Brain Dead (1990) Movie Review
Charles Beaumont (screenplay) and Adam Simon (screenplay), Charles Beaumont(story)
If for no other reason, one should see the 1990 horror/comedy Brain Dead simply because it’s the only movie to have both Bill Pullman and the late Bill Paxton on the same screen. Thus proving they are not one and the same person. Does it matter if the movie’s really not any good, despite what you remember when you first saw it on VHS?
Dr. Rex Martin (Bill Pullman) is really into brains. He’s a brain doctor and you get the feeling he’s better with them than he would be with live patients. He treats them as individuals and is genuinely sad if one the jars containing them are destroyed. Hard to believe he’s married to an actual human being, Dana (Patricia Charbonneau).
Dr. Martin is on the forefront of brain technology. Funding for his work might not always be easy.
Fortunately, Dr. Rex is friends with Jim Weston (Bill Paxton, 90s hair slicked back so you know he’s shady). Jim works for the Eunice Corporation, a conglomerate with a name that totally doesn’t sound soulless or evil. Jim also used to be college roommates with Dana, and Rex suspects Jim still has feelings for her.
Jim is seeing Rex on business, not on Dana-related items. Jim needs Rex to visit a mental institution and talk with a man named Halsey, who also worked for Eunice. Why? Because Halsey had been on the cusp of some proprietary cutting edge 90s technology (beepers? reversible flannels?) before he went mad and murdered his wife, his children, and his research assistants. Jim needs to know if Rex can somehow extract the information Halsey had in his brain, you know, before he went on that murder spree, or at the very least wipe Halsey’s brain clean so no one else can have Eunice’s intellectual property. That sounds super ethical.
Dr. Rex refuses, as he’s into the human brain for science, not for money.
Jim uses his business connections to kill Rex’s grant, essentially leaving him jobless.
Dr. Rex now accepts Jim’s offer because he has no choice.
Rex goes to the institution, finds and talks to Halsey (Harold and Maude’s Bud Cort). Other than murdering his entire family, Halsey doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. Halsey tells Rex that he’s being followed by a man name Conklin. Conklin is dressed in a white doctor’s outfit drenched in blood. You’d think someone like that would be noticed. Halsey says that Conklin made him kill his family and assistants.
Rex asks Halsey is he can operate on his brain. Halsey says sure.
After showing Jim and the rest of the Eunice higher-ups what he might extract from Halsey’s brain, Rex is on top of the world. Except that a man dressed up in a bloody doctor’s outfit seems to be following him.
What works with Brain Dead
- Bill Paxton gives the only performance worth remembering, perhaps the only thing in this movie worth remembering, as the smarmy Jim. In retrospect, this was the same squirrely rat performance Paxton would give in True Lies and about a half dozen other movies, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not fun to watch.
- A reference to The Serpent and the Rainbow, a far superior Bill Pullman movie and a reminder you should be watching that instead.
What doesn’t work with Brain Dead
- Ostensibly labeled a horror movie, there’s not a moment when you’re truly afraid. This wouldn’t be so bad if only the film were entertaining as well.
- The final two acts go off the rails with twist(s) that I won’t spoil but would have made the movie worth a watch if they hadn’t also been confusing. Writer/director Adam Simon whipsaws the viewer back and forth so that what’s happening isn’t very clear. It’s not entertaining if you feel like you have to take notes to see if you’re following the story correctly.
Come for the Double Bill. Leave after 30 minutes. You don’t have to be brain dead to watch this movie, but it certainly helps.