Brain Dead (1990)

I am quite aware of the memes involving confusion between Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton.  Long before the internet was a thing, there was a strange movie that actually starred both of them. 

Rex Martin (Pullman) is a respected neurosurgeon that has an office full of brains.  He hooks the brains up to a face to see what responses he gets, and so far he has had some success, specifically in figuring out what part of the brain causes paranoia.

The studies are funded by a grant from a large corporation called Eunice, of which his best friend Jim Reston (Paxton) is a board member.  Eunice has a problem: a mathematician named Jack Halsey (Bud Cort) has suffered a psychological breakdown.  He killed his entire family and was committed to a mental institution, where he believes Ramsen (Nicholas Pryor), the doctor in charge, is his boss Conklin from a mattress store at which he is an accountant.  He also believes that Conklin is a man in a bloody white suit that has been following him around.

Martin befriends Halsey and does some experiment, confirming his brain matches the pattern of someone with acute paranoia.  Jim informs Rex that the next step is for him to step beyond theories and actually operate on Halsey to restore his sanity so that the corporation can retrieve the missing parts of an equation from him.  Martin is reluctant, but does the surgery in order to make sure he does not lose his grant.  The operation is such a success that Jim pitches the next step to Vance (George Kennedy), Eunice's chairman: a chain of offices where people can have their personality flaws erased.

Problem is, Martin is now seeing the man in the bloody white suit, and his mental state after the surgery becomes fragile, resulting in a disastrous dinner with Vance and Jim in order to discuss the idea of elective brain surgery.  He also becomes sure that Jim, previously his romantic rival, is having an affair with his wife Dana (Patricia Charbonneau).  He returns home to find them in the act, only to see them murdered by the man in the bloody clothes.

Rex wakes up in an insane asylum, where the man has regained his personality and Dr. Ramsen, who apparently is treating Martin.  He tries to convince Martin that his life as a neurosurgeon is made up, and that Halsey and he are the same person.  Meanwhile, Eunice, believing Martin to be Halsey, attempts to the surgery on him in order to get the equation.  However, it is possible that even this is an illusion, as Rex may be dying from injuries sustained in an accident, which from his viewpoint involved a homeless man. 

The movie was based on a script by Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont that was sitting among a number of different scripts that Roger Corman had been holding onto.  Adam Simon chose this one as the best among them, and decided to make a feature film.

There are some interesting elements here involving what is and is not consciousness, as well as some typical horror elements.  Fans of David Lynch may also be shocked (or not so shocked) at how much this in some ways resembles Lost Highway, even though Brain Dead, despite its twists and turns, is quite a bit more linear. 

The parts that do work are undone by some truly hammy acting from Bud Cort and a feeling that Simon did not know exactly how to stretch this out into a movie.  I can see where this would have worked as a half-hour Twilight Zone episode.  As a cheap horror movie it does not contain enough thrills to keep the viewer engaged.  It's really more of a curiosity in the career of both of the Bills.

Brain Dead (1990)
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Bud Cort, Nicholas Pryor
Director: Adam Simon


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