From the era of horror films that time has forgotten comes a little movie you really ought to watch if you like saying “What the fuck?” because a film is intricately made rather than ineptly. Starring the two Bills, Pullman and Paxton, Brain Dead is a trippy ride through social comment, satire, paranoia, and comedic menace. Yet it’s not really all that serious.
Dr. Rex Martin (Pullman) is studying physical causes of mental illness in the human brain. He is a pure scientist, reluctant to sell out to the medical machine or the government, and thinks of the brains he keeps in jars as houses for their former owners’ souls. Enter his old friend Jim (Paxton), a salesman and sleazeball who can’t quite get over losing the girl (Patricia Charbonneau) to nerdy Martin back in school. Jim arm twists/convinces Rex to study the brain of a paranoid murderer called Jack Halsey (Bud Cort) on behalf of Jim’s Big Pharma employer, but soon Rex and Halsey have more in common than either they, or we, can immediately understand.
Mixing a bit of human dramedy with an indictment of for-profit medicine and throwing it all down a series of rabbit holes lined in funhouse mirrors, Brain Dead feels like an amusement park ride through an acid trip you have while you’re knocked out on Ambien. I’d say that the only thing that makes this movie so under-appreciated is that ultimately, we’ve seen the big reveal too many times before. But the journey, the puzzle, is the kind you never take your eyes off of ’til the end. With a budget this movie could have been everything Inception pretended to be.