bad stuff and he slowly devolves into a killer too.  That made him somewhat tragic.  That would have made all this a better arc for him instead of just having him be a smug prick from the beginning.

Anyway, he’s dead now.  A guy from the video game company comes in and kills him in what might be one of the most aggressive passing of a pink slip in corporate America history.  The hitman tells the video game boss that one tape’s missing.  So, in the infinite wisdom of the head of a gaming company, he tells the dude to get the tape and kill her.  I’m positive that won’t be messy or nothing.  Good thing Frank shows up just in time to kill the gunman and save Laurie.

The head of the video game company gets into his evil limo and tells his driver to go, but his driver is dead…  With a slashed throat.  Yup!  Michelle’s back and, goddamn, she’s like some sort of sexy lioness ready to kill with those claws of hers.  She pounces on the evil businessy business man and pretty much ends that threat I guess.

I have to wonder if her part was tacked in or just something that emerged in a rewrite or something.  I mean, sure, it shows the real problem with the machine and all because it can completely fuck your brain up right good.  Yet…  There’s no context to her desire to keep playing with the machine or being addicted to how it made her feel or anything.  Like, we get a couple scenes where she’s a slut and so I guess that means she likes being stimulated, but then it takes forever for her to go to her first study.  Then it takes forever more to show her breaking in and messing with it herself.  Then after she killed the business guy…  She’s just kind of comatose until she decides to go after Laurie and Frank and just kind of growls and swipes at them through a door.  I feel like this whole thing could have used a lot more context.

You see what I mean?  That whole Michelle subplot is stupid shit.  Only there for the horror shock value.

Cool game, bro…

Anyway, in for one shock value moment, in for two, am I right?  The movie ends with a little kid addicted to a game called Brain Twisters that makes him late for dinner and causes him to yell aggressively at his mother when she calls him to the table.

This movie isn’t totally sucky, but it ain’t so good.  It needed to be tighter.  It needed to take some time to make the movie deeper and more interesting.  There are flashes of cool ideas.  Like that scene with Yvonne killing her friends.  That was really well constructed.  The stuff with someone being stressed out over something bad happening so they jump out a window helps build a somewhat interesting moment and mystery.  The idea that Rothman is, himself, a part of the whole experimentation and therefore maybe caught in a web of mindfuck is interesting.  Farrah Forke as Laurie is perfectly fine but she doesn’t seem to have much to really do and she’s our lead character!  She’s just kind of there and things happen to her in the last half hour of the movie.

And that means in the first hour, she’s even more so just there because not much of anything really happens to her during those first two acts.

But, hey!  You know I don’t have to worry too much more about the shortcomings of Brain Twisters.  That’s because next week is the start of October.  That means horror!  At least maybe something that knows what it wants to be.  Horror movies in October is a thing that goes back to the very beginning of the blog.  Most years, I have some sort of theme tying the movies together.  This year?  Not so much.  I just want to watch horror movies.

That said, the line up for this October include:

  1. Doctor Butcher, M.D.
  2. Diabolical Dr. Z
  3. Tourist Trap
  4. The Children
  5. Trick or Treat (Halloween Day)
  6. A clever follow up for November 1 (the day after Halloween)

So come back next week when I watch the Italian zombie flick Doctor Butcher, M.D. (also known as Zombie Holocaust)!  Now, if you excuse me, I gotta go kill a couple people as blood sacrifice to the greatness of the Armor All Viking dude.

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