the one with both bills
Brain Dead is a great movie. The title, however, is a misnomer. That’s because the brains - including the ones kept in jars - are alive. ALIVE I TELL YOU!!! Then again, who’s to know what’s dead and what’s alive within the realms of this universe. That’s what this movie is all about. Brain Dead is not just a sci fi horror film but also a philosophical film. It’s a sci fi phi film.
The story revolves around Dr. Rex Martin (Bill Pullman), a scientist studying the brains of those no longer with us. That’s until his old college roommate, Jim (Bill Paxton), shows up asking for a ridiculously unethical favor. Jim wants Dr. Martin to study and subsequently lobotomize the brain of Halsey (Bud Court), a patient at a mental institution who claims he works for Conklin Mattresses. Halsey truly believed that his former imaginary boss, that crazy man Conklin, murdered Halsey’s family. But according to Jim, Halsey is a scientist and employee of Eunice Corporation. Jim is tasked to find in Halsey’s brain the extra special numbers that will revolutionize science and McGuffins for all mankind. As you can see, it’s hard for Dr. Martin to say no to studying a “fresh brain” as opposed to his stacks and stacks of boring old brains that are held in jars on his lab shelves that really should be stabilized with a couple more screws. It’s an accident waiting to (inevitability) happen!
Now this is where the fun part really begins. After Dr. Martin performs what seems to be a successful operation on Halsey, Dr. Martin starts to see a crazy old cackling man drenched in blood, the same one Halsey was seeing! All of a sudden everything feels like an illusion and nothing makes sense anymore with Dr. Martin falling from one reality into another. But what is reality unless you experience illusion? Start packing your bowls my friends.
There’s one point during Dr. Martin’s journey where he is told he’s the actual Shutter Island Halsey living in a mental institution because he murdered his wife and her love Jim. Wait, what? THAT JIM? I’ve already said too much. Then Halsey comes to rescue him, letting him know he’s innocent not once, but twice. The second time around Dr. Martin asks, “Have we done this before?” Halsey responds, “Are we doing this now?”
That’s the existential nightmare that makes the movie. The plot resembles a gorier version of a Twilight zone episode, no surprise as it was written by Charles Beaumont who wrote a fair amount of TZ episodes including the classic “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You”. Unfortunately he never got to see this film as he died in 1967 but I’m sure he would have been proud. Sure, it’s low budget, the editing is not quite right, and the music was dated even in 1989. But in the end, it makes perfect sense, only because it doesn’t.