Brainjacked is the low budget feature debut from director Andrew Allan, who co-wrote the film with Andy Lalino, and made in the wilds of Florida for what we can safely assume was very little money. Low budget doesn't always equal bad though, as often times those with less resources available are far more likely to get creative with what they do have.
The film tells the story of a young man named Tristan (Chris Jackson) who suffers from some pretty debilitating migraine headaches. So bad is his migraine problem that he has recurring dreams about having to drill a hole in his own head just to deal with the problem. Unfortunately when we meet him, he wakes up to something just as bad - the sight of his mother having sex with a few unexpected junkie dudes, which is never something that anyone wants to wake up to. It just gets worse for the guy from there, as the guys boning his mother then proceed to beat him up and toss him into the street. Don't think his luck can get any worse? From there he gets mugged. Tristan's life sucks, and it sucks hard.
While trying to get his head together on a park bench later that night, he meets a blonde woman in what looks like a hospital gown named Laney (Somali Rose) who, despite her very attractive good looks, sports a nasty scar on her forehead. Sensing his despair, she invites him to meet a man she refers to as a 'gift giver' named Dr. Karas (Rod Grant), a surgeon with some unorthodox methods who assures poor Tristan that he'll be able to cure his migraine problems for him once and for all. Tristan isn't so sure, however. He's understandably suspicious about all of the unusually attractive men and woman who hang around the doctor as frequently as they do, all of whom sport scars just a little too similar to the one on Laney's forehead. Their tendency to treat Karas as a messiah is a creepy one, but the pain his migraines cause him is so bad that he eventually agrees to the treatment and let's Karas operate on him. When the operation is over, Tristan realizes that he may have made a very big mistake and that there's much more to Karas and his experimental surgery than anyone realizes.
Brainjacked scores high points for creative lighting and cinematography and for effectively grisly gore effects but fails somewhat miserably in the suspense and scares department. There's certainly a fair bit of entertainment value to be had here, so long as you don't mind the frequently awkward performances and shot on video look, but the film's small budget definitely shines through and will probably put off those who don't have a high tolerance for such underground cinema. That said, you've got to admire the way that Allan and his team do try to put every penny up there on the screen and the enthusiasm that they show for their material. There's a gleefulness to some of the more over the top performances (Karas being the prime example, as he delivers some admirably manic speeches while drilling into his patients' foreheads) and the bizarre set design employed in the picture that makes it look like a seventies sci-fi feature.
The camerawork seen in the film is far, far better than most low budget pictures cut from a similar cloth, while Cronenbergian elements of medical and body horror belay the fact that Allan was inspired not just by the type of primary lighting techniques employed by the likes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento but by more subtle, cerebral horror films like Rabid as well. Had Allan had a bit more money to work with and a better cast to shoot, he could have made a truly great and thoroughly enjoyable horror/sci-fi mish mash that simultaneously pays homage to the past while retaining a current edge. As it stands, Brainjacked is still good and worth seeing for indy horror buffs, but it's impossible to get past the budgetary restraints and you've got to wonder if maybe they didn't bit opff a bit more than they could chew. The gore galore and fantastic camerawork do go a long way towards hiding this, however, and for a debut feature, Allan has done very well, proving that creativity and inspiration in the low budget horror film world are not dead at all, even if they seem infrequent these days.
Note: This review is based off of a DVD-R test disc that obviously doesn't represent finished retail product.
Brainjacked arrives on DVD in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The test disc obviously doesn't represent finished product so no grade is going to be assigned, but the transfer looks okay. Colors are decent as are skin tones, though some obvious compression artifacts are hard to look past and the image is frequently murky because of this. The disc sent for review is also bugged in the bottom right corner of the screen.
The sole audio mix on this release is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and generally it sounds okay. It's well balanced and you can hear the dialogue easily enough. No alternate language subtitles or languages are provided.
The disc provided for review doesn't even have a menu - it's as barebones as they get.
It's frustrating when companies can't be bothered to send reviewers the type of product that readers want to see covered, as we can't really assign any sort of overall rating to something that isn't even close to finished product. As to the movie itself? It's obviously a low budget affair and it's hurt by some shoddy acting and predictable story shifts. The unfinished presentation doesn't help things either - and the transfer's dark and murky visuals are a big strike against an already barebones release. It's tempting to rate this as a 'skip it' based solely on the crap quality of the test disc, but Brainjacked is worth seeing - rent it. Should a final, finished version be made available to review, things might change, but for now, yeah, rent it. That's fair.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.