Tuesday, October 26, 2010

DVD Review: BRAIN DEAD (2007)

Director Kevin S. Tenney should be no stranger to fans of B-movie horror. In his more than two decades as a filmmaker, he has helmed such cheesetastic shlock-fests as Witchboard (1986), Night of the Demons (1986), The Cellar (1989), and Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway (1993). While these movies perhaps fail to earn a spot on most movie lovers' Top Ten lists, in most cases they succeed in delivering a goofy, goopy good time in the finest tradition of late 20th-century video horror.

Since Tenney was also the man at the helm for one of the Vicar's personal favorite entries in the mid-90s killer-doll boom--the relatively unknown and underrated 1996 effort Pinocchio's Revenge--I was intrigued to see what the director had been up to lately. And thanks to Breaking Glass Pictures' recent DVD release of Tenney's shot-on-video sci-fi/zombie comedy Brain Dead (2007), now I know.

The story here is nothing particularly new: while fishing with his drinking buddies in a remote cabin, an unlucky sportsman is nailed in the noggin with a falling asteroid. Unfortunately for the human race generally and this fisherman in particular, the space rock is carrying a worm-like, half-liquid parasite that quickly takes control of his gray matter and sends him on a murderous brain-eating rampage.

In a nearby rural town, vehicular scofflaw Clarence Singer (Joshua Benton) is chained Defiant Ones-style to captured murderer Bob Jules (David Crane), to be transported to the Big House in a bigger county. At the same time, standard-issue hypocritial minister Reverend Farnsworth (Parks and Recreations' Andy Forrest) is travelling through town with buxom secretary Amy Smoots (Cristina Tiberia), looking for a good spot to expiate his impure thoughts about the girl. Meanwhile, city girl Sherry Morgan (Sarah Grant Brendecke) and her closeted lesbian sorority sister Claudia Bush (Michelle Tomlinson) are hiking through the wilderness, lost thanks to Claudia's less-than-stellar map-reading skills. (Guess she earned her merit badges in other areas, IYKWIMAITYD.) Finally, Park Ranger Shelly (a very Darryl Hanna-esque Tess McVicker) answers a call from the fisherman's worried wife and heads out to the cabin to check on him for her.

Of course through a series of misadventures and coincidental cataclysms all of the above characters soon find themselves holed up in the fishing cabin where the monster has made its nest, forced to deal with both the extraterrestrial terror outside and the increasingly unhinged killer Bob. Friendships are forged, romances bloom, and comeuppances are received as the film rushes--or rather saunters--to its expectedly gory conclusion.

"You know, this has got me thinkin'..."
Whether you enjoy Brain Dead or not will depend largely on how well you like your cheese, and whether you're willing to put up with a certain amount of filler in between delicious bites. That filler consists mostly of forced, "witty" dialogue between various combinations of characters, all spoken by actors who for the most part have neither the dramatic nor comedic chops to make them work. Perhaps its by design that none of the characters react to their situation with anything like normal human responses, as no one in front of or behind the camera seems to be taking it particularly seriously--but this is one of those cases where the intended comedy is severely undercut by the characters being in on the joke. At times I half expected the score to be drowned out by a canned laugh track and a whimsical trombone lick--that dire.

But then there's the cheese--and for connoisseurs of the stuff, it's of a fairly high grade. While the meteor attack scenes boast some truly horrible CG that looks like it was done by a 12 year old on his MacBook, the makeup and gore effects are all practical, and pretty satisfying. The mutated zombie/parasite hosts are nicely done, each with his own particular look and personality. And when the space zombies attack, Tenney doesn't hold back: eyes are gouged out, holes are punched through faces, and craniums are split like walnut shells to get at the spongy pink brains within--which always come out in one piece, handy for snacking! The episodes of carnage are too few in my opinion--we could have lost several scenes of unfunny dialogue and replaced them with monster grue and everyone would have been a lot happier--but the ones we get have a gloriously gory 80s sensibility that many mad movie fans will be cheering.

The 2010 "Three Stooges" Reboot

So you've got beasts and blood, but what about boobs? Tenney doesn't skimp on that staple either: the flesh on display is plentiful and varied, as none of the actresses are shy about shedding their summer dress in the name of Art. It's all modelling stuff with no sex scenes--sorry, pervs--but there is one startling effect wherein a bit of the alien goo finds a way into the cabin using the old Trojan Horse technique...though it ain't no horse, if you get my drift. (The graphic close-up here is prosthetic--I hope--but nonetheless effective for it.)

The acting is mostly bad, as I said: Sarah Grant-Brendecke has a certain charisma over and above her curvy pin-up gorgeousness, and comes off the best of the lot; no one else really distinguishes him or herself. Directorially Tenney lets the pacing drag quite a bit, but the monster and gore scenes have an undeniable energy, and die-hard 80s horror fiends should be able to spot a few homages to flicks of the era. (I counted at least three Evil Dead nods, for instance.) And I'd be remiss not to mention that legendary schlock director Jim Wynorski has a cameo as Sheriff Bodine, so watch for that.

DVD extras will include commentary by Tenney and the cast, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes and bloopers, and trailers, but were not available on the review copy I received.

Brain Dead isn't going to change anyone's life, and probably won't better anyone's opinion of Tenney--but it shouldn't harm his reputation either. If you're looking for something to pass the time--something with lots of gore and nudity that doesn't ask too much of your higher thinking functions--then this one fits the bill. 2 thumbs. 

I can get behind it.

Breaking Glass Pictures provided a copy of this movie to MMMMMovies for review purposes.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Sounds like fun times, I took up your advice after reading your review of Laserblast and had a good time with it. I reviewed it a couple of months ago. I'll see if I can get my hands on this one.

I seem to remember enjoying Witchboard 2 more then the first one.

Andrew Green said...

Great review....
This movie looks hilarious. I'll have to check it out.

Anonymous said...

Just got a copy of this and can't wait to check it out. Was hoping Tawny Kitaen would pop in for a cameo. Sigh.

The Duke of DVD said...

Bravo, as usual Vicar. LOL @ the Three Stooges cap.

I absolutely LOVE that the whole thing is caused by a meteoroid through the skull of a fisherman. Talk about having a bad day!

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