Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Black Christmas (2006)

It seems as if the horror genre runs in cycles. The genre dies down for a little while, then boom, it returns to prominence with the next big trend for the genre to follow. One of the more famous examples of this, I believe it goes without saying, was what I call the "great slasher boom" of the early 1980s. After the success of influential movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th, every aspiring filmmaker who could assemble a cast and crew cranked out their own slasher movie.

But among the hundreds of slasher movies released over the course of the '80s, one from the '70s managed to develop an underground following and the respect of hardcore horror fans. And although it doesn't have the mainstream notoriety that other, higher profile slashers have, Bob Clark's 1974 holiday horror flick Black Christmas is often noted as being the precursor to the entire slasher sub-genre.

Though while not a slasher movie of the purest sort, Black Christmas does craft many motifs that would eventually become the sub-genre's most enduring clichés. Unfortunately, it remained a lesser-known chapter in horror's pantheon until another big genre trend — remakes (or "re-imaginings," as many in the business are wont to call them) — emerged at the turn of the twenty-first century. Produced by the team behind the Final Destination franchise and the grossly underrated remake of Willard, Glen Morgan and James Wong's fresh take on the tale of sorority girls being stalked by a demented killer wasn't exactly a success with critics or at the box office here in America. But you know what? I didn't really think it was all that bad.

It's Christmastime at the Delta Alpha Kappa house, and despite the best efforts of housemother Mrs. MacHenry (Andrea Martin), the sorority girls just can't seem to get along. Megan (Jessica Harmon) isn't feeling too much Christmas spirit, thanks to a sex tape of her and her ex-boyfriend Kyle (Oliver Hudson) turning up online. And to top it off, Kyle is now dating bubbly sorority sister Kelli (Katie Cassidy). Meanwhile, drunken loudmouth Lauren (Crystal Lowe) is making a point of antagonizing everybody, while Melissa (Michelle Trachtenberg) responds with sarcasm, self-centered Dana (Lacey Chabert) just wants to open presents, and rich, religious southerner Heather (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) isn't in that happy of a mood.

You see, the sorority's "Secret Santa" program has developed something of a tradition, where one girl is selected to purchase a present for Billy Lenz (Robert Mann) as a joke. Heather was his Secret Santa, but flaked because she was offended by the idea. The reason why? Billy grew up in the Delta Alpha Kappa house. Born with an extreme case of jaundice, he was horribly abused by his alcoholic mother (Karen Konoval), who left Billy locked away in the attic while she showered Billy's little sister/daughter Agnes (played as an adult by Dean Friss) with affection. Yes, you read that right. There's some inbreeding in the Lenz home.

Billy finally cracked one Christmas, escaping from his ersatz prison in the attic and violently murdering his mother and stepfather before baking his mother's flesh into Christmas cookies. Because nothing really says Christmas quite like eating your family members. Agnes dropped off the face of the earth, while Billy spent the fifteen years that followed in a mental institution. And unbeknownst to the girls, Billy and Agnes have decided that to return home for the holidays. The sorority girls start receiving bizarre telephone calls, and when two of them go missing, the ones that remain soon begin falling victim to the psychotic ghosts of Christmas Past.

Truth be told, comparing the original Black Christmas to its remake is like comparing apples and oranges. They may share the same title and a few of the same elements, but they're completely different moves. In the original, we sat around for an hour in the middle of the movie while practically nothing happened. (Though I will admit that when something did happen, it was awesome.) In the remake, practically all of the superfluous subplots have been dropped or drastically altered so the movie could be transformed into something resembling the kooky holiday horror movies from the 1980s. A lot of people hated the remake, but so help me, I actually liked it. I thought the new Black Christmas was really entertaining, something that really goes a long way in helping this particular online reviewer overlook a movie's flaws. So let's jump right in and see exactly what made me feel that way.

Let's start with Glen Morgan's direction, which I thought was quite good. Though I thought the pacing was a bit inconsistent at times, everything else that Morgan does here is great. He gets some great camerawork from cinematographer Robert McLachlan, with much of the movie shot from odd angles and lit with Christmas tree lights. Morgan and McLachlan also make a point of reusing the creepy point-of-view shots that were a hallmark of the original Black Christmas. While they weren't as scary as they were when Bob Clark did them in 1974, they're still quite effective. Helping enhance the visuals is the excellent music composed by Shirley Walker. Walker's music is tense and frightening, while the use of certain Christmas carols during the movie added a bit of much-welcomed dark humor.

And then there's the screenplay, penned by our fearless director. As I said earlier, Morgan has altered or pretty much dropped all of the subplots from the original movie with the intent of making a more streamlined motion picture. No longer do we have a sorority girl freaking out her high-strung boyfriend by wanting an abortion, and a worried father leading a police search party to find his missing daughter has become a blasé sister arriving at the sorority to look for a sibling she hasn't heard from lately. Some elements do remain untouched, such as the phone calls, the idea of the killer hiding in the attic, and some of the weapons at the killer's disposal. But other than that, the movie is its own beast.

I noted in my review of the original Black Christmas that the killer is a complete enigma. We knew absolutely nothing about him, which made him even scarier. Instead of following in the original movie's footsteps, Morgan tells us, via flashbacks, the origin of the yellow-skinned lunatic haunting the sorority house. While the story is scary, unsettling, and — after a certain point — pretty gross, it's thoroughly unnecessary and a bit too complicated for its own good. I really don't see why there needed to be such a deep, extensive backstory. Does knowing the villain's full history make any real difference regarding the scariness? Because sometimes, less is more. I'd have been satisfied if they'd found a way to sum things up in a few sentences or a short little monologue. Maybe in another thirty years, they can do another remake and try reigning it in.

But perhaps the biggest problem with the script is the sheer number of characters that aren't very sympathetic. I'd expect to dislike Billy, his mother, and the token belligerent drunk chick, but it seems as if practically every one of the sorority girls are rude, catty bitches that don't get along at all. If none of them get along, then why would they all team up in order to survive at the end of the movie? I'd almost expect them to be proponents of the old horror movie rule of survival, "You don't have to outrun the villain, you just have to outrun everybody else." On second thought, the fact that the characters are both unsympathetic and one-dimensional might be the point. Because if that's the case, then maybe it's because it's more fun to watch them all meet their painful, violent demises. And really, isn't that what most slasher movies are all about?

And then there's the cast of victims. It's kind of hard to really point out any standouts when practically everyone is playing the exact same cookie-cutter character. And it's also tough to actually like any of the performances when all of them are mean-spirited shrews. The performances would have been more notable had there actually been a little variety. Some of them do make a good go of things, as Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Lacey Chabert aren't all that bad, and I thought Andrea Martin was charming. And although the makeup affects applied to them make them look more silly than frightening, I thought Robert Mann and Dean Friss were good as our villains.

Unfortunately, the majority of the cast was pretty mediocre at best. The worst offender is Kristen Cloke, who played the blasé sister I referred to a few paragraphs ago. She's so dreadful in the role, I think the only reason she's in the movie at all is because she's married to Glen Morgan. Yeah, that's right, I went there.

Okay, so the remake of Black Christmas isn't a great movie. However, it's an entertaining throwback to the goofy holiday slasher movies that made being a horror fan in the early '80s so much fun. Sure, it's got its fair share of flaws, and there's plot holes that you could drive an 18-wheeler through. But I thought the movie made for a great guilty pleasure that you might not be proud to like, but still like all the same. My fellow fans of the genre may have my head for this, but so help me, I liked the remake of Black Christmas. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hide in somebody's attic and make some obscene phone calls.

Final Rating: ***

Black Christmas (1974)

Slasher movies are very much a staple of 1980s pop culture. From long-running franchises like Friday the 13th to lesser-known cult gems like Madman, The Burning, and Sleepaway Camp, slasher flicks from the '80s have still remained popular with old-school devotees of the horror genre.

But it should be noted while the hottest period for this style of movie was the decade of excess, they're actually a product of the '70s. Released in 1978, John Carpenter's all-time classic Halloween set the bar for all slasher movies to follow, earning a reputation as one of the true masterpieces of the horror genre as a whole. And let's not forget that it's the first — and as of this writing, the only — movie of its kind selected for preservation in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry.

Halloween is often hailed as the first true film of its kind, but some won't hesitate to bring up a particular film helmed by Porky's director Bob Clark. Predating Halloween by four years, Black Christmas helped to create many of the themes that have now become oft-noted tropes and clichés. And while a lot of movies have ripped off Halloween over the years, quite a few owe a debt of gratitude to Black Christmas for getting the ball rolling.

Christmastime has come to the Canadian town of Bedford, where a group of sorority sisters at the Pi Kappa Sigma house are celebrating the holiday before heading home for their winter break. Unbeknownst to them, however, someone has decided to crash the party. Someone has crept into the sorority house's attic through an upstairs window, watching and listening as the girls go about their business. The girls are none the wiser, but they soon begin receiving phone calls from an unknown caller. What begins as obscenities grow to more bizarre, nonsensical ramblings, with the caller actually speaking in more than one voice. The sorority's token loudmouth drunk, Barb (Margot Kidder), blows him off as just another loony, but the calls have obviously rattled the rest of the girls. But though they're unnerved by it, they don't give them a lot of thought either... until one of the group goes missing.

When the missing girl's father and the other sorority sisters are unable to find her, the local police put together a search party led by Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon). But as the search progresses, the disturbing calls continue. Left to deal with it by herself while the other members of the sorority leave for home or help with the search, Jess (Olivia Hussey) must put up with not only the calls, but her high-strung boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), who's not exactly in a pleasant mood when he hears the news that Jess is pregnant and wants an abortion.

She finally decides to stick it to the perverted caller and has the cops put a trace on the phone. After numerous calls, the police determine that the calls are coming from — uh oh! — inside the house. And that's when Jess discovers the second half of the scary truth. Not content to stay hidden in the attic, the intruder has slipped down into the house and started picking people off one at a time. Knowing that somewhere in the house lurks a psychotic murderer, Jess is forced into a cat-and-mouse game against him in order to save her own life.

As I said in the opening paragraph, Black Christmas is recognized by many in the horror community as being something of a benchmark in the sub-genre of slasher films. You can definitely see where all those movies got their start, as Black Christmas boasts creepy POV shots, haunting music, a holiday setting, character constructs, and various scenes and ideas that would become clichéd. The fact that it doesn't follow the typical formula (since, naturally, there was no formula at the time) sets it apart from the multitude of slasher movies that dominated the 1980s, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I'll go out on a limb and say that Black Christmas's enduring popularity among horror fans may primarily be due to Bob Clark's fantastic direction. His work here is exemplary, as he teams with cinematographer Reginald Morris to give the movie an unsettling visual feel that really takes the movie above and beyond what you may expect of it. (Those frightening shots from the psycho's point of view are to die for, too.) The first thirteen minutes and the closing half-hour are the best horror movie filmmaking I've ever seen, and I commend Clark and Morris for their work. And greatly helping the visual aspect of the movie is Carl Zittrer's music. His piano-driven score, combined with the ambient noise used on the soundtrack as well, really sets the tone for our psycho's state of mind and pulls us deeper into the movie.

Next is the screenplay penned by Roy Moore. When I saw the movie for the first time, I wasn't exactly sold on the script. Outside of a few really creepy scenes and a kill or two, there isn't much else going on for nearly an hour in the middle of the movie. I guess I'm used to the more formulaic slasher movies that I grew up watching, but the movie's middle half drags at a snail's pace. There isn't a whole lot of suspense during this period because there's very rarely anything that builds suspense. However, while it drags in spots and there's a lot of stuff that doesn't contribute whatsoever to the story, the scenes involving the killer that are sprinkled in there really help put something of a dangerous undercurrent to the seemingly mundane proceedings.

I know it may sound like I'm giving Moore's script a thumbs-down, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. The characters are likable for the most part, the majority of the humor is funny, and the killer is genuinely scary. And how about that killer? All of the scenes involving him really makes all that other boring stuff worth sitting through, and the beauty of it is that we know absolutely nothing about him. We don't know his name, we don't know what he looks like, we don't know his motivation. We're left completely in the dark about him, and this really works in the movie's favor. What's scarier than the unknown?

Nowadays, every horror movie villain has some ultra-elaborate origin story that completely kills their mystique. Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Jigsaw from the Saw movies, the ghosts from The Ring and The Grudge... they've all had somebody tell every little detail about their histories. It even happened in the remake of the very film I'm reviewing right now. But the fact that the killer isn't specifically identified or even shown, outside of a few inconsequential features (such as his hand, or his eye peeking from around a door), makes him so much more frightening.

Lastly is the movie's cast, who are really good. Leading lady Olivia Hussey is charming and sweet. She is quite believable in the role, conveying the growing feelings of dread and fear that is needed to make the character work. I also thought John Saxon turned in a strong performance, but then again, when hasn't he? Keir Dullea is intense as his neurotic (and very, very suspicious) character, and every time he's onscreen, you get the feeling that he's one bad day away from becoming completely unhinged.

Perhaps the best performance, though, comes from Margot Kidder. Four years away from her career-defining performance as Lois Lane in Superman, Kidder is wholly entertaining as the opinionated, perpetually drunk loudmouth who has a hard time thinking before she speaks. She practically makes the whole movie by herself with her funny performance.

There's one cast member that I wasn't too fond of, however. Marian Waldman, who plays sorority house mother Mrs. Mac, annoyed me to no end. She's supposed to be part of the movie's comic relief, but the "kooky alcoholic" shtick didn't strike me as funny. And Waldman's performance is so awful, so painfully annoying, that I cheered when the killer took her out. It is amusing, though, to see all the elaborate places she's thought of to hide her booze. Hollowed-out books, toilet tanks, a hidden compartment in the closet, you name it. You know, now that I think about it, someone should invent a time machine and sent Roseanne Barr back to play Mrs. Mac. The character strikes me as being the Roseanne type, and with her in the role, the character might have been halfway entertaining.

Halloween may be the innovator of slasher movies, but Black Christmas is the originator. And for that, it earns my respect. It's definitely worth at least one watch, as it features some great cinematography, a cast that enjoys what they're doing, and some actual scary moments. Not those cheap "boo!" scares that are all the rage in modern horror cinema, but the real thing. While I found it had a few irritating flaws, and I didn't like the fact that you could literally fast-forward through half the movie and not miss anything of any real note, the other half of the movie really swings my opinion in its favor.

Though not a "slasher movie" in the truest connotations of the term, the movie made a lot of headway in establishing a prototype that other, better movies would improve upon. (It was also ripped off by other, crappier movies too, since the original When A Stranger Calls was like a poorly-made clone of Black Christmas.) This flick may not be done in the same style that fans of the sub-genre may be expecting, and it may not completely live up to the hype, it's still an fun movie nonetheless. And to think, Black Christmas was made by the same guy that made the family-friendly A Christmas Story nine years later. Bob Clark knew how to make Christmas movies, for sure.

Final Rating: ***½

Monday, December 10, 2007

Stay Alive (2006)

There aren't many horror movies that involve video games. Sure, there have been horror movies inspired by video games, such as Silent Hill and Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil trilogy. But I really can't think of too many horror movies where video games are an integral part of the plot. There was Brainscan in 1994, and that was pretty much it until Stay Alive was released early last year.

Though it was only the most modest of box office successes and has been dismissed by the more devoted horror faithful, I found Stay Alive to be a pretty entertaining little movie. I'm not going to argue that it should have been a smash hit or even that the movie is all that great. But I thought it was fun, and I'd like to explain why.

When an old friend dies a violent death, Hutch (Jon Foster) is heartbroken. His sorrow is lessened somewhat, however, when he inherits his friend's video game collection. Among these games is a bootlegged game titled "Stay Alive," a horror game featuring bloodthirsty 17th-century countess Elizabeth Bathory as its main villain. Hutch's friend had been beta-testing the game prior to his death, so he gathers together a group of fellow gamers — smart-ass stoner Phineas (Jimmi Simpson) and his Goth sister October (Sophia Bush); nerdy Swink (Frankie Muniz); Hutch's boss, Miller (Adam Goldberg); and Abigail (Samaire Armstrong), a newcomer to the group — and boots up a round of "Stay Alive" in memory of his deceased friend.

But what they believe is a harmless yet intense game proves itself to be much more dangerous when Miller's body is found the next day, murdered in exactly the same fashion as his character was killed in the game. They brush it off as an incredibly horrifying coincidence, but the group soon finds that the same fate is befalling each of them as well. And to make things worse, the game is even takes on a life of its own by playing itself to ensure their suffering. As elements of the game's world starts bleeding into our reality, those who've avoided death must face off against Elizabeth Bathory's ghost (Maria Kalinina) and find a way to stay alive.

I must admit that I'm not completely sure why Stay Alive has been so overlooked. Was it because of the PG-13 rating the movie carried during its theatrical release? Could it be the fact that its cast features actors who have appeared in such teenager-oriented television shows as Gilmore Girls, The O.C., One Tree Hill, and Malcolm in the Middle? I don't really know. No, Stay Alive isn't a great movie or anything like that, but it's a relatively solid flick that is perfectly acceptable entertainment in spite of its flaws.

Director William Brent Bell does a fine bit of work here, making certain mundane scenes seem more lively with a combination of cinematography and editing. He doesn't do anything that I would call revolutionary, but what he does do is make a strong effort to maintain the interest of the viewer. For example, look at the beginning scene in which our group of six play the game for the first time. Watching people play video games when you could be playing them yourself could get awfully boring, but Bell and cinematographer Alejandro Martinez film it with a frenetic energy that actually makes it exciting.

But it isn't all people playing games. Since this is a horror movie, after all, Bell makes sure to try his hand at suspense. Sure, he makes sure to throw in a few of the cheap "boo!" scares that seem mandatory in modern horror movies, but he also manages to let things creep up on us. Things slowly pop up in the background only for a few seconds, keeping us wondering just where it might reappear. And while it isn't perfect, Bell's work serves its purpose and gets the job done. It helps that the music composed by John Frizzell is great, too. Frizzell's music is almost too good, sounding like it belongs in a bigger movie than Stay Alive. So I guess it makes this movie better by association?

The screenplay, penned by Bell and Matthew Peterman, doesn't really hold up as well. Though its premise is strong and the characters are very likable, it's ultimately a flawed — and at certain points, nonsensical — script. While the writers are quick to point out on the DVD audio commentary that they did make some historical inaccuracies in regards to Elizabeth Bathory for the sake of drama, the biggest flaws actually involve the game itself. Though I understand that Bell and Peterman needed something to push the story forward, the idea of the game playing itself seems awfully cheap.

What really gets me, however, is the actual logistics of the game. It's played on a PlayStation 2 at the end of the game, but the characters play it on laptop computers for practically the entire movie. So unless the game was released on both PCs and PS2s, it makes me wonder how they've gotten this whole thing working. And how is Miller able to play the game from miles away? I'm not an expert on such things, but I doubt a test version of a yet-to-be-released game can be played online, so barring the other characters making a copy of the game for him and setting up some kind of network between them, I just don't know how to explain it.

However, the cast does the best they can with the material. Jon Foster and Samaire Armstrong aren't bad as the lead characters, but I personally thought the supporting cast was more entertaining. Frankie Muniz and Jimmi Simpson were engaging and funny as the movie's comic relief, while Sophia Bush does a decent job as the perpetually smirking quasi-Goth. Adam Goldberg and Milo Ventimiglia are also good despite having precious little screen time, and I thought James Haven and Alice Krige — both of whom had their scenes cut from the theatrical release and reinstated for the unrated "director's cut" release on DVD — were creepy in their roles. Even at their weakest, I thought the cast worked well together, and really sold me on the whole thing. So thumbs up for them.

I doubt Stay Alive will ever be regarded as a classic piece of horror filmmaking. But I do believe it'd make for a fun movie to watch with friends on Halloween when you just want a quick scare. It's harmless entertainment that, though not the most memorable of movies, isn't a bad way to kill an hour and a half. Now if you''ll excuse me, I've got to go make a few phone calls to some video game developers, because Stay Alive: The Video Game is a game I want to play.

Final Rating: ***

Monday, December 3, 2007

Brainscan (1994)

If you've been a horror fan for as long as I have, then I'm sure you might consider the early '90s as being the worst of times. Not a whole lot of very good horror movies were released in the years prior to Scream coming along and shaking up the genre. But while there were a handful of modern classics like Candyman, Army of Darkness, and Wes Craven's New Nightmare released during the first half of the decade, they were far outnumbered by schlock like Leprechaun, Ghost in the Machine, Carnosaur, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.

Another of these disappointing movies was a little-known flick titled Brainscan. Starring a post-T2 Edward Furlong and scripted by a pre-Seven Andrew Kevin Walker, Brainscan tells the tale of a troubled teen whose escape into an odd computer game leads him down a very dark path. That probably makes the movie sound more interesting than it really is, to be truthful. So let's get to it.

All outward appearances would suggest that sixteen-year-old Michael Brower (Edward Furlong) could be living a pretty sweet life. He lives in a huge house in a nice town, and has converted the entire attic into a veritable geek palace, with all the comic books and awesome high-end electronics that money can buy. And with his father gone on business most of the time, he's left to do damn near whatever he pleases with no parental supervision. He's even the founder of his high school's "Horror Club," a small group of students that meet to watch and discuss violent horror movies despite the disdain that the surly school principal (David Hemblen) has for their activities.

Unfortunately, the physical and emotional scarring left behind after the car crash that killed his mother years before has put Michael in something of a prolonged funk. His main social activity outside of the Horror Club is hanging out with his flippant best friend Kyle (Jamie Marsh), and though he pines for the affection of his pretty neighbor Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves), he's too shy and withdrawn to say anything to her about it. So what's he do? He puts a camcorder in the window and peeps into her bedroom on a nightly basis. So he's like George McFly if he listened to heavy metal and had a really negative attitude.

But enough setup, let's get to the meat and potatoes of things. The ball gets rolling when Kyle shows Michael an advertisement in the latest issue of Fangoria for a new computer game called Brainscan. Billing the game as "the ultimate experience in interactive terror" and "the most frightening experience available on this planet," the advertisement also promises that Brainscan will "satisfy your sickest fantasies" and "unleash the dark side of your soul," but warns that it's not for the squeamish.

His interest piqued, he calls the number on the advertisement, and orders a copy of the game. Using a flashing light sequence to lull its players into a hypnotic trance and with a disembodied voice urging him on, the game gives Michael an hour to enter a house, stab a sleeping man to death, and chop off his foot as a trophy. Michael accomplishes this with time to spare, but he discovers the next day that a local man has been killed in the exact same fashion as how he did it in the game. Add in the severed foot he discovers in his refrigerator, and things just aren't going Michael's way at all.

And things are about to get much, much worse. The game's master of ceremonies, a grotesque figure calling himself "the Trickster" (T. Ryder Smith), emerges from the game, congratulating Michael on what he did and urging him to play the game's three remaining chapters. But in spite of Michael's increasing protests against continuing, Trickster pushes him to cover up evidence and eliminate any potential witnesses, even if those witnesses are those people closest to him. And as the pressure from both Trickster and a curious police detective (Frank Langella) mount, Michael's sanity is pushed dangerously close to the breaking point.

One could make the argument that Brainscan may be ahead of its time, as the plot could be construed as a metaphor for the theory that violence in video games can lead to violence in real life. That probably wasn't the movie's intent at the time, and thus that angle doesn't seem as touched upon as it could have been. If Brainscan had been made about ten years later, after the Grand Theft Auto franchise's rise in popularity, then maybe. But even if the movie did utilize that angle, it still wouldn't save it from being a thoroughly mediocre waste of time. And that's the really tragic thing. While it boasts an intriguing premise, the movie isn't very good. It's not a bad movie either... it's just kinda there. If it fell on either the good end or the bad end of the cinematic spectrum, then I wouldn't have to struggle to think of things to say about it. But no, Brainscan just had to go and only be of "meh" quality. And movies like that really grind my gears.

But I guess I'll need to break this down anyway, though I'll probably end up repeating myself a few times. The direction by John Flynn, best known for directing Steven Seagal's Out For Justice, is pretty good. It isn't anything groundbreaking, but he does keep the movie at a relatively brisk pace while getting some good cinematography from François Protat. There's also some fantastic original music composed by George S. Clinton. Clinton's music for Brainscan sounds like something Angelo Badalamenti would have done for Twin Peaks, with a trippy, surreal sound that is used to good effect. The rest of the soundtrack is give or take, however. The tracks contributed by Primus and White Zombie are pretty good, but the rest, from various bands that I've never heard of before, seem like generic filler.

The rest of the move, meanwhile, is a mixed bag if there ever was one. While Andrew Kevin Walker may have written Seven and Sleepy Hollow, he's got a few less-than-stellar entries on his résumé, and this is one of them. As I've said, the movie's concept — a teenager's actions in a video game having violent repercussions in the real world — is an intriguing one, but it could have been done a lot better. Maybe there was some script doctoring going on by someone who didn't know what they were doing? I mean, did the movie really need that lame running gag with the German shepherd showing up everywhere?

But to be honest, I can't even find much of anything to directly point at and say, "That's what went wrong with the script." But I did notice a general sense of poor storytelling, along with a big number of poorly-handled clichés. There's the loner with the goofball best friend, the girl next door that the lead character has the hots for, the suspicious cop, and the one adult that treats everybody like crap because of his crummy disposition. And then there's the Trickster, who just seems like a lame attempt to create a new Freddy Krueger. He's got an intriguing look, has a wisecrack for every situation, and even the ending feels like a setup for a potential Brainscan 2. If more time had been spent crafting Trickster as a true threat rather than as Freddy Jr., maybe he would have been a bit more memorable.

Last on the list is the cast. Edward Furlong's career may have started with a bang in Terminator 2, but then he did Pet Sematary 2 and started sliding into obscurity. That slide continued with Brainscan, and while I can't say that he's bad per se, he's too inconsistent to make any lasting impression. He's either brooding, mildly upset, or absolutely out of his mind. Furlong doesn't make a smooth transition between these emotions, just jumping to whichever one he needs from scene to scene. Maybe that's why he's only done two or three memorable movies in his career?

Meanwhile, Jamie Marsh is likable in the handful of scenes he has, despite his clichéd character. I also liked Amy Hargreaves, though I didn't feel there was a whole lot being demanded of her besides being cute. There isn't a whole lot asked of Frank Langella either, and he must have known that because he seems like he's just reading his lines off cue cards. He must have impressed somebody, though, because he played pretty much the exact same character in Bride of Chucky.

Let's not forget the last member of the cast, T. Ryder Smith as the Trickster. As I stated above, Trickster struck me as being a Freddy Krueger wannabe, and Smith plays Trickster as such, only with more punk rock sensibilities. His performance is over the top, as he recites his dialogue with a smirking cockiness that makes him entertaining in spite of his character's deficiencies. I'd definitely go out on a limb and call Smith's performance the true highlight of the movie, something to make it worth seeing.

So yeah, that's my take on Brainscan. It's a relatively obscure movie by most standards, and for understandable reasons. The only thing that makes it memorable at all is the idea of unknowingly committing real murders through a computer game. Take that away, and all you're left with is a mediocre, utterly forgettable movie. And that pretty much sums the whole thing up. It's definitely watchable, entertaining at times, but it's nothing that you should feel guilty for missing. I guess I'll give Brainscan two stars. There was the potential to make a great movie here, but it just seems wasted.

Final Rating: **