The Brain Machine (1977)
THE BRAIN MACHINE
WRITERS: Thomas Hal Phillips, Christian Garrison & Joy N. Houck, Jr.
DIRECTOR: Joy N. Houck, Jr.
STARRING: James Best as Reverend Emory Neill
Barbara Burgess as Dr. Portland
Gil Peterson as Dr. Elton Morris
Gerald McRaney as Willie
Marcus J. Grapes as Judd
Anne Latham as Minnie Lee
Doug Collins as Dr. Roth
Thomas Phillips as the General
QUICK CUT: An EPA project to determine the effects of our predicted ruination of the planet upon the populace is taken over by a military faction more interested into turning it into the latest radical interrogation technique. I think. And it makes even less sense as time goes on.
Reverend Emory Neill - A man of God with a dark past, who gets involved in the most elaborate scheme ever to catch them pesky Duke boys. Although as far as men of the cloth with dark secrets go, he seems pretty tame by today's standards.
Willie - The smartest of the four test subjects, and he knows it. He also has some...you know what? Everyone has a secretive past. Get used to that.
Judd - Probably the biggest dick of the cast. He's a misogynist and a vet, and yep, secrets! He's pretty much your average redneck.
Minnie Lee - If Willie's the smartest, Minnie's the dumbest of the bunch. Her dark past is more tragic than dark, and she probably doesn't even get how tragic it is.
Dr. Roth - The head of the project, and the guy who came up with this wacky idea of sticking people in a room and being able to tell if they're telling the truth or not. This idea is just weird.
The General - He's so bad-ass, he doesn't even have a name, people. He co-opts Roth's project for his own purposes that are even weirder than Roth's.
THE GUTS: After the credits and a car finish rolling, we meet two people entering a building and discussing how they never have to go to the gym because the lab is 120 some odd steps underground. Did they not have elevators in the 70s?
It's actually a nice, classic shot down the middle of the stairwell, but it does linger there a bit too long, perchance. I don't think we needed to watch them descend all 120 steps.
Elsewhere, the general receives a call that someone has broken in and stolen the formula for New Coke.
At least, I think that's what's going on. We don't see who dialed the phone, we don't know the woman who answered at some other random location, the general is on a plane somewhere, all we get is a closeup of the lips of the guy who called in the first place. Not the best shot scene.
The general hears that the brain machine files have been stolen, and flies back. He can't allow anyone to escape with this highly classified movie script!
We next meet Minnie, Judd, Reverend Emory Neill, and Willie. Or we meet slides of them as Dr. Portland tells Roth about the subjects. Considering this is their project, shouldn't they already know this stuff? Clunky exposition at its best!
At that moment, the doctor they think stole the files just happens to walk by, and the alarms start going off as Krisner escapes outside.
The movie jumps to these two random guys, one in a suit, one who looks like a cop in a raincoat with a shotgun, in the middle of the woods. The suit sends the other guy to guard somewhere else, and the movie jumps back to Krisner just as suddenly. It's so sudden, it even trips up the doctor. And after that few seconds of Krisner tripping, the movie jumps AGAIN to the general's plane for a few seconds, before going to his car at the airport. This is the start of ADD editing, isn't it?
I'm suddenly longing for that lingering stairwell shot. Pick a scene and film it!
The general calls the two guys guarding the field and...wait, the other guy was supposed to be elsewhere! Was the other place he would be better off guarding a whole five feet away?
Our cop in the slicker finds Krisner on the run, but the doctor gets the jump on the cop. They fight for a bit, until the shotgun goes off, leaving Krisner unharmed.
After becoming a murderer, Krisner runs off...and leaves everything he stole behind. Good going!
The general returns to the place where we saw the secretary forwarding Doc Morris's call earlier, and he summons up some of his Geek Squad to discuss the project. One of the nerds has a file on the brain machine, and explains the problems they have with it, starting to talk about a fail safe. By showing us a page with the giant words FAIL SAFE written inside a big red box. Because that means danger!
He explains to the general that if the device is activated, it will take control of it, and some other device, no option, no matter where they are. It would be nice if we had any idea what these magical devices are, so we could have some clue what they're talking about. Things we've not seen that do things we don't know will do things we don't understand that go against the things we don't know! The stakes are so high! And vague!
Krisner tries calling the lab to see if anyone knows where he left his stolen briefcase, but the general's goons are onto him. He runs off before the call can be completed, and the goons hang the phone up for him. And that's where the secretary is, in the labs? But...I'm confused now. Sigh, so much for geography.
He hides in a boat in a parking garage, which actually manages to be a decent plan. The goon comes up to the boat and gets an oar to the face, giving Krisner time to run away.
Another guy brings the briefcase back to the general and we learn everything is in there, they just need to stop Krisner. This is gearing up to be a short movie.
Krisner gets to a room somewhere, I hope it's a motel or he's really dumb, and he receives a call from someone we don't see, telling him he can't meet the senator. I feel like I missed a scene. You know, the one where we saw him trying to meet the senator.
The senator calls the general and tells him that Krisner tried to contact him. But since he's in on the secret project that's so secret even the audience doesn't understand it yet, this isn't much of a surprise. Heck, it's the first time we've seen the senator. And how does a brain machine possibly tie into an environmental project?
Hilariously, the general wrote down the hotel address on a sheet of paper that has KRISNER stamped on it, in a box. For the express purpose of allowing the general to cross that name out with a big, red marker. Making all these special forms and papers for these one time purposes...no wonder military budgets are so high.
Back at the hotel, Krisner is writing out a note, and speaking aloud so we can hear, when the goon squad shows up. He tries to take a few shots, but gets hit himself. So yeah, you would think that's the end of it, huh? Files recovered, theif dead...but no. This was all first act wasting of time.
The lips call the secretary who is back at the general's Taj Mahal wannabe, and not the labs, and tells him Krisner is dead. The general fakes up a transfer for the dead doctor to explain away his disappearance. Um, what about his family?
The general meets some guy and hands him the files on Roth's competing project, but he says they can't do that, because the brain machine subjects have been programmed for environmental research. And I'm starting to think not a single piece of dialogue in this movie makes any sense. And if both devices are the same thing and that interchangable, why not keep using Krisner's project since that seems to do what you want, and then make it your final product? Why switch gears with something more dangerous?
I hate that even my complaints don't make a lick of sense.
Anyways, the four subjects are finally introduced into the actual story, and I'm not even going to bother nitpicking that they're in their exact same clothing they were wearing in their slides. Good thing they waited so patiently in their same clothes during the entire selection process!
Doctor Roth tells them they chose those four, in part, because they have no immediate families, and thus there's no risk for embarassment when they start telling the truth about everything in their lives. Yes. THAT is the reason that no immediate families is important.
The tests begin with Emory looking at slides and saying the first thing that comes into his mind, even if it's strange or doesn't make sense to him. Which is how I think this movie was written.
After the reverend responds to several images of death with the word 'woman', we jump back to the general, where one of his goons is bored, so he gets explained the plot of the movie.
The general has him put his gun on the table, and sets a tiny knife beside it, then asks which one the goon would rather use to protect himself. Naturally, he picks the gun. The general shows him that the knife is actually a concealed bugging device, and they go into how knowledge of your enemy is the best way to protect yourself, but devices like those are only minutely effective. Hence the brain machine project.
Back at the lab, Elton and the reverend talk, and we learn Emory has a speech impediment, and he feels he doesn't belong there. The doctor convinces him he does, for now. Funny how a scientist solves a man of the cloth's crisis of faith.
That night, a guard checks on the sleeping subjects, and as Minnie restlessly turns in her sleep, someone is seen lurking into her room. Well, since we've seen two of the other three, one can assume it's the reverend, but let's just see...
Whoever it is unbuttons her top, until she screams, bringing the doctor's to her side. But whomever it was ran off before they got there.
And of course, they just think she had a nightmare, and that's the story the doctors tell the other subjects, who all act like they don't know what's going on, preserving the mystery.
Later, Roth is interviewing Judd, and we find out he lied about a police record, and that he's been a troublemaker all his life. Best of all, is that Roth, while yelling at him, demands "absolute accracy!" That's not a typo. So, absolute accuracy in everything but how to speak, I guess. Judd almost washes out, but Roth imparts the importance of truth, even if it means they have to redo all his tests over.
In the rec room, Minnie Lee is still freaking out, and Judd tries to comfort her, failing miserably. Because telling the girl who was assaulted in her bed while sleeping that you'd do more than feel her up, and she'd like it, that's the best thing to say.
After another round of technobabble that doesn't make a lick of sense, the general activates his own devices to patch into the lab's systems. As far as I can tell, this just makes the computers screech like an elephant, and makes them unable to turn the machines off at the labs.
The system starts back up fine, but Roth still has engineering check it out. While the tech pokes around, one of the guards watches from the shadows and does nothing when the engineer grabs a live wire that isn't supposed to be there.
More pointess scenes, with Elton doing push ups in his underwear, when he gets called to the lab because of the accident. When he gets there, they tell him there was an accident, again. So, someone who was already at the lab, leaves, comes back, and gets told things twice. That was necessary.
I'm trying to figure out how one mass of wires can be cut open, and another chunk of wires put inbetween the two, to do anything. That just makes a longer wire, not splice different wires together. You can clearly see the original wires belonged together in the first place.
But anyways, the splice into the system has been discovered, so Roth and Portland head...somwhere with a giant glowing box that has a beating pulse, so they can reminisce and admire the glowing box.
And again, the general's boys fiddle with stuff and take over the computers, just as subtly as before, making the alarms go off and the lab lose control again. Needless to say, Roth and his team know something is up. Because the patched wire wasn't a big enough clue. Not that this stops them from going ahead with their experiments.
Minnie Lee asks what all this has to do with the environment, the smartest question anyone could ask. Willie comes up with some weirdo response that everything is connected, so whatever.
Elton explains to the team that they're going to stick them into a box that will somehow replicate population explosion, five years of time, and pollution increase. ...I got nothin'.
They place the team into the box, which is essentially a tiny bio-dome where they're going to be tormented for the next little bit, from the sound of it. They can stop the experiment at any time, but they might not get any money for it, so they better make sure the emergency is worth it.
And even after explaining it to us, I still have no clue what's going on.
I can't believe after repeated mishaps, a mysterious wire, and a few other incidents, that they're just blindly going ahead. They know something is wrong, but still the option is to proceed blindly and lock everyone in the shrinking pollution box.
The general's men have control over most of the systems, leaving the real scientists with only a lone camera to view their rats. And again, they still continue with the experiment! "Hmm, our controls don't work, we can't see anything that's going on...eh, keep going!"
Scientists working for the general keep shocking the subjects and activating memories, or something. I have no idea, really. Minnie Lee remembers her dead father, Judd relives the war...although that might just be normal PTSD.
Things continue to get weird as the computers magically spit out questions to ask the test subjects, like if Minnie Lee has been married, and she replies no. The computer knows she's lying, since it was annulled, and Minnie Lee thinks that means it never happened. What does this have to do with anything? In this movie, who knows?
She then gets weepy and says there was a baby she found out afterwards about, and had it annulled as well by killing it. I presume all the questions and responses from earlier were to set a baseline, and now they're in some kind of giant lie detector, which still doesn't explain what's going on.
This continues with Judd, admitting a fellow soldier wasn't killed by his own hands, but he instead committed suicide. Which I guess is something he didn't want to admit.
Judd attacks Willie, but you can't push Willie around, so alarms start going off, and everyone doubles over in pain. I'm not sure if that's because of the fight, or because something else is wrong. It sure seems to confuse the general's geek squad.
The general's men back out of control, everything returns to normal, they STILL don't pull people out despite the brain melting malfunctions, and the general's men take control again, to continue to do...whatever they're doing.
Next they probe Emory's brain, going in for a full scan. And gasp, surprise, it was him that felt up Minnie Lee. We also see he doesn't believe in a personal God, which he reveals to another woman. Which I'm betting is a hooker.
Emory tries to say that man has the right to hide his innermost thoughts, but um...the whole point of this is about the truth, isn't it? Did he miss that part? I know they told him. Funny how he doesn't deal well with confessions.
He freaks out and smashes the fail safe to let them out, but as we were warned, it doesn't work, because of the outside interference. Instead, it locks the doors on the already locked room and the computers are in control! Uh?
As things are going wrong, the room begins to shrink, and the computers decide it's Willie's turn; he doesn't accept he's going to die inside the E-Room. But since man can't accept their own death, and it's a question of morality, things just got tricky. Or something.
For some reason, Minnie Lee then goes and hangs herself. Seriously. She's just all of a sudden dangling from the ceiling. I guess it was because of her confession, but that was still pretty sudden.
We finally zoom out from the lips that have been keeping contact with the general all this time, and we see it is, gasp surprise, the guard whose been lurking around and showing his creepy mug in closeups on occasion. He then changes into his military uniform, and keeps the scientists in their lab.
Judd starts losing it and flashing back, thinking Emory is his dead soldier friend. He starts choking the reverend, and Willie stops him with a handy pipe he was using to try and stop the encroaching walls.
Willie checks on Judd and Emory, and they're both dead, making him scream at the cameras, while Dr. Roth starts punching random people, and being attacked by soldiers.
Portland is still alive, and when the creeping wall bumps into her, she starts screaming like it's on fire. It isn't like it's going to run her over, just push her out of the way. The wall isn't trying to kill her, just move along to its point.
They determine that if they can break into the service module in the center of the room, they should be able to get out. Which essentially means, hit the computers until they break. Yes, that is one way to get them to stop. Smashing through the walls of a giant computer takes about as much effort as it took to break the failsafe glass.
The soldiers still won't let anyone leave the lab though, but it's a good thing there are scientists there to overpower the trained military men! Goooo, science!
Willie, Roth, and Elton all clambor through tunnels to get to this hatch that is not placed anywhere convenient at all. If there was really an emergency, this is not the way to get out, people. Making the trapped people climb a ladder in a tube and spin open a hatch is just crazy.
The walls continue to close in outside the module, and for some reason, everything suddenly explodes. Killing everyone inside the E-Room. Saxon watches on as the computer clears Willie of his issue, now that he accepts his death. Well...being dead will do that, I guess.
He asks the general, how they plan to cover this up. His answer is apparently to shoot Saxon and move on. I guess three can keep a secret if two of them are dead. The movie jumps to a news report where we learn that the cover story is that everyone was electrocuted in a freak accident. Electrocuted...WITH FIRE!
To add insult to injury, the cover story includes lies of Willie going on a rampage, shouting he can't die, and he's immortal. Now that's just being dickish.
We learn Saxon too was transferred, and the machine is declared a success by the general and the senator. A success at what? Exploding rooms?? I guess that's useful for something. But if this is a means to extract the truth from people, that's a little bit crazy. Especially since it's established that they need to question the subjects beforehand to learn the truth before putting them inside to discover their lies. Well, anyone captured by the army isn't going to give a good truthiness baseline, so the whole damned plot falls apart before it even starts.
Video: Pretty bad, which is expected for these public domain type movies. Not very detailed, VHS quality at best, and way blown out.
Audio: Not too horrible. The dialogue was understandable by my ears, just not my brain.
Best Line: "Stay away from me, you scientific bitch!" Judd when he's on his rampage, and Dr. Portland tries to stop him.
First Blood: 8:30 - Cop bites it with the wrong end of his shotgun while fighting Krisner.
Best Death: Not much to choose from. I'll go with Minnie Lee's death, because that actually was pretty shocking, and effective.
Blood Type - F: There will be no blood. Even the cop's blood was lame.
Sex Appeal: We get to see a shirtless Dr. Morris.
Movie Rating: Gah. The editing is awful, the plot is incomprehensible even when it explains the plot. When it does make sense, it somehow stops making sense, because the logic is flawed beyond reasoning. The sets are cheap, but it was the 70s so I don't ding it too much for that. I am seriously hard pressed to say anything good about this movie. Oh, and when your entire first act is completely useless, and that time could have been better spent to flesh out the plot and characters we actually deal with in the other two thirds of the movie? Major failing. One out of five lies.
Entertainment Value: Let me finish punching myself in the head first. Well, it's certainly a sight to behold, but it's still not that good. It is a bizarre little movie, with a high concept idea that was just way too high for anyone to know what to do with it. You can see what they were going for, and then watch them fail to reach it spectacularly. The acting is so bland it's not even worth watching for any scenery chewing. This movie is best forgotten. Two out of five hidden soldier security guards.