Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BrainWaves/Mind Games (USA, 1983)

(Spoilers) In the early 1970s, Uli Lommel, an ex-child actor who had become part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s regular entourage was given the grace of the famed enfant-terrible of New German Cinema in 1973 to direct his own film, Zartlichkeit der Wölfe. The Tenderness of the Wolves, as the film is titled in English, was based loosely on the true story of one of Germany’s most lethal post-war mass murderers, Kurt Hermann, a homosexual butcher who was famed for having killed teenage boys and, amongst other things, selling their flesh on the then flourishing black market.
Produced and edited by Fassbinder, the Great German Director even had a secondary role as Wittkowski in the film, which presented the mass murderer as a Peter Lorre look-a-like, ala the child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M. In fact, The Tenderness of the Wolves has so much Fassbinder stamped all over it, that one almost begins to suspect that maybe Lommel didn’t even actually direct it, especially since the movie is just as boring as a real Fassbinder film. This might explain why the film was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival that year, but luckily clearer heads obviously prevailed and the film lost.
That aside, unlike Fassbinder, Lommel was not averse to the beckoning of the Great Film Whore known as Hollywood. He moved onwards to the Promise Land to direct that famous masterpiece Boogeyman (1980), probably his only really decent film, and dozens of turkeys. BrainWaves, starring then future Fred Olan Ray candidates Keir Dullea, Vera Miles and Tony Curtis, not only featured the then current Mrs. Lommel (Suzanna Love) in the main role, but also proved that Lommel, like Fassbinder, is indeed capable of making perversely boring films. Actually, considering the number of perversely boring films that Uli Lommel has made in the meantime, it is a wonder that he even still makes films at all, even if they are all straight-to-dvd flotsam.
Dullea and Love star as Julian and Kaylie Bedford, a happily married yuppie with a saccharine child. Kaylie, in the film’s best filmed sequence, is sent doing cartwheels through the air by a car. Soon after, the viewer is subjected to unbearably long scenes of her loving husband suffering bravely at the side of his now vegetable wife in a hospital where the definitely weirded-out Dr. Clavius, played by Tony Curtis as a hypochondriac would-be godfather, is experimenting with some new technique to cure coma patients like Kaylie. Using the electrical impulses supplied by the brain of a murder victim to stimulate Bedford’s brain, she wakes up to the path of recovery, a path made bumpy by the continuous but incomplete memories of the murder victim’s own death. (Brainwaves of a murder victim to wake up a coma patient — only on Planet Hollywood.) Hubby and wife start doing a bit of detective work, which gets the murderer all upset, so he ends up kidnapping wifey. Taking her to the favorite scenic outlook of his first victim, he himself ends up falling to his death. The last scene takes predictability to its extreme when, back at the hospital, we see good ol' Dr. Clavius in the morgue looking down upon the dead body of the film’s bad guy. Could he be contemplating a sequel?

BrainWaves is the type of movie that gives the word “boring” its meaning. Slow, tedious, unexciting — but for the murder and accident scene — the movie draws everything out longer than a month of daily soaps. Other than Vera Miles everyone seems to be on Quaaludes, but her acting, while good, can’t hide the fact that her character is basically unnecessary. The plot is acceptable enough, but some of the developments — like when Julian, as he crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, sees the murderer and his wife passing by in the oncoming traffic — seem better placed in an Ed Wood film. And why does the murderer continuously hang out around the hospital for no reason?
Without a doubt, though, as bad as the film is, the music composed by Robert O. Ragland takes the cake as the most painful aspect of this cinematic miscarriage. Alternating between cheap synthesizer droning to signalize anything mildly threatening and a main title partially cribbed from Psycho, the score probably had already aged badly before the film was even released. Was Ragland serious? For that matter, was Lommel serious?
Come to think of it, could BrainWaves actually be some sort of intellectual satire?

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