Brain Twisters (1991)

(aka, Fractals)

The opening shot is memorable.

It’s like waves flowing backwards and uphill away from us.

But then the camera shifts just a little and we see we have actually been watching the reflections of tree branches on the windshield of a moving car.

Don’t expect that you’ll ever see that level of artistry in Brain Twisters again.  In fact, it may just have been an accident that the shot turned out that way, I honestly don’t know.

The story itself is very familiar: a scientist conducting psychological experiments, a series of strange murders and suicides involving some of the college kids who participated in his research.  The basic setup is almost identical to that of Strange Behavior [Dead Kids] from a decade before, and I’m sure If I thought about it for a while I’d come up with a few more.

However, this one was made in the Nineties, so the psych research involves Virtual Reality.

Now, when I say that, you probably pictured the versions of VR found in the other films of the era which explored the subject, like Arcade, Johnny Mnemonic, The Lawnmower Man, Ghost in the Machine, Disclosure, or even the “The Bishop of Battle” sequence in Nightmares.

Instead, what we get is simple but colorful patterns, of the sort you might have been able to program with an Amiga computer back in the Eighties.  They look more like a screen saver than anything else.

Although I have to say that the videogame that shows up later on is even worse.

Nor is Dr. Rothman your standard model Mad Scientist, which is a shame as the film could have stood a little scenery chewing.  Instead, he’s yet another stock character, the scientist who doesn’t know the full truth, but ignored his growing doubts and remained silent.

Yep.  Saw that one.

Even so, he could have been interesting had he been played by Jeffrey Coombs or Brad Dourif, someone with more intensity and a slightly manic edge.  I suspect they may have wanted him to be as normal as possible (other than being too interested in the beautiful young girl — and female lead — who’s working for him).

Another odd element is that we have, again, a somewhat familiar element, the police detective who is interested in the girl, but the actor playing this stock character is much older than the girl — more than ten years, I’m sure.  If not twenty.

Heck, I’d be willing to believe thirty.

Now we do tend to accept this sort of thing from Hollywood: after all, teenaged college kids tend to look rather old in the movies as well.  But the gap in their ages does tend to undermine the relationship between the two.

And he does have what has to be the all-time worst pickup line from any movie I’ve ever seen.

For those who’ve grumbled that he goes out on a date with a suspect and even makes dinner for her in her apartment (which is absurdly nice and spacious for a college kid’s place), I will point out that this takes place after he is taken off the case, which does make it less absurd.  But that still leaves us with the stock movie absurdity of the cop pursuing the case after he’s been taken off it.

But I guess we can’t complain too much as we’ve been accepting that one for years.

And I have to note that, in real life, those fingernails probably wouldn’t have survived the first attack, let alone all the others that followed.

Naturally, there is an evil corporation involved who has been funding all this research because of…reasons.  They want all this data on brain stimulation, and one can imagine a lot of ways it could be used.  They even use the murder-inducing effects we know about in an attempted murder (although the other possible outcome happens instead), and one does see how this trick could be used in various nefarious ways.

But there must be some major payoff here we don’t know about.

Other than being evil.  That’s always a big plus in itself.

Yes, it does end with a backhanded reference to one of the all-time classic urban legends, but, again, what the big evil corporation hopes to gain from this plan is beyond me.

It is evil though.  So I guess that will have to be enough.

Oh, well.  As Eighties horror thrillers made in the Nineties go, Brain Twisters isn’t exactly bad.  It has a few good moments, several well-done scares, a bit of high-tech hardware of the movie variety, and enough going on to keep it from getting entirely dull.

But that doesn’t make it all that exciting, either.

So file it under “Okay” along with a lot of other movies.  There was potential here, even with the very limited effects they had, but somehow we ended up with this version.

Oh, well.

And I do need to point out that they could easily have tweaked that final scene to make a little more sense if there had been a label on the case saying, “You have been selected to play our Exclusive Beta Test!”…

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