Monday, August 12, 2019

"Third-Rate Actors Go Real Far in Politics" - Mindkiller (1987) - Film #147

It is time to assess Denver-based director Michael Kruger's Mindkiller (1987).

Reviewer FieCrier writes, "The movie is pretty uneventful until towards the end when the effects of the manuscript have really taken hold. It's not worth watching." Reviewer leofwine_draca writes, "Yep, this is another mindless (see what I did there?) time-waster, full of lamentable performances, a cheesy sex scene, and some amusing prosthetic gore effects." And reviewer Tikkin writes that the film is "even more boring than some of the worst 80's horror flicks!"

Please read on...

In an atmospheric opening, the camera intercuts panning across two surfaces: a bureau with photographs and flowers, and a desk with all manner of scientific equipment and abandoned circuit boards and test animals. A woman takes a screwdriver from the bureau, holds it like a butcher knife in a slasher movie, and walks downstairs into the basement. In fact, she is bringing mail to her son, who has locked himself into his basement laboratory. The screwdriver serves no purpose whatsoever.

The son tells her to slide the mail under the door, and she does so. We see that the son has plugged himself into some kind of device, and his face has become deformed.

The mother opens the door and enters the basement to find her grotesque son.

The film cuts to a man named Warren, who resembles a young Paul Reiser, alone in a living room (one should note the film is set in Denver, Colorado, and the Canadian flag is never explained) watching a VHS tape called “The Manly Art of Seduction.”

For several minutes, the filmmakers pile on hilarious gags illustrating how much of a “loser” the protagonist Warren is. He eats messily, dripping mustard and ketchup everywhere; newspapers litter his sofa; he gets absorbed in looking at a pornographic publication even while he is watching the seduction videotape, which features a traditionally unattractive “nerd” giving dating advice. Warren phones a friend to invite him to go out tonight—8 pm at a place called Swingles. It is ladies’ night.

At Swingles, Warren and his oddly coyote-obsessed work friend Larry (they work in a library sub-basement) attempt to pick up several women, though the dialogue is impossible to hear under the rock song playing throughout the sequence. Warren and Larry also run into Warren’s roommate Brad at the bar—he proves more successful, picking up a woman and taking her back to the apartment he shares with Warren, much to Warren’s chagrin.

The next morning, Warren and his crop-topped roommate engage in some wrestling that is either playful or serious.

At work, Warren and Larry are introduced to Sandy Crawford (her name a clever play on that of a famous model), an efficiency expert hired by the library who also happens to be an attractive woman.

After Warren impresses Sandy by breaking her tiny Rubik’s cube keychain, he becomes depressed and irritable, isolating himself in the archives to complete his work. He comes across a manuscript by Dr. Vivek Chandra called “Total Mind Control,” which he reads by sliding his index finger across the page. Reading the manuscript leads to a fantasy in which Sandy seduces Warren in her office. Imagination-Sandy says, “I can tell you have an inquisitive mind. And a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Come on, Warren. Let’s do some research!”

In the morning, Warren wakes up in the library, having read the entire manuscript. He has become a changed man, able to influence the world with his mind, as he does with Larry and a handy Rubik’s Cube.

Instead of moving on to further Rubik’s Cube-centered adventures, unfortunately, Warren takes his mind control in another direction, stealing candy from a machine and cooking dinner for himself and Brad. (Fortunately, we will see more Rubik’s Cube hijinks later.)

Warren and Larry go to a disco again, where an electronic song called “Dazzle Dancing” plays. Warren is now successful at picking up women. However, the mind control activities have physical effects, including some hair loss.

Warren also discovers there are some pages missing from Dr. Chandra’s manuscript, but he is unable to locate them.

Back at the disco, Warren and Larry run into Sandy and some other library coworkers. After the smarmy guy from the “Manly Art of Seduction” video charms several women, Sandy kisses Warren, though she doesn’t appear to be happy about it, presumably because Warren is mind-controlling her.

Sandy comes to Warren’s apartment, where he cooks an Italian meal for the two of them as well as Brad. With Warren out of the room, Brad asks Sandy about herself. She says she’s always been interested in politics.

“Make bad movies,” Brad replies. “Third-rate actors go real far in politics.” (Perhaps a reference to the U.S. President at the time, Ronald Reagan, though perhaps there might be some debate about whether he was third-rate.)

She says playfully, “I’ve known you five minutes and I have an urge to dump my wine right over your head.”

“Do that and I won’t vote for you,” he responds.

At dinner, Warren acts as if he and Sandy have been together for months, which creeps Sandy out, forcing her to leave early. Later, Sandy confides in Brad that Warren is controlling her mind. Brad, in turn, visits Larry, who tells Brad that he hid the last chapter of Chandra’s manuscript, which describes a machine Chandra invented to magnify the effects of the mind control techniques. Larry, in turn, visits Chandra’s mother, who is still alive and lives with a caregiver.

Mrs. Chandra is reluctant to talk about her son, but she does say about her son, “He created beauty, the essence of our life force.”

Larry shows her a flower in a pot. “Then who created this?” he asks.

“The basement!” she replies.

Sandy visits Warren to straighten everything out, but for a split-second Warren transforms into some kind of bat-headed monster.

She tries to make a phone call, but the phone receiver grows a mouth and teeth. Also, a cloaked monster with glowing eyes drags her into a closet.

However, the monsters were all in Sandy’s dream.

Warren has read Larry’s mind to determine that Chandra had a machine in his basement. Warren breaks into the basement and immediately finds the machine, which is still working. His encounter makes his transformation move along more quickly, illustrated by pulsing growths on his head that leak pus.

In the library sub-basement, Sandy tries to find Warren for unknown reasons. He reveals his grotesque new form to her.

“You’re perfect,” he says, “and I must have you. Now!”

The film then reveals its greatest twist, as Warren cries out, “It’s trying to leave my body!”

Sandy escapes from the library as Warren’s brain overtakes his body. She runs to Brad’s apartment, though she acts strangely. She soon reveals that she has been taken over by Warren’s brain, which is now a tentacled monster attached to her chest. She attacks Brad, but Larry interrupts, carrying the mind control machine he stole from Chandra’s basement.

In the end, the brain monster, which grows eyes and legs and a mouth, is defeated by Larry, who activates the machine and points at the brain, shooting lightning from his fingers at it.

In the epilogue, Larry has become a ladies’ man at Swingles. And he no longer wears glasses.

In terms of special effects, Mindkiller has a fine pedigree. The special effects supervisor was Ted A. Bohus, who collaborated with Don Dohler on several films and went on to produce and co-write the classic The Deadly Spawn (1983). The makeup effects artist was Vincent Guastini, who worked on Spookies (1986) and Doom Asylum (1986) as well as films such as Requiem for a Dream (2000) and World War Z (2013). As would be expected from these masters, the special makeup effects in Mindkiller are exceptional, perhaps the highlight of the film.

Another high point of the film is the sound mix, which focuses so much on background noises (e.g., TV narration, candy and soda machines humming, records playing coyote howling) that the audience is forced to concentrate in order to hear the dialogue. Well done, filmmakers!

Unfortunately, one of the low points of the film is the title, which might be snappy but is, more importantly, inaccurate. The only people who are killed in the film are those who enhance their minds, Dr. Chandra and (perhaps) Warren. The men with enhanced minds are not, in fact, killers. It could be said that the minds themselves are the killers, bringing to "mind" the philosophy of dualism, but even so the title would only be half correct.

In discussing Mindkiller, we must pay tribute to the talents of director Michael Krueger, a Denver, Colorado-based filmmaker who directed two films in the 1980s before dying in 1990 at the age of 39. Mindkiller and his other feature, Night Vision (also 1987), show that the director was talented and resourceful, and it is a tragedy he was unable to contribute more to world cinema. As always in cases such as this, at least we have two exemplary pieces of work to enjoy, and sadly that must be sufficient.