Brain Dead

Brain Dead (1989)
New Concorde
Cast: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Bud Cort, George Kennedy
Extras: Trailers, Biographies

’Brain Dead’ is one of the first releases in a new line from New Concorde – formerly known as New Horizon – called ’The Actor’s Series’. This film definitely fits into this series, as it features performances by Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton, both of which have gone on to bigger and better things. ’Brain Dead’ is a suspense-thriller that was written by Charles Beaumont, one of the original writers for ’The Twilight Zone’. The script was found years after his death and writer/director Adam Simon brought it to the screen. The story deals with Dr. Rex Martin (Bill Pullman), a brain researcher. Martin is approached by old friend Jim (Bill Paxton) to assist with a man named Halsey (Bud Cort), a man who has lost his identity. Dr. Martin is hired to see if Halsey’s memory can be restored. After Dr. Martin meets with Halsey, things begin to get strange and he can’t tell reality from fantasy. Soon, Dr. Martin becomes very paranoid and begins to distrust Jim and his own wife. As Dr. Martin falls farther into insanity the viewer becomes part of the mind games as well.

If you liked the way that ’Jacob’s Ladder’ kept you guessing, then you will love ’Brain Dead’. The ’reality’ in the film shifts about every five minutes and you never know exactly who Dr. Martin is or who he should trust. The script is very intelligent and multiple viewings reveal that clues as to Dr. Martin’s fate are peppered throughout the dialogue. The film is certainly disorienting at times (that’s part of the fun), but it never becomes too confusing or convoluted. Adam Simon does a fine job of creating interesting characters and a true sense of pity for the tortured Dr. Martin. Pullman is very good as Martin, and Paxton is at his sleazy best as Jim, but it’s Bud Cort as Halsey that steals the show. ’Brain Dead’ is a great little gem of a film and it will keep you guessing until the end.

’Brain Dead’ comes to DVD courtesy of Roger Corman’s New Concorde Home Video. The opening credits are slightly letterboxed (1.66:1?), but the remainder of the film is presented full-frame. The digital transfer has rendered the picture as sharp and clear, but it has also revealed a significant amount of grain. The picture is dark at times, consistent with low-budget films of the era. The color is good, but the darkness of the picture makes the colors appear washed out at times. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono, which offers audible dialogue which aren’t overpowered by the sound effects. This transfer leaves much to be desired, but it’s a definite improvement over the old VHS version and with a retail price of $14.95, it’s a pretty good bargain.

The DVD contains the original trailer for ’Brain Dead’, which is presented full-frame. There are also trailers for ’Velocity’ (which has a fake Jack Nicholson voice-over that’s just bizarre) and David Cronenberg’s ’Rabid’, both of which are coming from New Concorde. There are also biographies for Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, George Kennedy, Bud Cort, and Roger Corman (!).