Be they mutants, medical experiments (literally) run amok or proper zombies, there have been countless B movies about small, out of the way, unassuming towns facing a sudden plague of shambling, flesh feasting ghouls. This week's film is ON THE BRAIN, the story of a small town sheriff who first struggles to make sense of the usual plague, then to stop its deadly onslaught and finally just to survive. Let us check out ON THE BRAIN and see if it has anything intelligent to add to this very popular B-movie trope.
While what I am about to say is steeped in reviewer one liner cliche, I simply have to say “that I liked this film the first time I saw it when it was called THE CRAZIES”. That 2010 film starring Timothy Olyphant (which was a proper remake of a 1973 film Directed by George Romero) seems to have more than a little to do with this film. In fact, it would seem that around ten basic similarities exist between this film and the 2010 version: little nuances such as a small town sheriff with his hot physician wife working to unravel a government cover-up amid all their friends and neighbors inexplicably turning into homicidal monsters. Spoiler Alert: Of course the answer comes too late to save the town and the final moments of either film involves all surviving characters making a mad dash for the border for their very lives.
Unspoiler: Yes folks, it seems we have all seen this before. However, the one thing I have always really liked about THE CRAZIES (and to a lesser degree this film) is that fact that when someone gets “infected” in either film, they don't turn into just another generic, shambling ghoul. These zombies retain most of the skills and personality they had in life (both are just now completely harnessed for homicidal intentions) which admittedly does some spice to a B-movie sub-genre that face it, has been done to death by now. This gives the monster attack scenes a degree of originality, freshness and menace that even the WALKING DEAD'S hundred strong CGI zombie herds simply cannot inspire any more.
Yet a good horror movie should never be based on the monsters alone, and this is part of the problem. The central protagonist in this film, “Sheriff Kelly” just plain fucking sucks. Not only does he show very little basic law enforcement competence (or human common sense) throughout the duration of this film, but there are THREE SEPARATE MOMENTS during the length of this film where he is restrained, handcuffed or otherwise locked up by female characters, usually for their perceived protection (or his). Now granted this may sound sexist, but considering every other central character in this film is a woman, he just comes across as an unfit character to carry a badge, let alone the bulk of the movies slow burn scenes of quiet exposition sequences which must absolutely be done right in a scientific film such as this. As for the other characters, they also tend to grate on the nerves. Every player delivers their every line in a needlessly snotty, sarcastic fashion (usually somehow as part of an always argumentative dialogue) which I suppose may seem to accentuate the tension of a given situation, until of course, you realize that all lines are spoken this way, all the time, making it sound false, perhaps even comedic. Spoiler Alert: Perhaps even worse than Sheriff Kelly is the character of the Mayor, who is such an insufferable and intolerable rag during her every moment of screen time, that during her final moments onscreen when her ultimate relation to the epidemic is finally made clear during “the big reveal” scene (that all these films must have) it becomes only expected, surprising to none, (except perhaps for how truly stupid her ultimate motives were). Seriously, Think Mad Cow Disease. Unspoiler Alert:
But on the plus side, the creature effects look really good, and there was some attempt to make the “walkers” look different and better than many other films vying for your B-movie dollars so I applaud them for that. Look, this film still wasn't terrible, but listen Directors and listen once and for all. If you absolutely must steal the premise for a big budget horror film (from less than a decade ago) almost verbatim for your own B-movie version of it, you really need to ratchet up the sex or the gore, perhaps both of them. Since the days of GRINDHOUSE these are the ONLY things unrated movies can do better than their big budgeted MPAA approved, (created by focus group) film counterparts and you are foolish to waste those nuances, especially when sending movies to cult reviewers such as myself who have damn near seen everything.
Special Features include a collection of coming attractions, a makeup test shoot and a Photo Gallery.