A Movie You (Probably) Haven’t Heard Of: Brainscan

Recently I rewatched a movie from my teens that I really enjoyed, but have not seen since, I think, high school. A movie that you (probably) haven’t heard of. I say probably, because I don’t think I have ever met anyone that has heard of this movie when I mention it. Having not thought about it for quite some time, out of nowhere I was rather interested to see how it held up after almost 30 years. Many lower budget movies(compared to today’s standards) from that era just don’t stand up to the test of time. I mean, how could they?

So, how did Brainscan fare? Before we get into the synopsis, let’s first take a look at the cheesy as fuck trailer.


Note: Obviously, if you have never seen this movie, this piece will contain spoilers. I tried to keep them as minimal as possible, and the synopsis is only from about 1/3 of the movie.



Brainscan is a 1994 suspense/horror movie that was directed by John Flynn. The movie stars: Edward Furlong, Amy Hargraeves, Frank Langella, and T. Ryder Smith. You may recognize Edward Furlong from John Connor(Terminator 2)-fame. 

Set in a suburban middle/upper class town, the movie centers around Michael, a loner kid that enjoys horror movies and games. His classmates think of him as a weirdo and a freak. He and his friend Kyle run the school “Horror Club”. Which gets shut down by the principal. Because, of course. Michael is a troubled teenager. His mother was killed in a car accident on a rainy night when he was young. Michael was also in the car that night, and while he survived, he severely injured his leg. Requiring immediate surgery. Now he is stuck walking with a limp. He regularly has nightmares about the accident and seeing his mother die before his eyes.

His father is never home, always away on business. Their only real contact is in answering machine messages(think voicemail, but using a tape recorder). So he pretty much lives alone, surviving on junk food and frozen meals in his large home. Even though he has a whole house to himself, Michael sticks to his large attic room where he watches horror movies, plays games, listens to music, and creeps on the cute neighbor girl, Kimberly. Well, his creep-level is borderline stalker-ish. He takes pictures of her changing, and video tapes her regularly. He knows he is a creep, and even exclaims this to himself. 

One night, his friend Kyle tells him about this new game that he found in the back of a horror magazine. The game promises that it is “more than just a game” and that it is “the ultimate experience in interactive terror”. Skeptical, but interested, Michael calls the company to get some more information. During the call with the “representative” Michael gets snarky, saying he’s played them all and seen them all. Referring to horror games/movies. It is then that a flash of strobe-like lights illuminate him and he has what appears to be a seizure. Presumably, this strobe light emanates from his TV. From there the voice on the call, now somewhat excited, tells him that his adventure has been already decided and that his first installment will arrive soon. Then the call disconnects. Leaving Michael bewildered and confused. He never agreed to anything, nor gave out his address.

A couple days later an envelope arrives in the mail with Brainscan printed all over it. Michael, in a why-not mentality, settles into his chair to give it a try that night. Upon booting up the game, it tells him how it all works. The game uses the lights in the TV to stimulate the brain, and the game itself has four parts. One CD per part. And each part has a timer that varies based on the mission. The game must be completed within the allotted time, or there will be consequences, as he is ominously told. Though the consequences are not elaborated on.

When Michael starts the game a timer starts counting down with a lot of flashing lights as he enters the game.

Inside the game Michael becomes a killer in a first person shooter game type view. In a nondescript neighborhood in the middle of the night, he enters a house and murders a sleeping man. All the while an unknown voice is guiding him along. Giving him little hints. Michael stabs the man repeatedly and has to fight him off. Once he is dead, he cuts off his foot as a trophy. The voice ominously tells him to put it in a safe place. It is all too real, and when he wakes up in his chair he is in a cold sweat and breathing hard. Bewildered. This game had delivered on all of  its promises. The next day he tells Kyle all about it on the way to school. Kyle, excited about the game, asks to borrow the game. But Michael wants to give it a few more go’s before he passes it on.

Later that day, Michael finds out about a gruesome murder in his town. One that happened the night prior. The victim was stabbed repeatedly in his sleep, and his foot was sawed off. A gruesome act. This spooks Michael, for very  good reason. When he got back to his room, while freaking out, he recalled the voice from the game that said “put it in a safe place”. Michael is instantly drawn to the freezer in his room, though he doesn’t know why. Sure enough, when he opens the door, in front of his own two eyes is a frozen severed foot. 

In a full on panic now, Michael attempts to call the Brainscan number. But it is out of service. While he is trying, his television flashes as if the game is starting, and a demonic figure appears on the screen in a Max Headroom fashion. After an exchange, the creature identifies himself as Trickster and exits the TV through the screen, into Michael’s room. He compliments Michael on the previous night’s act, calling it beautiful. He then tells Michael that there was a witness to his crime, and the witness must be taken care of. He also makes it evident again that he must finish the game. Something that involves completing the three remaining discs.

Michael, defiant at first, comes to the conclusion that he has no choice. 


Thoughts Looking Back

I first saw Brainscan in the mid 1990’s on a channel like Cinemax or HBO. So we’re talking CRT televisions with bad aurdio. I remember it being a really interesting suspense movie for the time, and I even recorded it onto VHS to rewatch(yeah, really). It had a lot of futuristic-for-the-time stuff in it, like the use of computers with voice control and home automation, online gaming, and of course, immersion/alter/virtual reality video games. In fact this was one of the first times I had ever seen a “video game/reality” type story. Something that is all too common now. Particularly in anime. 

This was not a big budget film, and even by mid-90’s standards the special effects were bad. But that is what we had back then. Bad special effects and CGI. But it still looked cool. Of course, then The Matrix came about 5 years later or so, and everything changed. No, I wouldn’t say that The Matrix was the turning point for good CGI, but it was the Gold Standard for some time. The acting in Brainscan was very bad by many of the extras in this movie, particularly Kimberly’s parents. Who only had about 45 seconds of screen time and two or three lines. It felt like they pulled them out of the movie studio tour to act in that one scene. 

For me, what made it an interesting/enjoyable movie to me was the originality of the story and the antagonist. The detective, played by Frank Langella was a pretty decent character. Largely because the actor is very dark and intense. Trickster, played by T. Ryder Smith, was a pretty cool “bad guy”, and the actors portrayal of him really made the character. He is no Freddy Krueger or Jason, sure. But he made this movie with his appearances.

The music was also a big plus. The background score was okay, and it was just creepy enough to add the needed ambiance to the scenes. But the alt, metal, and grunge songs that were chosen fit in quite well. Using songs from Primus, Pinchshifter, White Zombie(a KMFDM remix), TAD, and Mudhoney. I’ll say this, movie soundtracks in the 1990’s often had pretty great soundtracks. Particularly the non-mainstream movies.

Without any doubts, this is definitely a KMFDM remix.

In the end, this movie was/is not a blockbuster, but it does offer some good suspense and an interesting story. For me the combination of a good antagonist with decent ambiance made Brainscan enjoyable. With that, and bad CGI aside, I think this movie has stood the test of time. At least for me. It didn’t review well in the 1990’s and it still doesn’t review well in the 2020’s. But it appears to have picked up a cult following, from the user scores on various platforms. I never put much weight in reviews anyway. So take that information as it is.

If you’re looking for a quick(one hour and a half) suspense flick to pass some time. Maybe give Brainscan a shot. It is available on a few services for rental or purchase. I bought mine on Amazon Prime Video.

Cover image source

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


All of these are true except for one:

Robert is: a Hobbyist, a Music Lover, an RPG Gamer, a Mustard Lover, Chaotic Neutral, a Japanese Speaker, a Veteran, an Otaku, a Table Tennis Player, an Anime Fan, an Aviation Professional, a New York Rangers Fan, a Chaos Lover With Loyalist Tendencies.

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