In your face!
When you've watched over 300 horror movies in a calendar year, you tend to get bored. For every good horror movie, there's about 50 that are terrible. Find me a great unique zombie movie and I'll find you 10 that are almost exactly the same and boring as shit. In order to stave off boredom, I have to resort to searching for movies with interesting story choices, different directors, or in today's case, an almost mythical combination of actors.
Brain Dead (not to be confused with Peter Jackson's Braindead/Dead Alive) is a 1990 psychological horror movie starring Bill Pullman (Independence Day, Spaceballs) as neurosurgeon Dr. Rex Martin. Martin is actively researching brain afflictions, specifically paranoia. He works in a lab literally filled with jars containing brains. He cares deeply for each brain stating they once belonged to actual people and deserve to be treated with respect. School friend Jim Reston (Bill Paxton, Apollo 13, Frailty), a successful businessman at the omni-corporation Eunice, reaches out to Martin when a work problem arises. John Halsey, a mathematician for Eunice, was working on something extremely secretive when he suffered a mental breakdown. Now in a mental institution, Halsey is extremely paranoid and unable to answer the most basic of questions. Martin performs brain surgery on Halsey, but begins to have strange hallucinations and dreams. He constantly sees a man in white, covered with blood, wherever he goes. Martin begins to feel paranoid, as if he is being followed. He soon suspects that his wife is cheating on him with Jim. The dreams and hallucinations intensify and soon Martin wakes up in the mental institution. The man covered in blood is now his doctor who informs Martin that there is no Halsey and that Martin was never a neurosurgeon. What is reality and what is fiction in Dr. Martin's world and will he ever find out the truth?
"You're right. His brains do look like my mother."
When your movie is based around the idea of the main character having no idea what is happening, the same is going to happen with the audience. Of course, that's the point as the audience is along for the ride, going through the same twists and turns as the main character. This type of story needs to carefully weave the story without leaving the audience bored and confused. Brain Dead comes very close to hitting that threshold. Some movies are able to pull off the crazy “what the hell is going on” genre, but Brain Dead never goes full out, content with just confusing the audience. I really wanted to know what really was happening with Dr. Martin, but everything is such a confused mess that I soon stopped caring. The inclusion of the man covered in blood was unsettling, but we don't get him for long as the dreams continue to change. The movie does have a little bit of gore and if you're squeamish, you may really squirm at the brain surgery scenes.
The big reason why I chose this movie is because it has both Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton. Both men are constantly confused with one another so it's fun to see them in the same movie. It's almost like seeing a unicorn ride the Loch Ness monster. Remember, Bill Pullman played the president in Independence Day and Bill Paxton is the other guy. It's fun to see them interact as they have very good chemistry with each other. Pullman pulls off the neurotic scientist role very well and Paxton was born to be a slimy late 80's businessman. Beyond that, the movie doesn't have much to offer. Other than the blood-covered man, there are no real scares and very little tension. Existential moments come off as forced or silly when they should have been deep and poignant. The ending is a little disappointing considering all the twists and turns in the story.
Best buddy movie ever
Other than the neat quirk of having Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton in the same movie, there isn't anything special about Brain Dead. Many other movies try to confuse the audience with dreams and hallucinations with better results. Brain Dead is too confusing for it's own good and ends up reducing the audience's interest. All the plot twists become tiresome and annoying halfway through the movie, leaving the audience bored and restless. There aren't many scares, but if you have a weak stomach, you may want to skip certain surgery scenes. The one bright-side of the movie? At least you now know the name of the movie that had both Pullman and Paxton in it. Now go win trivia night at your local bar.