Brain Dead (1990)

Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton star in this bizarre mind-bending horror. Prism UK R2 DVD release.

The Film

Dr. Rex Martin (Bill Pullman) is an expert in the field of neurosurgery, he is contacted by his old friend Jim Reston (Bill Paxton) who asks him to look into a man named John Halsey (Bud Cort) who is suffering from paranoia and who brutally killed his family. Previously employed by Reston's corportation, Halsey has a valuable formula somewhere in his head. Martin tries to operate on Halsey, but things start to get rather strange, he starts seeing things and soon he finds himself in the insane asylum only to find himself being called Halsey...

Based on a story by Charles Beaumont, writer of a number of the classic 1960s Twilight Zone episodes, the film is one of a growing number of mind-bending horror-thrillers where neither you, or the lead character, know quite what is going on and where reality and dreams meet or end. The storyline gets mixed around a lot, but the characters are suitably defined that when they crop up again in different forms, we recognise them. At just 80 minutes the film does not outstay its welcome and is well paced, building to a conclusion that doesn't quite answer all the questions raised.

Produced by Roger Corman's New Horizons company, the film has the classic Corman ability to get a lot out of a presumably minimal budget. The camerawork is effective and the editing is very impressive helping the jumps between the unexpected twists in the storyline. There is a good mix of location shoots, and the neurosurgical special effects look realistic. The soundtrack is mostly synthesised and adds to the film's eerie atmosphere. The cast is surprisingly impressive, with rising stars Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton who look very good as the eccentric scientist and the slick, slimy businessman respectively, and 1970's Hollywood star George Kennedy in a small but important role as the company chairman. The best performance, however, is from Bud Cort (Harold and Maude (1971)) who gives a wonderful performance as the paranoid Halsey, avoiding the usual hammy clichés.

With the ambience of The Twilight Zone and a wonderfully mind-bending storyline that will leave you scratching your head afterwards, Brain Dead is an enjoyable and recommended film although hardly life changing, overshadowed by such superior mind-benders as Jacob's Ladder (1992) and The Machinist (2005).

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Bill Pullman - usually associated with romantic roles, best known as President in Independence Day (1996)
Bill Paxton - best known for his performances in Titanic (1997) and Aliens (1987).
George Kennedy - star of the Airport and Naked Gun series and star of Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Directed by anyone interesting? Adam Simon - writer and director of the well made horror movie documentary American Nightmare (2000)
Any gore/violence? Some rather brutal, bloody violence.
Any sex? A short sex scene with no nudity.
Is it scary? Some shock scenes.
Who is it for?
Fans of the mind-bending horror films should enjoy this.
Good soundtrack? A mostly electronic score that matches the film's 'modern' feel.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour.
There is no excessive headroom, or notably cropped scenes, suggesting the film may have been shot in fullscreen.
Print quality is decent - grainy and slightly soft but always watchable.
Audio English mono. Sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original trailer, same condition as the film.
      Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
      Other regions? Similar releases in USA and Europe.
      Cuts? Believed to be Fully uncut.



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      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 4th September 2006.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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