This early-1980’s science-fiction/horror is more Altered States than Scanners or Dreamscape despite some common ground. Brainstorm’s horror is very much focused on the human in the equation and the philosophical and existentialism of the era.
Brainstorm stuck out for several reasons. Among other things, it was Nathalie Wood’s last film. Not as bad a legacy as Raul Julia’s Street Fighter, but her passing was quite a bit more unexpected. Her death caused delays in the post-production and release, possibly also costing the movie it’s moment. The two year shift in its release, and a lacklust promotion engine, had it fall flat in theaters when it finally made it out the door.
But what sets this movie apart from its brethren is how much they got right by filming in an actual R&D lab, and focusing on the human in the horror rather than blood and guts. This is a story about people and conscience as well as consciousness. Certainly having Christopher Walken (Nine Lives) and Louise Fletcher (Girlboss) as the other primaries doesn’t hurt its credibility either. Cliff Robertson has a small role to play as well.
Another reason for this film’s infamy is that it derailed director Douglas Trumbull’s career, by his own choice and frustration, because of his experience with this film. After getting off to a strong start with socially conscious material, like Silent Running, we’ll never know what more he could have brought to the screen and what influence he may have had.
I don’t want to oversell this flick. It is very much of its time…but it also has a lot more going for it than you probably imagine going in. And while it may feel trite and dated now, in historical context, it has some chops. For an evening’s entertainment filling in some gaps in your film memory, or, perhaps, refreshing it, it’s an interesting ride to take.